The Chicago Auto Show 2007—Expensive Cars at a Bargain
By Juan C. Ayllon
THE Chicago Auto Show is about “overpriced cars for the rich, not for normal folks. I can’t afford anything there,” says Carrie Niemietz, a high school secretary who refuses to attend the event.
Mike Jones, a policeman who attends the show at least once a year, says, “I thought it was great. I liked the ability to see all those cars under one roof—contemporary cars, classic cars, concept vehicles (or car prototypes)—without salesmen trying to size you up.” Noting that fewer foreign cars are shown at Detroit’s auto show, where autoworkers resent foreign brands like Nissan and Toyota, he’s sticking with Chicago. As recently as five years ago, Jones said, “They’d key (scratch) foreign cars in the parking lot.”
There’d be plenty of keying for them at this year’s show in Chicago, where a press release touted the Tundra as “the single-most important launch in Toyota’s 50-year history.” Elaborating, sales rep Jerry McDuffie says the Tundra is positioned to “take over the one market we don’t own: the full-sized pickup truck market. It’s bigger, faster, stops faster and hauls more.”
Duffie’s statement says it all: over 1.25 million square feet of McCormick Place are used to pitch the latest cars and trucks in displays resembling movie sets and theme parks, where giant TV screens, programmed lighting, and thumping sound tracks scream, “BIGGER, FASTER, AND BETTER!”
Take trucks and Sports Utility Vehicles, for example. An elephant gray 2008 Nissan Armada SUV is hitched to a mammoth, 28-foot Sea Ray 260 Sundancer cruiser boat, a gray double cab 2007 Toyota Tundra SR 5 hauls a Patten tractor the size of a white rhinoceros, and a gray 2008 Titan V-8 truck carts a baby hippopotamus-sized Polaris 4-wheeler ATV in its truck bed.
Jeep ramps up the largesse with its park ride theme. People stand in line to be chauffeured by sales people in four-wheeling Cherokees, Wranglers, Liberty’s and Commanders through an obstacle course of small boulders, logs, potholes and two huge, man-made hills.
For nature lovers, there’s the Honda Environmental car display boasting gas and electric hybrid Civics and Accords, a Civic that runs on natural gas, and a concept “hydrogen fuel cell-powered” car that has “zero emissions and basically emits water vapor,” according to a Honda sales rep.
And, there’s the transcendent orange-copper 328 Pontiac Solstice Weekend Racer concept car. Momentarily transfixed, a man broke its spell with the words, “Not family practical!”
For those practically minded, there are stylish minivans and economic cars, too.
Of course, there are vintage cars, including a sleek “Go Mango” orange 1970 440 horsepower Dodge Challenger R/T Convertible, of which only 99 were made.
While prices range from $11,000 to $150,000-plus, most cars—especially the Maserati’s, Porches, and Bentleys—are very expensive. A Ford salesman says while “Americans have always been about cars...the real shame of it is that half the people can’t afford it because they’re overpriced.”
Yet, still they come. A Nissan rep called Rebekah says, “So many people live out of their cars, (who) want to know the functionality and comfort of their space. People are also image conscious. They don’t buy for 10 years, but buy to have the latest.”
“I took my wife and kids,” says Romell Drake, a high school assistant principal. “The whole setup was nice. I never thought my wife would go back to a car, but (after the show) she’s thinking of trading in her 2002 Cadillac Escalade (SUV) for a GTS.”
And, if you simply can’t afford your dream car, admission is only $10, which, in today’s market, isn’t bad for a show.