Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Monday, February 15, 2016

2016 Chicago Auto Show: What Better Reason to Hit the Windy City?

I'm not the kind of guy who refuses to travel to the snow belt for an auto show simply because it's mid winter. I am the kind of guy who won't spend his own money to do it. That's why I haven't been to the Detroit show in 10 years. Fortunately, Nissan steps up and underwrites the cost for somewhere between 100 and 200 auto media to make the pilgrimage to the Chicago Auto Show's media days each February. They also throw a huge reception the night before the official proceedings begin. 

Nissan Armada reveal at its Wednesday evening reception.
Despite not being stuffed full of new- and concept-car reveals as Los Angeles and Detroit are, you would be hard pressed to find a seasoned journalist who won't admit Chicago is his or her favorite show of the season. The simple reason is, there is still a lot going on, we don't have to sprint from one press conference to the next, all the carmakers' PR wonks who have even a passing interest in interacting with the media show up, and the herd of media is concentrated enough that we have plenty of access to the executives and PR types.

I won't take this opportunity to rant on the Detroit show, but it is essentially the antithesis of the Chicago show in virtually every respect. I don't miss it one little bit. What's worse than going to Detroit in the middle of winter? Being at its auto show and competing with 5,000 “credentialed media” at least half of which probably have never earned a penny reviewing cars or covering the industry. Attending every press conference is like trying to be among the first group through the entrance of your local Walmart when the doors open on Black Friday.

Nope. Chicago is different – much different.

Although Chicago doesn't host the season's most product reveals – in fact, it's probably fourth behind Detroit, Los Angeles and New York – it is the nation's biggest retail show. That is, it is the best-attended show in the land. 

During its nine-day run this year, show promoters expect in excess of 1 million visitors to cruise past more than than 1,000 vehicles displayed across more than 1 million square feet of show floor at McCormick Place. Launched in 1901, the Chicago show holds bragging rights to being the most frequently held auto show in the country.

Journalists attending the media days witnessed the covers being removed from 21 new, redesigned or unique-trim-edition models from Chevrolet, Chrysler, Ford, Kia, Hyundai, Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz Nissan, Ram and Toyota. 

Kia showed off its all-new Niro – a crossover hybrid delivering up to 50 mpg. Nissan rolled out its redesigned 2017 Armada. Chevrolet unveiled its track-bred Camaro 1LE that returns to the lineup in 2017. Infiniti took the wraps off three new engine versions of its Q50 sedan – one will deliver 400 horsepower. Ram dominated the stage with its Power Wagon – basically a 1500 Rebel on steroids.
In addition to lots of vehicles over which to drool, there are interactive exhibits, driving courses and Family Day.

There's never a dull moment during the three-day, two-night media event. Nissan always kicks off the festivities with a huge cocktail/hors d'oeuvres reception on Wednesday evening. Nissan spiced up this year's event with its unveiling the redesigned Armada. 

Ram Power Wagon.
Thursday kicks off with the MAMA breakfast. MAMA is the Midwest auto media's trade organization. In addition to bacon and eggs, the event always includes the announcement of MAMA's choice for its Family Vehicle of the Year. This year it went to the Volvo XC90. I must admit, I sneaked out as the breakfast speaker from Ford marketing took the podium to regale the overfed group with feats of Ford's wonderfulness. Kia was the first scheduled press conference of the morning and I wanted a front-row seat. It's always highly entertaining.

There were eight more carmaker press conferences scheduled throughout the day, as well as a couple of non-carmaker pressers. In the middle of all of this was the annual Economic Club of Chicago's luncheon. Credentialed media are invited to attend.

Kia kicked off the press-conference lineup with a little music.
Chevrolet closed the day with its reveal of its redesigned 2017 Trax crossover and track-worthy 1LE package for Camaro. The announcements were followed by a reception. Marching back and forth across the expanses of the show floor – one of my peers' Fitbit clocked more than seven miles – from one press conference to the next for six hours is mighty thirsty work. The Chicago Beer Company Chi Town Lake Shore Lagers Chevy dispensed at the reception provided at least some temporary relief.

Because Nissan housed us at the Hyatt Regency attached to McCormick Place, thankfully we had only a short walk back to our rooms at day's end. The walk carried us past the hotel bar where a few of us detoured for another brew. More walking, lots of thirst.

Some of Geno's staff serving up pizza slices at the Mazda dinner.
Mazda always throws a dinner on Thursday evening at Chicago's Geno's Pizza. Although its menu offers sandwiches, salads and apps, it's really all about the pizza. You can spend up to $35 on a deep-dish pizza at Geno's. Hey, it is that good!

Several of the carmakers pitch in to underwrite the after-dinner party. This year it was at Reggie's Rock Club. It features two rooms with stages where bands perform throughout the night. The music was nothing short of awesome. A hardcore group of us continued the evening at the hotel bar until they turned off the lights. “You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here....”

Rocking at the after party.
For the media, Friday morning is specifically geared toward social media. Although many of us Tweet, Instagram and Facebook throughout the show, Friday mornings target people who do nothing else but keep one another up to date on their comings and goings through various social-media platforms. The rest of us basically take the opportunity to catch up on photos we missed the previous day, wander around shooting the breeze with carmaker PR types and hanging around the media lounge debating about which shuttle we will take to the airport. 

I was in Chicago for a total of six meals. Two of these were breakfast. I ate pizza three times. My doctor would not be pleased, but, it's Chicago! What do you expect me to eat? I love this show!

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