ON the Beaten Path to the 113th Annual Chicago Auto Show

Saturday, February 8, the largest auto show in North America opens in Chicago for the 113th time. Moreover, this year marks the first year the Chicago Auto Show (CAS) carries the title of First auto show of the year! The North American International Auto Show in Detroit moved its dates to the summer in hopes of bolstering attendance.

Attendance has never been a problem with the CAS as it easily draws well over 1 million paying visitors each year -- and that includes year with horrendous lakefront weather. People come from the multi state Great Lakes region making it truly a destination event.

Hotels Are Cheaper

Out of towners get to take advantage of low season rates at hotels and area restaurants. The hotels connected to the McCormick Place complex are understandably high, but downtown and elsewhere, rates are low. So, while the event itself isn't necessarily OffBeat, it is one of those events that becomes a bargain when considering a short excursion to Chicago.

First consider the lower hotel rates. You can stay at the Sheraton Grand Hotel for as little as $102, during the summer, it will be starting at $300! Would you rather more luxury? Stay at the Ritz Carlton for as little as $215 per night during the show's opening weekend! The Aloft River North is clocking in at around $96 per night. Bargain city! Most restaurants carry-over Chicago Restaurant Week deals through the CAS too. Except for Valentine's Day, look to get fixed rate meal deals at hundreds of Chicago area restaurants; just ask! Finally, admission to the CAS is $13 for adults, $8 for kids up to 12-years and free for kids under 7. What you get in return is easily a day in car wonderland that the entire family will enjoy.

Largest Automobile Showroom in the USA

Once inside, you be faced with the largest automobile showroom in the country and the third largest in the world behind Frankfurt and Paris. Thirty-six brands from Acura to Volkswagon and from Asia, Europe and the USA are represented...covering every price point and interest.

To make it even better, you'll find twenty-five new cars making their debut at the show. Look for cars like the new Ford Mustang Mach-E electric. The very affordable uber-luxurious Genesis GV80, the super-duper luxury Rolls Royce Cullinan Black Badge, the redesigned Hyundai Sonata, Audi's e-Tron electric crossover and redesigned Chevy Suburban and Tahoe.

Some of the biggest thrills come from the various concept vehicles on display. Some are total surprises by the manufacturer, some are just really cool vehicles posed to get a response from the audience. Keep in mind that the Dodge Viper started out as a concept -- literally and sports car with a massive truck engine. But because it tested well at the CAS, it came to production. But most of the concepts offer ideas and gadgets that make their way into regular production cars.

Interactive Activities Add to the Experience of the CAS

But there is more than looking at cars all day. There are plenty of interactive activities including test drive courses (Jeep, Dodge and Toyota), a few virtual experiences (Porsche and Toyota), Craft Beer tasting events, and even an opportunity to adopt a pooch -- because you know dogs love cars! Also look for the displays of nostalgic vehicles, exotics, and super cars.

What will you immediately notice at this year's CAS? This will be the first year that a few U.S. manufacturers are dropping most of their car models in favor of the more profitable SUVs, Crossovers and light trucks. The only two cars Ford brings to market are the venerable Mustang and the midsized Fusion. Buick is only offering Crossovers and SUVs. Only Chevy is standing pat with its cars, the Camero, Corvette, Malibu, Sonic, Spark and Bolt. Speaking of the Corvette, it's redesigned as a mid-engine sports car, much like the European Lamborghini and Ferrari; but it retains its attainability coming in at around $60,000. The new designed earned it the prestigious Motor Week Car of the Year award.

The Chicago Auto Show runs February 8th to 17th at McCormick Place convention Center in Chicago. Even if you can make it this year, circle the dates, it recurs every year at the same time (second week of February including Valentine's Day).

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Geoff Burton spent 27 years writing about travel, food and film for publications both in the USA and around the world. His articles have appeared in Yomiuri Shimbun (Japan), Der Spiegel (Germany), Le Monde (France). His AfroTrek/CinemaTrek, the number three entertainment website in Chicago area.
Photos courtesy of Geoff Burton

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