Chicago Auto Show Dazzles as Industry Sales Surge

The auto industry is enjoying near-record sales and showing off their wares.

— -- It may come as a surprise but the auto industry’s biggest road show is held in Chicago each year and it has been the Windy City’s star attraction this week. Bigger than Detroit, visited by more consumers than LA, the Chicago Auto Show sprawls across 1 million square feet of exhibit space and features over a thousand vehicles.

Cars touting power and performance have muscled their way onto center stage, coinciding with lower gas prices and reflecting the confidence of an industry coming off its best sales year in nearly a decade. In 2014, 16.5 million new cars hit the road… a number approaching the record of 16.94 million set in 2006.

Ford showed off a silver version of its GT, a sleek sportster meant to compete with European supercars like Lamborghini and Ferrari in both performance and price. The car packs over 600 horsepower and will cost close to $250,000.

Ford’s claims for the vehicle are as aggressive as its design. “This will change the perception of Ford,” says Ford Product Specialist Cameraon Gagne. “This kind of bumps up the level of performance for all American-made vehicles.”

Meanwhile, Acura displayed its new $140,000 NSX, an all-new version of a car it last sold 10 years ago.

These were among the cars showgoers like Brenda Grzenia rushed to see. Asked what were her favorite vehicles, she replied, “The ones I can’t afford!”

On cars consumers might actually buy, better safety technology is a big draw. Advances in driver assist systems that temporarily take over steering duties if a driver is distracted are prominently featured by makers including Subaru and Volvo.

Although alternative fuel cars, once featured attractions at America’s auto shows, aren’t quite as prominent this year, they are making a strong appearance in Chicago. One of the first market-ready hydrogen cell cars--a Hyundai Tucson--is on display, but only on sale in California. And one automaker not commonly associated with the eco-friendly movement, BMW, is exhibiting its first all-electric vehicle, the i3.

The combination of new designs and new technology has showgoers like Chris Katsis enthralled: “It seems like everything you’d see in a movie or on TV is coming to the streets now.”