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McClatchy-Tribune  01/24/2014 3:33 PM ET
Chicago Auto Show: Why size matters [Chicago Tribune :: ]

Jan. 24--Auto show season is in full swing. The North American International Auto Show in Detroit wraps up this weekend, just as the Washington Auto Show kicks off in the nation's capital. Chicago is up next, running from February 8 to February 17.

What's the difference in each of the shows? While automakers selectively choose where to debut next year's models, the social geography influences the personality of an auto show as much the cars.

The auto show circuit kicked off in late November in Los Angeles, which is known for luxury and green car models and anything flashy in the middle. Detroit is known for performance, power, and for the most new car reveals, Washington is known as an intersection of auto makers and policy makers with advanced technology showcases, while Chicago Auto Show prides itself for being the largest auto show in North America.

In this case, the Second City has no inferiority complex. Yet at 1 million square feet, the Chicago Auto Show utilizes less than half of the 2.6 million square feet of exhibit space at the galaxian McCormick Place.

"We want to keep it manageable," says Dave Sloan, the General Manager of the Chicago Auto Show. "McCormick Place is so big you could fit Detroit, L.A., and New York shows simultaneously."

While the space may be large enough to overwhelm visitors, it is designed for the consumers first.

"The true reason of the Chicago Auto Show is to get consumers in front of these amazing products," Sloan explains.

The size of each display area enables automakers to showcase various trim levels side by side, so attendees can explore the inside of each car. "It's something we're proud of and automakers embrace," Sloan says.

It's not always the case at other shows. As the heart of the auto industry and home to the most new car reveals, the North American International Auto Show in Detroit gets the most international media attention.

"The world's eyes are on Detroit," says David Thomas, managing editor of Cars.com. "But from an attendee standpoint, it's so cramped."

Not only do the larger display areas at Chicago let automakers showcase more trim levels and interactive displays, it enables automakers such as Jeep and Toyota to offer indoor test tracks to ride along with professional drivers. Toyota, for example, will have a giant teeter-totter to ride up and then down. Five automakers have committed to offering outdoor test drives as well.

"It's such a great place to come and learn what cars can do," says Sloan, who owns a Chevy Volt. He rifles off everything from seeing how a driverless car might work to testing out the practicality of a backup camera. His passion for the show and his awe for the industry it hosts are infectious.

"A few years ago when the industry was at rock bottom--everything that's on the show floor now was being developed then," he marvels. "The C7 Corvette was being worked on at rock bottom for General Motors. Think how hard it must've been for those engineers to produce something like that."

Attendees will be able to see it first hand.

Check out ongoing Chicago Auto Show coverage at Chicago Tribune's Chicago Auto Show page.

 

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