By Allen Penticoff
Special to TRRT
The Chicago Auto Show is the nation’s premier exposition for manufacturers to display their latest products.
Held in the attractive and absolutely huge McCormick Place on the Lake Michigan shoreline, the venue could hold the New York, Los Angeles and Detroit auto shows at once within its vast carpeted space.
First run in 1901, the Auto Show draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year to inspect and marvel at the new cars. All the auto manufacturers report increased sales after the show, so it is not just a shallow effort.
Concept cars are displayed to get consumer reactions that often leads to their production. If you are reading this and you have not yet gone it will be open through February 22nd this year.
If you don’t like to drive all the way to downtown Chicago you can catch a train in Elgin or Harvard and find a special shuttle bus that goes to McCormick Place from Ogilvie/Union Station.
I have gone to the public show many times in the past; this year marked the first time I attended as a member of the media, offering the chance to drive some of the cars during a “Tech Garage” event on Wednesday before the show and to roam the crowd-free floors.
The Tech Garage is in a big empty hall the size of a shopping mall parking lot. While there were some hot cars there to drive, such as the Mustang and Dodge Charger, I chose not to drive them as there was not enough room to really explore their handling and acceleration potential.
What I did “drive” was this fun little electric three-wheel scooter being sold by Mopar as the Trikke.
Riding it around is like downhill skiing on land. You steer as much with your knees flexing one way or the other as with the handle bar.
It has two power modes: economy, that will provide a 12-mph top speed and 22 miles of range; and high power, that yields 16-mph top speed and 16 miles of range.
The Trikke recharges in a couple of hours and can fold up to fit in the trunk of most cars. It is priced at just under $2,800 which seems expensive, until you compare it to buying a full-fledged electric car. I just wish I’d had one to ride around the show.
I also got a couple of slow laps in the hydrogen fuel-cell version of the Hyundai Tucson. This was my first drive of a fuel-cell car which, to no surprise, drives like the electric car that it is.
You can buy one for about $50,000 but you’d want to live in California, the only place in the country where you presently can get fuel. It has been available since 2012,but they only delivered 54 of the vehicles in 2014.
The Tech Garage also featured Chevrolet’s all new 2016 Volt on display. Close examination found that the Volt had been given a complete makeover inside and out, making the styling much more appealing.
Later on I inspected the Cadillac ELR which is the Caddy version of the Volt. While it got talked about, the prototype Chevy “Bolt” was nowhere to be seen. It appears to be similar to a Honda Fit, but will be a pure EV with 200 miles of range and a target price of $30,000.
All the manufacturers are gung-ho and full steam ahead on building more EVs and plug-in hybrids. I spent my time on the floor searching for them and found many.
Nissan had a Leaf with a special paint job that looked much like a white satin house paint, but in fact was “dirt proof.”
The paint’s “superhydrophobic” and “oleophobic” chemicals repel sloppy wet dirt which runs or blows off the finish.
Their demonstration was with chocolate syrup, thus they claimed with its electric drive and dirt free nature to be “The World’s Cleanest Car,” something I think we all could use.
One last treat at the Tech Garage was meeting three young ladies, eighth-graders from Wilmette Junior High, who were driving their Icebox Derby car around.
Sponsored by ComEd, Girl Scouts, Chicago Urban League and Girls4Science the girls get a used refrigerator to convert to an electric car to compete against girls from other schools.
The Icebox Derby cars encourage girls to get involved in science, math and engineering. It looked like they were having a lot of fun driving their entry, “#SonicDoom,” around the big smooth floor and explaining the program to us journalists.
Find more info at theiceboxderby.com.