2011 Chicago Auto ShowPosted on February 11th, 2011
In the Windy City, it’s all about the horsepower
By Nina Russin
I would argue that Chicago has more serious gearheads than any other city in the United States. Granted, I’m biased, having spent fifteen years of my professional life there. People in Los Angeles and Detroit will probably take issue with me, the former having nicer weather and the latter, the big three car companies. None-the-less, I’ve met more people on the streets of Chicago with motor oil in their blood than any other city I’ve spent time in.
The Chicago Auto Show, which boasts higher consumer attendance than LA, Detroit or New York, is evidence of what I mean. On the first Saturday of the show, it’s hard to find an inch of unoccupied floor space, despite the fact that the event covers more than 1.2 million square feet.
The Chicago Auto Trade Association which organizes the show knows its audience, tailoring the event with features that appeal to driving enthusiasts. This year, Jeep, Ford, Toyota and Chevrolet have constructed indoor test tracks to put potential buyers behind the wheel. The Jeep track, meant to showcase the brand’s off-road driving capabilities, looks especially fun. I wonder if they’d let me run hill repeats on it in the off hours.
Also new is a social media day, enabling opinion makers who interface with automakers online to get a jump start on the show before it opens to the public.
During the two-day media preview this week, Chevrolet, Acura, Volkswagen, Dodge, Ram, Nissan and Hyundai took the wraps off their newest models, and marketing strategies they’re using to drive traffic into the showroom.
Chevrolet unveiled the 550-horsepower ZL1 Camaro. Hyundai countered with the 500 Veloster, which Rhys Millen is campaigning in the World Rally Cup series. But the dust didn’t settle with that.
The new Volkswagen Jetta GLI is an affordable sport sedan for European car enthusiasts, while the 2012 Acura TL refines the car’s styling while packing two more powerful engine options under the hood.
Dodge broke out the “man van:” a RT version of its newest Grand Caravan, before unleashing 465-horsepower 2012 Charger SRT8.
Sister company Ram rolled out the new 1500 Tradesman geared towards small businesses, construction workers and ranchers, the Ram Outdoorsman designed for hunters, campers, fishermen and boaters, and the Ram 3500 HD with a new high-output turbo-diesel engine.
Chevrolet looks back to the future with the ZL1 Camaro
In 1969 Chevrolet equipped a handful of Camaros with an aluminum racing engine called the LS1. This year, the automaker brings back the ZL1 Camaro, sporting a 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 engine rated at 550 horsepower.
The LZ1 coupe comes with a six-speed manual transmission, limited slip rear differential and enhanced rear axle. Magnetic ride control, a real-time suspension damping system, is also standard, as are Brembo brakes and a track-ready cooling system.
The Camaro rides on 20-inch rims. Aerodynamic enhancements to the body include a special front fascia and splitter, raised aluminum hood with functional air scoop, rear diffusers and a functional rear spoiler.
Inside the coupe gets an enhanced instrument panel, leatherette flat-bottomed steering wheel, and special heated seats. The newest member of the Camaro family arrives in 2012.
Hyundai celebrates its 25th anniversary in the United States
Hyundai marks its first quarter century in the US market with a fleet of fuel-efficient passenger cars and a rally version of the Veloster.
Driver Rhys Millen, who formerly raced in a specially-prepared Genesis coupe will be piloting the new Hyundai Veloster Rally in World Rally Cup competition.
Power for the all-wheel drive Veloster Rally comes from a 500 horsepower engine, promising to give Subaru and Mitsubishi a run for the money.
Hyundai is also producing a high-performance version of the Genesis sedan for the 2012 model year. The Genesis 5.0 R Spec is inspired by the Genesis Coupe R Spec. The five-liter Tau V-8 rated at 429 horsepower is Hyundai’s most powerful production engine to date, thanks to a high compression ratio and direct injection.
The Genesis 5.0 R Spec sedan comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission, unique suspension and steering and special wheels. It rides on high-performance Michelin summer tires.
2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI combines performance, practicality and value
Volkswagen reaches out to performance enthusiasts with the 2012 Jetta GLI: a value-priced performance car based on the popular midsized sedan. Power comes from a two-liter turbocharged engine rated at 200 horsepower.
A multi-link rear sport suspension is standard. Three years of complimentary scheduled maintenance adds extra value. Base price is $23,495.
The new Jetta comes standard with Volkswagen’s intelligent crash response system, which unlocks the doors, turns on the hazard lights and shuts off fuel to protect passengers in the event of a collision.
2012 Acura TL refines the luxury formula
When Honda launched Acura 25 years ago, the brand was the world’s first Japanese luxury marque. For 2012, Acura updates the flagship TL with refreshed styling and two available V-6 engines. A new six-speed automatic transmission gives the 2012 TL 29 mpg fuel economy on the highway.
Designers refreshed the front and back ends of the car to make it appear wider and lower. A larger hood gives the sedan coupe-like proportions.
All three grades are available with front or all-wheel drive. All-wheel drive models are available with a six-speed manual transmission. The upgrade TL Advance gets a sixty gig hard drive infotainment system.
“Cars can be fuel-efficient without being neutered”
Dodge, best known for the Viper supercar, doesn’t mince words. The automaker’s newest marketing campaign called “never neutral” features a full line-up of R/T models, including the Grand Caravan “man van,” Challenger, Durango, Journey and Charger.
R/T models contain design and performance enhancements with value pricing. Design modifications include body-color bumpers and grilles, ground effects, and rally stripes. Beefed-up engines under the hood are mated to sport-tuned suspensions, big wheels and dual exhausts.
Dodge CEO, Ralph Gilles calls the new Charger SRT8 an “enthusiast’s office.” Power comes from a 6.4-liter hemi engine. The 465 horsepower engine develops 465 foot-pounds of torque for exceptional acceleration off the line. A functional hood extracts air to improve engine cooling. Cylinder deactivation improves the engine’s highway fuel economy 25 percent.
Performance pages integrated into the touchscreen display allow the driver to record lateral Gs and quarter mile times. A 900 watt 19-speaker Harman/Kardon sound system is also standard.
The newest Charger accelerates from zero-to-sixty miles-per-hour in less than five seconds and has a top speed of 175 miles-per-hour.
Ram goes “Boom!” with new light and heavy-duty pickup trucks
Its move away from Dodge gave Chrysler’s truck brand the autonomy to develop its own distinct flavor. Three new models, the Ram 1500 Tradesman, Ram Outdoorsman and Ram 3500 HD cover the pickup market from soup to nuts, appealing to businesses and work needs of all shapes and sizes.
The Tradesman 1500 is designed for small businesses, particularly ranches and construction. The idea is a value-priced truck with serious hauling and towing capability. MSRP is $22,780 including destination.
Power comes from a 5.7-litr hemi V-8 rated at 390 horsepower, with 407 foot-pounds of torque. The Ram Tradesman comes with a class four hitch, four and seven pin connectors. A heavy-duty transmission cooler prevents mechanical breakdowns when the truck is towing: up to 10,400 pounds.
The Tradesman rolls out the second quarter of 2011.
The Ram Outdoorsman has storage areas designed especially for hunters, campers, fishermen and boaters, with the all-terrain and towing capability to match.
A new Cummins turbo-diesel engine gives the new Ram 3500 HD 22,700-pound towing capability. Peak torque for the 6.7-liter engine is 800 foot pounds. The Ram 3500 HD has the most powerful exhaust brake in its class, allowing drivers to control the ride down steep grades as well as the ascent uphill.
The Cummins engine is rated for 300,000 miles and doesn’t require exhaust fluid, reducing maintenance costs.
Nissan GT-R goes blackChicago is the second public showing of the 2012 GT-R black edition. Nissan’s affordable supercar is powered by a 3.8 liter twin turbo V-6 engine rated at 530 horsepower with 450 foot-pounds of peak torque.
The black edition comes with a unique interior, including Recaro seats. The model rides on six-spoke Rays wheels, and has revised front and rear fascias for enhanced aerodynamic performance.
Building a better social network
While automakers continue to use traditional methods of advertising such as print and television, social networks are quickly becoming the foundation of choice for building customer relationships.
In his keynote speech to the media at the Midwest Automotive Media Association breakfast, Ford’s vice-president of global sales and marketing, Jim Farley, spoke of “starting a conversation” with prospective buyers to develop a buzz well ahead of cars arriving in the showroom.
Social networking sites are the perfect proving grounds for this new strategy, offering manufacturers a unique way to target customers, and providing opinion leaders with a voice that goes straight to the top of the corporate ladder.
“We are giving our brand over to the customers,” said Farley. It’s a wise strategy in the post-Enron era, as a way of breaking down barriers with customers wary of big business.
Ford has begun putting opinion leaders behind the wheels of new models ahead of the on-sale date. During the Super Bowl, the automaker introduced the Ford Focus Rally America. Participants selected through an online contest compete against each other on a reality show hosted by Jonny Mosely.
The show, which airs on Hulu, has five teams of two complete challenges along the way, with the help of friends and associates who they contact online. It’s kind of like the Urban Challenge Race Series, only a lot bigger.
The automaker is using a similar strategy to promote the all-new Explorer sport-utility vehicle. Fans who log onto the Explorer Facebook page describe their family’s week-long “dream trip” in a Ford Explorer. Ford puts winners in all-new Explorers to live out their fantasies, films the adventures and weaves the footage into a one-hour television documentary. For more information visit the Ford web site.
Social media day draws online fans and car clubs
Manufacturers used the new social media day to bring their loyal online fans and area car clubs up to speed on the latest models.
BMW, whose US car club is the largest such group in the world, brought in the Windy City chapter to preview the new 1 Series M coupe. Over two hundred club members registered for the event. Chicago is the second public showing for the new M in the United States. Bobby Rahal, co-owner of the ALS racing team, led the walk-around.
Chevrolet and Mazda took a similar approach, inviting members of area Camaro and Miata clubs to check out the newest models. Designer Tom Peters did the Camaro ZL1 presentation while Jeremy Barnes, Mazda PR director and a SCCA race series veteran reminded Miata owners of the first MX-5 reveal at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show.
The Chicago Auto Show opens to the public today and closes February 20. For more information on hours, parking and ticket prices visit the show web site.
One response to “2011 Chicago Auto Show”
I brought the kids to the autoshow yesterday. There were a couple good exhibits. The best according to the crowds was the Ford Mustang Boss 302 exhibit which allowed participants the opportunity to rev the engine and switch the gears up to 120 mph and 7,500 rpm redline.
It was disappointing to not see Ferrari, Lambo’s, Lotus, Bentley, Rolls, and other high performance or luxury marks. We only saw one concept car called the “Essence” which was stunning. Usually, there are many more concept cars.
On a rating of one through five, I would rate this autoshow a “2”.
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