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Thoughts from the 2006 Chicago Auto Show

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Topics:  Chicago Auto Show
Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

Thoughts from the 2006 Chicago Auto Show

Bill Crittenden
14 February 2006

I went to the show with my father-in-law, a friend of his, and my cousin Anthony, who's about 15.

Toyota provided my first disappointment for the day.  Usually they have nice bags with round cord handles that don't cut into your hands when the bag is loaded, and they switched to the hard plastic handles that do.  I usually start with Toyota just to get bags.

The new Camry redesign is a whole new reason to love the Camry.  I liked the late 90's design for its simple clean lines, and the new Camry for the boldness of styling in a practical sedan.  But does this mean they have to redesign the NASCAR Camry?

It was Saturday, the first really busy day of the show.  I can understand that some people don't have their stuff together, and I know some of the people who stand on the turntables and platforms and talk about the cars get most of their information from a script.  But the woman talking up the Toyota Yaris was something else.  You don't have to be an auto mechanic to know that a four-cylinder engine is not a V6.  Yet there she was, talking about the 4-cylinder V6 in the Yaris.

Of course, once we made our way to the other side of the Toyota display my mood brightened at the sight of the NASCAR stuff they had on display.  They had Mike Skinner's Tundra, the 2007 Nextel Cup Camry, and the Darrell Waltrip Edition Tundra on display.  I'll bet race fans in the 80's didn't imagine Toyota getting this far into the American culture.  I'll bet if I could go back to 1983 and tell Darrell that some day there will be a Darrell Waltrip Toyota truck and he'll be Toyota's biggest spokesperson in America, he'd knock me on my ass.

A newspaper columnist commented on the placement of the Red Cross' appropriate placement next to Jeep.  If you ask me, but nobody has, the disaster is yet to come for Jeep.  Their first car-based SUV, the Compass, is the beginning of the end for the Jeep image that started with the World War II Willys trucks and continued on the basis that if it said "Jeep" on the front, you could go just about anywhere with it.  The "not meant for serious off-roading" caveat on a Jeep is a sign that Jeep forgot who they were.

Chrysler finally brought out an American SUV that could give rappers an alternative to the Cadillac Escalade with the Aspen.  The back end is a little too Durango for me but the front end style is great.

I can't say enough about the Dodge display.  I didn't bother too much with the Rampage and I didn't see the Nitro.  It was all about the American muscle.  The Challenger stole the show, but Dodge also had out a Top Banana color Charger Super Bee and the orange Charger Daytona.

But those were just appetizers to the main course: the bright orange Challenger.  I've rarely seen the need for bleacher seating at an auto show, but Dodge needed some for the crowd that packed in around the turntable.

I doubt that the carbon fiber, neon tail lights and LED inner headlights will carry over into a production car, but this car's exterior is otherwise perfect.  The interior left some to be desired, but not enough to put me off of possibly buying this car in the future.

Dodge also gets points in my book for finding an attractive woman to talk about the car who not only knew about the new Challenger, but knew quite a bit about the old Challenger, too.  If that knowledge came from scripts and reading just before the show, I couldn't tell.

I noticed a lot of automakers brought out driving simulators or video games to the shows.  This is nice, but you know, I like the way Chrysler does it better.  They have the track where you could get a ride in a Jeep, Dodge or Chrysler.  Lines were too long for me to bother with, but I can tell you that based on those long lines it seems to be a hit with the rest of the audience.

Jerry Azumah also drew long lines for autographed footballs in the Lincoln display.  Better than that, though, was the short line to get to see Keith Van Horne and Jim Covert (along with their 1985 Super Bowl rings) in GM's Live Green Go Yellow display.

Hyundai had one of those boring plain displays.  No pretty women with microphones and flashy concepts on turntables, but plenty of room to walk around and see the cars.  Hyundai's lineup gets better every year, this time with the Azera, the Entourage, and the best looking Accent yet.

Hyundai has great concept cars.  Most of them look like preproduction prototypes, rather than outrageous "statements" or "styling excercises".  It kinda fits with the understated styling (the Tiburon excepted) and understated auto show display.  Substance over style seems to be their standard operating procedure, and it's working for them.  This year's HCD9 Talus was a sports SUV along the lines of the Nissan Murano, and with a few more inches in the roof it could be at the Hyundai dealership near you soon.

We switched bags from Toyota to Hyundai and Mitsubishi, which had nice thick rope handles to carry them with.  I wanted to dump off some brochures, and on my way out to the car I hear a snap and feel a bag sag.  I look down, see which bag it is, and mutter "typical f---in' Chrysler".

The Ford GT with the Gulf racer paint scheme and the Mustang Shelby GT500 drew crowds despite being based on two cars that can be seen on the street (but not everyday in the case of the GT).

I think that Ford and Dodge must be trying to one-up each other with the ugliest truck imagineable.  Each year they come out with some heavy metal monstrosity, and Ford yet again comes out on top as the Super Chief outuglies them all.

The Chevrolet Camaro concept, thankfully, looks better in person than it does in the photos going around the internet nowadays.  I liked the interior of the Camaro more than the Challenger.  They talk about a competitor for the Mustang, but they'd better price it in Mustang range (and not in the Pontiac GTO price range) if they ever hope to revive that rivalry.

GM continued the Live Green Go Yellow campaign it began during the Super Bowl with banners all over McCormick Place and a display on the show floor.  It's good to see GM finally come around to environmentally friendly cars and it's good to see ethanol get its due from someone as powerful as GM.

Based on the line forming for people to sit in the car, the Pontiac could have a hit on their hands with the Solstice roadster.

We then went over to the other side, the north hall, with the luxury cars and aftermarket stuff.  Bridgestone/Firestone is always an overlooked but great display, this time surprising more than usual by featuring the Marmon Wasp.  The Wasp was the Ray Harroun-driven winner of the 1911 Indianapolis 500, which for those who don't watch racing is the first Indianapolis 500.

After that display, it all went downhill.  Being a busy Saturday, the place was packed, and you couldn't even walk around in some displays, let alone push a wheelchair.

If you're going to walk on someone's foot when they're in a stopped wheelchair, don't give them a nasty look like it's their fault that you are completely inconsiderate.

Anyway, it might have seemed a good idea to put all the high-end luxury in the same area to ease the walking on people interested in that kind of car, but there are so many people interested in them (whether they can afford them or not) that there was just no room to move in BMW or Porsche, and the others weren't much better.

International had, in the midst of the monster trucks, a little old Scout pickup truck.  I like it when automakers show their roots, like when Chrylser parked a 1957 300C next to the new 300C prototype, but looking at the Scout next to the big Internationals just makes you wonder "how come they don't do that anymore?"

The U.S. Army had a nice thing going with a Stryker on display and recruiters talking to the crowd.  Army equipment is made to be tough, and so they actually let you get up to the half-million dollar unmanned reconnaisance plane and touch it.  I'm sure the Stryker cost even more.  Of course, that's just about bulletproof, and made for war, so a few scratches don't mean anything.  Try getting your belt buckle too close to a fender in the Ferrari display and see what happens.  Oh, wait, Ferrari was one of those companies that didn't even let most people into their display.

Every year Scion has some of the best free stuff.  They give out keychains, mix CDs, and the Scion magazine in lieu of a brochure.  The keychains are nice heavy metal ones, not cheap plastic.  When the person at the Scion booth put out the keychains, it was like throwing a bucket of food into a crowded koi pond.  I got one, but I almost lost a finger in the process.  If you try for one, make sure you're still wearing your rings and watch and count your fingers when you pull your hand back out.

To truly see and enjoy the entire show, I recommend being able to go two days.  My group spent 6 hours at the show and hardly scratched the north hall, not even venturing into the aftermarket area.

On the way home, the traffic was horrendous.  5:00 PM on a Saturday, and we're bumper-to-bumper in a very light snow.  McCormick Place is a nice building, but as far as location, I'd much rather go to a show in Rosemont.

Overall, it was a great show, and the cars were better than the last 4 years that I've gone.

©2006 Bill Crittenden

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