CHICAGO—Ever since 1901, Chicago has had an official auto show each winter. Through the 1950s, ‘60s and into the ‘80s, Chicago’s event was the highlight of the automotive season, showcasing the most notable new models.
Starting in 1989, Detroit turned its auto show into an international event, and began to take away some of Chicago’s prominence. So did the New York Auto Show, whose history rivals that of the Chicago extravaganza. As the Los Angeles Auto Show grew in stature over the past few years, it became a matter of opinion as to which events were the most important to the industry, to the media, and to the public.
Chicago has consistently led in public attendance, and in overall space, courtesy of the vast McCormick Place, steps away from the city’s lakefront. This year, despite renewal in the industry, every major auto show has shrunk in scope, but none more so than Chicago. Only eight major automakers signed on to host news conferences during the press period that takes place before the show opens to the public. Los Angeles had more than 20; Detroit hosted 19.
At the early-morning breakfast hosted by the Chicago Auto Show and the Midwest Automotive Media Association, Jim Farley, Ford’s vice-president of global marketing, sales, and service gave the keynote address. Starting out as essentially a promotion for the 2011 Ford Explorer, his talk eased into exaltation of the “social media” phenomenon, which Ford embraces heartily. Introduced with the help of Facebook last summer, the Explorer signals the revival of the “road trip,” Farley said.
In the new Go.Do.Adventures program, participants will tell where they’d like to go in an Explorer. Winners get to do exactly what they described, with expenses paid, and their experiences will wind up in short films and a TV special. In addition, 50 consumers will get an expenses-paid test drive of the 2012 Focus in Europe. Focus Rally America, a five-week interactive road rally with six teams, will be presented by hulu. “We allow customers to influence every part of our company,” Farley said, citing an Edelman survey in which 46 percent of respondents said they did not trust big companies to “do the right thing.” more