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Will driverless cars mean the end of the road for the Chicago Auto Show?

Robert Channick, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Automotive News

CHICAGO -- When the 110th Chicago Auto Show opens Feb. 10, enthusiasts will flock to McCormick Place to kick the tires, drool over the latest models and picture themselves behind the wheel of a new car.

With the rise of driverless cars and ride-sharing threatening to turn everyone into a passenger, the traditional auto show may someday seem as antiquated as a horse and buggy convention.

But David Sloan, general manager of the Chicago Auto Show, doesn't believe that day is imminent.

"We're in a healthy spot right now," Sloan said. "The question is how we will adapt to the coming changes."

A decade removed from a recession that nearly sank the American auto industry, annual sales are flirting with all-time highs, driven by crossover vehicles and awakening demand from millennials. But the road ahead seems uncertain as automakers scramble to develop electric and autonomous vehicles, tooling up for a seismic shift in how consumers drive and buy cars.

Until then, turning McCormick Place into a 1 million-square-foot new car showroom works just fine for automakers and consumers alike.


"You don't have to worry about the Chicago Auto Show going away for the next decade or more," said Michelle Krebs, a Detroit-based auto industry analyst for Autotrader.

Billed as the largest auto show in North America, the annual Chicago event touts nearly 1,000 vehicles on display from 36 manufacturers for its 10-day run, including concept cars, crossovers, sports cars and exotic "super cars."

Self-driving vehicles are not scheduled to make an appearance at this year's show, Sloan said.

"We have all this hype around autonomous vehicles and ride-sharing and electric vehicles, and they are the future," Krebs said. "But today, millions of people go to auto shows, in Detroit and Chicago and elsewhere, to buy their next car."


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