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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

The vehicles carmakers bring to the show reflect that.

Fiat Chrysler announced this week it will provide thousands of Pacifica hybrid minivans to Waymo, Google's self-driving car unit, which is launching its first public ride-hailing service later this year in Phoenix.

But the automaker will focus entirely on vehicles people can drive -- and buy -- at the Chicago Auto Show, Fiat Chrysler spokesman Rick Deneau said.

"The big things for us are an all-new Jeep Wrangler, an all-new Ram light-duty truck and Jeep Cherokee, and of course we'll have the Jeep driving track," Deneau said. "I think consumers still continue to look forward to that."

The North American International Auto Show wrapped up Sunday in Detroit, drawing 809,161 attendees, according to the show's organizers. Attendance has essentially been flat since 2000.

Sloan declined to give specific figures for the Chicago Auto Show, but he said attendance has likewise been "pretty steady" in recent years.

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Vehicle sales in the U.S. also have been steady, topping 17 million for the past three years.

Despite falling 1.8 percent last year to 17.2 million, sales remain far above the depths of the recession in 2009, when two of the Big Three automakers declared bankruptcy and sales tumbled to about 10 million -- a nearly 40-year low.

But there are signs that vehicle ownership peaked more than a decade ago, according to a January study published by Michael Sivak of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

The study found that after years of climbing steadily, ownership topped out at 2.05 vehicles per household in 2006. In 2016, the average household owned 1.968 vehicles, roughly on par with ownership levels 20 years earlier.


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