Aaron Turpen: The Largest Auto Show Is Visited By the Smallest State

Columnist Aaron Turpen the largest auto show in North America last week. He writes: "The Chicago Auto Show is held every year at the McCormick Center. Those who have been to McCormick know that there are ranches for sale in Laramie that have smaller footprints than that place does."

Aaron Turpen

February 14, 20235 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

I attended the Chicago Auto Show during its press day presentations as an unofficial ambassador of Wyoming. The Chicago show is the largest of the shows in North America and, by attendance and square footage, one of the biggest in the world. Because I was representing, I decided to wear long pants and a golf shirt. You know, to keep it professional.

The Chicago Auto Show (CAS) is held every year in downtown Chi-town at the McCormick Center. Those who have been to McCormick know that there are ranches for sale in Laramie that have smaller footprints than that place does.

Imagine a space where three hundred or more vehicles can be parked like they’re on display at a dealership and still have a bunch of room left over for ride-and-drive spectacles, stages for presentations, and food vendors. All with walkways the size of a two-lane road and space left over for the machinery that makes the whole thing happen. And all indoors. On one level. Now recall that this is just one tiny portion–not even a third–of the entire McCormick Center.

I’m pretty sure the space between Casper and Thermopolis is the only other spot in the country that might rival the vastness of Chicago’s McCormick Center.

And it was full of cars. Of all descriptions. I was walking, camera in hand, like a dazzled tourist with the biggest manure-eating grin I could muster. For those who don’t know me, let’s just say I like cars. And this was pretty close to heaven.

The fastest draw for me was the Jeep Experience. I’ve seen this many times. It’s there almost every year. But it never fails to make for thrill-induced happiness. It’s an arena-sized space where Jeep Wranglers and Gladiators are climbing over obstacles, turning sideways on faux walls, and otherwise doing Jeep things. This is not a ride you want to take if you’re queasy. But it’s awesome.

Not far from there is another favorite of mine: Chicago local museum Klairmont Kollections. Klairmont had several models on display from their museum including a beautiful golden bubble top Lincoln Continental Mark II. And a couple of variations of the Austin Bantam, one a roadster and the other a panel truck. Topping it off was a rarely seen Corvair Greenbriar van, based on the truck that came from the infamous Corvair air-cooled car from Chevrolet.

Most of the rest of the displays this week in Chicago are what you’d find at any common new car show. The upcoming show in Denver, for example, will have many of those same models. CAS, however, is a big, national-level show that draws more crowds than any other show in the country.

So vehicle manufacturers tend to go all out. Ford, Hyundai, Jeep, Ram Truck, Toyota, and Volkswagen all have indoor driving setups for showing off their vehicles. Subaru unveiled the new 2024 Crosstrek model at the show. Right in front of the shelter puppies they always host so visitors can play with them and maybe take one home.

Volkswagen pulled the covers off their new Atlas and Atlass Cross models. Toyota showed of the upcoming Grand Highlander SUV. Ram gave the upcoming Ram 1500 electric truck a name (“REV”) before unveiling the production model at the Super Bowl.

And that’s just getting started. Companies have their race cars, special edition models, concepts from places like SEMA and CES, and more. Heck, Honda has their latest HondaJet on display. Yes, an actual jet plane. In a car show.

For the media days that I was there, the Midwest Automotive Media Association (of which I’m a member) puts on a strong spectacle of what’s new, what’s available, and what’s coming soon. It’s a lot to take in. The rest of the show, organized by the Chicago Automobile Trade Association, is for the public. It’s a chance to kick the tires (literally), sit in the seats, play with the knobs and buttons, open the trunk.. And otherwise just get hands-on with cars without the expected sales pressure of a dealership. The product experts on hand are paid by the manufacturers, not dealerships, and no sales push is to be found. It’s all about getting customers to look so they’ll find the dealership and make the deal later. And it works. Area dealerships cite the auto show as being responsible for sales spikes shortly after it’s over and for steering customers to their lots during the year as minds are made up and budgets are set.

Locally, here in Wyoming, we have no equivalent. Because, to be frank, there are more people living in a 10-block radius of the McCormick Center than there are in the whole of our state. And that’s why I live here. Even though it means traveling to see something like CAS.

Soon, however, we will have our most local version of CAS happening down in Denver. The Denver Auto Show opens to the public on April 12 at the Colorado Convention Center. It’s a smaller, but still very exciting event for automotive enthusiasts and those looking to get educated on what’s available for their new vehicle purchase. Press day at that event is put on by the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press (to which I belong) and the show itself by the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association.

Car shows are still going strong. And are always worth attending. Even if they won’t have a Studebaker just like grandad’s or a Model T that old Henry sold in a color other than black.

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Aaron Turpen