CHICAGO - Chicago, gritty yet cosmopolitan, blue-collar but cultured, is a metropolis populated by hard-working, outspoken people of every stripe who are unafraid to exhibit pride for or staunchly defend their city, their culture, and their country. Not surprisingly then, homegrown cars and trucks are the traditional theme of the annual Chicago Auto Show.
In 2005, however, it seems that importers are making most of the headlines. Toyota stole the show, debuting its own go-anywhere, do-anything vehicle, the 2007 FJ Cruiser. With the assistance of Chicago’s Second City troupe of comedians, Toyota had reporters laughing during the tongue-in-cheek unveiling of the FJ Cruiser, a rugged new retro-styled SUV that recalls the legendary FJ 40 sport-utility – the one that looked like a Jeep CJ, but wasn’t. Designed to split the difference between the Honda Element and the Nissan Xterra and admittedly not for everyone, the funky FJ Cruiser looks to be another winner for Toyota. Honda, too, made a big splash with the Civic Si concept, which the company admitted is 90-percent representative of the redesigned 2006 Honda Civic Si that will debut at the 2005 SEMA Show in Las Vegas this fall. With 200 horsepower, handsome styling, and a return to the favored coupe body style, this new Civic Si should prove far more popular than today’s 160-horse rolling doorstop.
Japanese automakers have established themselves as industry giants, and Korean car companies aren’t far behind, as evidenced by the debut of the impressive new 2006 Kia Sedona minivan. But what about China, where industry, and the economy, are exploding with growth? In Chicago, entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin and his new venture, Visionary Vehicles LLC, announced a plan to import hundreds of thousands of Chinese vehicles in the next few years. Bricklin, you might recall, is the man responsible for the Yugo. But he also brought Subaru to the U.S., so if his track record is any indication, this new venture with Chinese automaker Chery might have a 50-percent chance of success.
Counterbalancing these major announcements by importers, International Truck debuted new variations of the hulking CXT, a heavy-duty, all-American commercial truck with a cargo bed grafted onto the back that serves as the vehicular equivalent of Viagra for pickup truck buyers. The CXT is Americana at its most grotesque, a caricature of our favorite go-anywhere, do-anything vehicles.
Oddities aside, the 2005 Chicago Auto Show held several “normal” product unveilings from Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors that preserve the city’s tradition of showcasing American metal and big trucks. Buick and Cadillac trotted out reengineered and renamed versions of the LeSabre and DeVille called the Lucerne and DTS. Dodge unveiled the updated 2006 Ram Mega Cab pickup, a new special edition sedan called the Charger R/T, and a thinly veiled concept version of its upcoming Nitro SUV, which is based upon the Jeep Liberty. Mercury debuted its new Milan midsize sedan, a refreshed Mountaineer sport-ute, and a hybrid version of the Mariner crossover suv.
Last, but not even close to being least, Mercedes-Benz continued a seemingly endless rollout of product in Chicago, one of the company’s major markets, introducing an AMG-massaged edition of the S-Class sedan and the new E350, which comes equipped with a more powerful 3.5-liter V6 engine.
Like Chicagoans, we'll work hard to bring you complete, outspoken coverage from the 2005 Chicago Auto Show. Check back with us starting on Feb. 10 to see all the latest photos, video, and stories from the McCormick Place convention center.