Chicago Auto Show 2010: Hybrids get sportier, Jeep goes vertical, Fiat comes back
Photos: Andrew Nawrocki
Last year, as I blogged about the Chicago Auto Show and took some random photos, the U.S. car industry teetered on the edge of collapse with sales bottoming out. I noted that Toyota and Ford's side-by-side locations made the contrasts between the automakers clear. This year, the positions are the same at McCormick Place, but the tables are somewhat turned in terms of momentum. Toyota is reeling from quality control and recall issues, while Ford is riding high on the success of its Fusion Hybrid. But both automakers are sticking with sensible and practical in our lean times. Ford has a new Fiesta that gets 40mpg on the highway and looks pretty darn cute, too. Practicality is one theme of this year's Auto Show, but not the only one.
Big changes in the auto industry and emergence of hybrids and electrical plug-in vehicles make 2010's Chicago Auto Show particularly interesting. One of the images I can't shake from my rush through the show is of the Fiat 500—a smash success in Europe—being massaged by a pair of Cinecittà-worthy models on media day. Fiat now owns Chrysler and the firm is bringing the small-but-sexy, retro-chic European-style car to America in 2011 via plants in the U.S. and Mexico. No word on the price, yet. But it has style—it was designed by the same guy who designed the new Mini Cooper.
Chevy's Volt is coming, in 2011. It will be built in Michigan and run on electricity and sold in Michigan, the DC area and California to start. It's actually pretty sleek looking, too and will come with a $7,500 electric car credit. Also electric, the Volvo Electric C30 will be testing in 2011, probably coming soon after. Available for order now, the Fisker Automotive Karma, will be arriving at Chicago dealerships in late 2010—er, except that it's already sold-out for 2010 and carries a price-tag of $87,900. The Karma might be the sexiest hybrid around, but the Honda CR-Z , coming in Fall of 2010, is a more realistic option for most of us. The "sporty hybrid" features three driving modes: Sport, Normal and ECON™, so you can adjust fuel consumption to your needs and prices. But it's also a safe and therefore somewhat heavy car for its size. It'll be interesting to see if it catches on.
Hybrids may be getting sexier, but they can hardly compete with the most drop-dead gorgeous car I saw yesterday. The Audi R8, in Ipanema brown, is seriously friggin' beautiful. The photographer and I had a hard time walking away from it. Jaguar's 2010 XK Coupe isn't quite as attention-getting, but its a much needed return to style for the brand's sometimes clumsy-looking luxury sedans of recent years.
Some big fun cars weren't new, but still fun to look at. Dodge's burly throwback Challenger is available in limited editions in colors like purple and pink. Can pot legalization be far behind? Porsche bucked the small trend with its Panamera in 2009, and the four-door will be available in hybrid and diesel versions in 2011. It's still an odd one—a large and lovely grand touring vehicle from Porsche?
I'm a Volkswagen lover, but I got little love at the Volkswagen area where I was told there wasn't a lot of new stuff—even though, I'm pretty sure there is. There's a Hybrid Toureg, for one—which is Volkswagen's first hybrid, I believe.
As convention center experiences go, taking a ride in the Jeep Rubicon is up there with seeing Radiohead. Definitely get in the line for this one. The jungle-ready Rubicon has also kinds of insane drive train features and clearance that enable it to climb hills and descend them (with no brakes applied) and drive tightly at crazy angles. I don't know the technical terms but I kept saying "whoah" and "wow" as the trained pro led us around the obstacle course.