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Show underscores better times

March 2, 2012
If the 10-day run of the 2012 Chicago Auto Show is any indication of where the nation’s immediate economic future is headed, Americans can look for an uptick led by the automotive sector.
Enthusiastic crowds swelled attendance, and area dealers awaited what subsequently is regarded as the launch of the dealers’ spring selling season. The only thing lacking was snow.
“We felt a surge long before we opened the Chicago show’s doors,” said Dave Sloan, general manager of the annual show held at the mammoth McCormick Place convention center on the shores of Lake Michigan.
“Our pre-show sales were in excess of 200,000 tickets. That’s simply amazing, and it led us to believe we were going to be in for a good year for our exhibitors, and for our dealers once the show closed its doors.
“The region was blessed with cooperative weather, too, which helped drive the nation’s largest auto show to its most successful finish since 2008. The first weekend of our show usually finds the area’s new-car dealer showrooms a bit light. But by the second weekend, consumers are making decisions on where they’re going to spend their money, and showroom traffic and purchases spike.”
Consumers are poised to take advantage of the show’s resultant buzz and hit dealerships with a fury. Special auto show bonuses are “found-money” incentives  available only during and immediately following the show.
Industry readiness
“The age of the nation’s fleet is older than it’s ever been, nearly 12 years,” said 2012 show Chairman Steve Foley Jr. “Increasingly, people not only want new cars, they need to replace what’s in their garages.”
High gas prices usually hurt new-vehicle sales. But in an odd twist, the industry appears poised to capitalize with a broad selection of fuel-efficient internal combustion engines, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and all-electric vehicles.
“Old technology in the driveway and high prices at the pump could send consumers running to showrooms for more fuel-efficient vehicles,” said Foley.
Best of Show voting
Thousands of consumers proclaimed their favorites in five categories in the Chicago Auto Show’s seventh annual Best of Show balloting.
In voting conducted over the 10-day public run of the nation’s biggest auto show, winners in the contest’s five categories were:
• Best All-New Production Vehicle: Ford Shelby GT500 (23 percent of vote)
• Best Concept Vehicle: Lexus LF-LC (30 percent of vote)
• Best Green Vehicle: Chevrolet Volt (24 percent of vote)
• Best Exhibit: Jeep (29 percent of vote)
• Vehicle I’d Most Like to Have in My Driveway: Ford Shelby GT500
“Best of Show voting,” said Foley, “has become a benchmark measure, and winning in any category is quite meaningful for our manufacturers and exhibitors. In a year in which attendance increased yet again and we boasted four indoor test tracks and five outdoor test drives, consumers had a better chance than ever before to weigh the competitors and let their voices be heard.
$25,000 in salespeople awards
Effective salespeople from area dealerships netted a combined $25,000 under the show’s Award for Customer Excellence program. Salespeople were evaluated each day by incognito judges who rated the salespeople using various criteria. Prize amounts were $150 weekdays at the show and $200 on weekends.
In all, 138 prizes were awarded. Nine salespeople won the award twice during the show and three—Ed Kucic Jr. of Ettleson Cadillac-Buick-GMC in Hodgkins, Thomas McClain of South Suburban Mitsubishi of Monee, and Brian McHugh of Napleton’s Park Ridge Mitsubishi—won three times.
Food drive nets 10 tons
Late weekday crowds benefited A Safe Haven by contributing more than 20,000 pounds of canned food. The CATA extends a $4 discount off regular adult admission to those who bring three cans of food to the show Wednesday through the second Friday.
“Food drives tend to center around holiday seasons, but hunger is a dilemma that goes on year-round,” said Sloan, the show general manager  and president of the CATA. “It’s the belief of the CATA board of directors that we can help those in need by offering this weekday discount to show patrons.”
That’s a wrap
Foley said the Chicago show doesn’t offer an indicator of the local auto market alone. “It foretells the return of the entire economy,” he said.
“If you look back at just about any recession our economy has experienced since World War II, it was the automotive sector the led it back,” said Foley.
“Let’s hope that trend continues.”