2002 Chicago Auto Show

It tells you how intense the rivalry between auto shows is when one auto show management company hires a research firm to prove that its show is bigger than the others. That is just what the Chicago Auto Show did this year, and by the analysis of Toronto-based Enigma Research, the Windy City's vehicular extravaganza bested both Detroit and Los Angeles to win the title "America's largest auto show."

By what measure did Chicago capture the title? Was it media attendance? Consumer attendance? Overall attendance? Well, no, actually the Chicago show claims bragging rights because more cars and trucks were exhibited at Chicago (701) than in Los Angeles (602) or Detroit (a paltry 538.) Perhaps this was more a factor of the ample size of the Chicago venue (McCormick Place) compared to those in LA (Los Angeles Convention Center) or Detroit (Cobo Hall,) but there is little doubt that Chicago is a bona fide member of the Big Four American shows (LA, Detroit, Chicago, and New York.) Further, the Chicago Auto Show featured enough interesting developments to keep journalists happy, especially when they were chowing down on Midwestern beef and deep-dish pizzas.

While some say that Detroit's North American International Auto Show has become the pre-eminent U.S.-based auto show, the Chicago show sent the following shot across Detroit's bow:

"With its central location and superior convention facilities, Chicago is well-positioned to be the country's premier show in the new millennium," said Mike Harker, a senior partner with Enigma Research. "Detroit's main drawing card is its automotive heritage, but with increased globalization in the industry, it will become a much less attractive destination for the automotive press and industry."

We can add without reservation the food and accommodations are much better in Chicago than in Detroit. But that's not exactly news. Instead, here is some real news, a gathering of the top automotive offerings from the Chicago Auto Show:
  • Nissan Frontier Open Sky

    The Nissan Frontier Open Sky pickup truck is designed for individuals who enjoy the outdoors and the open-air feeling of a convertible... or just want a big hole in their roof. The company told us it was designed after extensive consumer research indicated many off-road enthusiasts and adventure-seeking individualists desire a better connection with their recreational environment. But apparently not enough to get out and hike. Or maybe Nissan decided it could sell a few more trucks by putting in a big sunroof and giving it a catchy name. Marketing flim-flam aside, the Open Sky is pretty cool. The power-operated top retracts with the touch of a button, and when the top is completely retracted, the roof opening is nearly five square feet. For maximum utility, all Open Sky models are equipped with the popular tubular-style roof rack, and that would be a pretty tough trick with a true convertible.

  • Dodge Ram Heavy Duty

    Not to be confused with the Dodge Ram Hoody-Doody, a trim option discarded by Chrysler executives, the all-new 2003 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty debuts as the most powerful heavy-duty pickup on the market. The new big truck offers a choice of the most powerful diesel engine available in its class or the all-new 5.7-liter HEMI Magnum V-8. The revival of the legendary Hemi name is news in itself, and so is Chrysler's extension of its "big rig" styling introduced on the 2002 Dodge Ram 1500 into the heavy-duty class. The all-new Hemi engine produces an estimated 345 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 365 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. The High Output Cummins Turbo Diesel engine is the most powerful turbo diesel engine available in the 2500/3500 segment, producing 305 horsepower at 2,900 rpm and 555 pound-feet of torque at 1,400 rpm. That prodigious torque results in a class-leading towing capability of 23,000 lbs.

  • Subaru Forester

    One of the first of the "crossover" vehicles, the Subaru Forester debuted in second-generation form, building upon the "best of both worlds" approach. A stronger body structure, new suspension tuning, larger front brake rotors and standard 16-inch wheels should add a new level of driving fun and safety while preserving a smooth and quiet ride and trail-driving ability. Two Forester models are offered for the 2003 model year, the 2.5 X and the uplevel 2.5 XS. Both are powered by a 165-horsepower 2.5-liter "boxer" four-cylinder engine and are equipped with standard full-time all-wheel drive. When it comes to looks, the 2003 Forester is identified by a larger, more pronounced grille, contoured multi-reflector halogen headlights and a contoured bumper cover with integral multi-reflector foglights.

  • Kia Sorento

    The 2003 Kia Sorento, which will arrive in showrooms this fall, is a larger, more powerful SUV than the Sportage, a vehicle that will continue in the Kia line for the next several months after the Sorento debuts. With seating for five, the Sorento features a powerful 3.5-liter V-6 engine that generates 192 horsepower and is coupled to an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission with overdrive. The new model will be available in both two-wheel and four-wheel drive configurations. With separate body-on-frame construction the new SUV offers the tough off-road capabilities and towing capacity of a truck, while at the same time offering exterior styling and amenities that echo -- dare we say it? -- the Lexus RX 300.

  • Hyundai HCD-7

    Styled at the Hyundai California Design Center in Fountain Valley, California, the HCD-7 is a flagship luxury sedan for the Korean automaker -- a concept of what might be the next step up from the company's current XG350 sedan. The sleek, aerodynamically designed exterior of the HCD-7 was inspired by an aircraft fuselage and features wraparound windshield glass that hides the A-pillars and pulls the "energy-tension" around the sides and to the rear of the car. Oh, goodness! Complementing a bold grille, the projector beam lamps are vertically stacked. The body envelope is designed to hug the large wheels and performance tires and reduce body overhang to a minimum, while the fender design provides room for the huge, armor-like billet aluminum wheels that are 21 inches in diameter and 10 inches wide. Fitted on those wheels are mammoth 245/45R-21 Michelin tires. The outsize wheel/tire package and the fuselage-inspired body give the concept car an aura of a mid-Fifties Bentley. Not bad at all.

A student of aesthetics and the human condition, Tom Ripley reports on the world automotive scene from his home in Villeperce, France.