The 2020 Chicago Auto Show was, as far this author knows, the last major auto show to take place before COVID shut the world down.
Now, it might be the first auto show to return.
Don’t just take it from us. Take it from Chicago’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot (D).
While this marks the first large convention to take place since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we expect to welcome other conventions and tourist events this summer with safety precautions.
— Mayor Lori Lightfoot (@chicagosmayor) May 4, 2021
The show will be modified, of course. Not only is it taking place over a shorter schedule of five days, but it will only use McCormick Place’s West Hall and much of it will be moved outside. Nearby Indiana Avenue will be used for consumer test drives.
(Full disclosure: I did some work for the organization that runs the show prior to my time at TTAC, and have guested on their radio program to talk cars during my time here.)
Ford will have an outdoor display for the Mustang Mach-E EV crossover, Bronco Sport crossover, and the full-size Bronco SUV.
Not only that, but Indiana Ave. might also be used to host food stands and entertainment.
Attendees will be able to pre-register for test drives and other outdoor events, in a bid to minimize crowding and time spent in line.
“We’ve been working with McCormick Place officials for months on an opening plan, and very early on they saw that our show may provide a pathway to re-opening the facility,” Chicago Auto Show General Manager Dave Sloan said in a statement. “We stand committed to providing a safe environment for all involved and will carefully adhere to the health and safety protocols and guidelines set forth by city and state officials. McCormick Place is an important economic engine for our city and state, and we take very seriously the responsibility that comes with helping to get it running again.”
Attendance will be limited to 10,000 people at any one time. Attendees will have to buy tickets online, arrive at a set time, and leave after a maximum of four hours at the show.
Right now, Chicago’s COVID restrictions limit conventions and conferences taking place in large indoor venues — like McCormick Place — to either 25 percent capacity or 250 people, whichever is fewer. However, Chicago is expected to join the rest of Illinois in the so-called “bridge” phase of reopening soon. Capacity would then be raised to 60 percent or 1,000 people, whichever is fewer.
The show’s move to July may or may not be for this year only, but it could be an interesting experiment.
“While we believe February is the right time for the Chicago Auto Show to have its biggest impact on the industry and the area economy, we’re thrilled to be able to experiment with the July dates,” Sloan said. “The timing has allowed us to get creative and try new things and the automakers have really embraced it.”
There was no mention of media days in the press release, but should the show host media days, expect them to be a day or two before the show opens to the public.
With the 2021 New York International Auto Show set for August, this makes Chicago the first of the big four American auto shows — Detroit, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles — to return, at least as far as we can tell.
There’s something poetic about the last show being the first as we (very slowly) move past the pandemic, I suppose.[Image: Chicago Auto Show]