2012 Chicago Auto Show opens to public

January 23, 2013 1:29:20 PM PST
The largest and longest running auto show in the country is now open to the public. The Chicago Auto Show opened to the public Friday morning.

The new car smell hits you the moment you walk into the hall at McCormick Place. There are plenty of new offerings this year, 27 new production vehicles, and the show is happening at a time when things are looking up in the auto industry.

After Illinois officials helped cut the ribbon, it was time to kick the tires Friday at the 104th Chicago Auto Show.

"I've always been a gearhead. It's in my blood," said auto show attendee Tony Swingler.

Organizers say advanced ticket sales are up significantly this year, and automakers have rented more floor space, a reflection of positive times in an industry adding jobs.

"I think it's just you're seeing a resurgence of manufacturers have more money to spend on cars, more money to spend on displays," said Michael Ettleson, 2012 Chicago Auto Show co-chair. "And I also think that the time between when a new model is thought of and when it comes out is getting shorter."

Some of the smallest cars are the biggest stars, including the 2012 North American Car of the Year, the Hyundai Elantra, part of the burgeoning all-gas compact segment.

"Manufacturers want to hit those higher mileage figures that they're going to be required to hit," said Joe Wiesenfelder, executive editor at Cars.com. "It costs more to do it with a hybrid, so they might be building hybrids, but that isn't necessarily the key to selling large numbers of vehicles."

Friday morning, Illinois officials checked out some locally-made vehicles, including Ford's Police Interceptor, which is assembled in Chicago, and Chrysler's Dodge Dart, which is produced in Belvidere.

"When I became governor, Chrysler had 200 workers up in Belvidere at that time, this summer they'll have 4,200 workers," said Governor Pat Quinn. "We're the center of excellence for Police Interceptors in the whole country, right here in Illinois."

The show this year features plenty of hands-on activities, including ride-a-longs, driving simulators, and even test tracks to get behind the wheel yourself.

"Every year this gets more and more interactive, more virtual, always bringing more ways to get to know the car," said auto show attendee.

The show runs through February 19.

Tickets for adults are $11. Kids are $7. Children 6 and under get in free.