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The atmosphere’s electric at this year’s Chicago Auto Show

By Robert Channick, Chicago Tribune
The Chicago Auto Show is back for a 10-day run and electric vehicles will be taking centre stage, with everything from an indoor EV test track to a slew of new model debuts.

By Robert Channick, Chicago Tribune

The Chicago Auto Show is back at McCormick Place for a 10-day run beginning Saturday and the atmosphere inside the convention centre is decidedly electric.

Electric vehicles will be taking centre stage at the annual show, with everything from an indoor EV test track to a slew of new model debuts, as the transformational technology gains traction among consumers and automakers alike.

“There’s definitely a lot more EVs ready to go to market,” said David Sloan, general manager of the Chicago Auto Show. “This is the year.”

The Chicago Auto Show was the city’s last major event before the pandemic hit in March 2020, disrupting both the auto and tourism industries. Last year, it shifted to July, with a smaller five-day summer edition that utilized indoor and outdoor exhibits at McCormick Place, as a pandemic-weary city began the long road back to hosting major events.

This year’s show will feature about 30 brands — more than the summer show but less than in 2020. It will also feature six indoor test tracks and three outdoor test drives, the most ever offered at the show, Sloan said.

Visitors will get their first in-person look at the 2024 Chevrolet Silverado EV pickup truck, unveiled last month at the CES in Las Vegas. The truck, which starts at $40,000 and is expected to launch in fall 2023, is General Motors’ answer to the F-150 Lightning — Ford’s first electric pickup truck — which debuted at last summer’s Chicago Auto Show.

The bright blue Silverado EV on display at this year’s show is the fully loaded RST model, which features 400-mile range, 660-horsepower, 10,000-pound towing capacity and goes from zero to 60 mph in 4 ½ seconds — with enough high-tech bells and whistles to command a lofty $105,000 sticker price.

“This is a huge deal for Chevrolet,” said Nichole Kraatz, chief engineer of battery electric trucks at General Motors. “We really wanted to have a compelling statement for Chevrolet’s first full-size electric pickup truck, and it’s an amazing vehicle to offer.”

The first edition Silverado EVs are already committed to buyers, but future vehicles, from the $40,000 work truck to the top-of-the-line RST, can be reserved online. When your place in line comes up, you can build it to specifications, but don’t expect delivery until after the fall of 2023, Kraatz said,

The Ford F-150 Lightning is set to launch in the spring, starting at just under $40,000. Ford stopped taking reservations on the EV truck after reaching nearly 200,000 preorders, and is doubling production capacity to 150,000 vehicles to meet demand, the company said last month.

For this year’s show, attendees will get to ride shotgun in an F-150 Lightning, as professional drivers put the pickup truck and other EVs through their paces on an indoor test track.

“The majority of people who are considering an EV have never experienced one, either as a rider or a driver,” Sloan said. “So to have some here that people can drive or take a ride in is significant.”

Rivian, the homegrown EV truck manufacturer that launched production of its inaugural SUV and pickup at its Normal factory last fall, is once again a no-show at the Chicago Auto Show. The newly public company, which raised $13.7 billion through a massive initial public offering in November, has been struggling to keep up with demand for its $70,000 EV trucks.

Automakers are all in on the transition to electric vehicles, with legislation designed to accelerate the rollout of charging infrastructure, manufacturing and consumer adoption providing the industry with added incentive to evolve beyond the combustion engine.

But there’s still plenty of gas-powered glory at the show, including the first look at the 400-horsepower Ford Bronco Raptor SUV. Among other features, the muscular-looking, rock-eating version at the top of the new-generation Bronco line features 37-inch tires, “the largest tire offered as standard equipment on a domestic production SUV,” said Arie Groeneveld, chief program engineer at Ford.

Reservations for the $70,000 Bronco Raptor begin next month, with production launching in the summer, Ford spokesman Jiyan Cadiz said.

As the Chicago Auto Show opens, production at the only Chicago auto plant has once again ground to a halt. Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant shut down this week because of the global semiconductor shortage, which has disrupted the auto industry since February 2021, halting production, reducing inventory and raising new and used car prices for consumers.

Launched in 1901, the Chicago Auto Show went on hiatus during the Second World War as auto production was curtailed but hasn’t missed a year since it resumed in 1950.

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