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Posted 02/03/03
Reported by Jim Flammang for cars.com

CHICAGO — Chicagoans will get a special automotive valentine this year. Starting a week later than usual, the Chicago Auto Show will open its doors to the public for the 95th time on Feb. 14. Other than the period during and immediately following World War II, Chicago has hosted an auto show every year since 1901. And again, 1,000 vehicles will greet show visitors.

When the 2003 extravaganza begins at McCormick Place, located 3 miles south of Chicago’s Loop, some luscious concept vehicles and the very latest production models will clamor for attention. As in previous years, more than 1 million people are expected to pass through the entry doors during the show’s 10-day run. With 840,000 square feet of exhibit space on a single level, Chicago’s event is the largest show of its kind under one roof.

Automobile fans from the Chicago area and all over the Midwest get the opportunity to see the vehicles that were introduced in early January at the Los Angeles and Detroit auto shows. In addition, manufacturers will bring an appetizing group of fresh models to Chicago for their first unveiling.

As usual, many of the automakers are holding back on information about the vehicles they plan to reveal in Chicago. For that reason, some of the details mentioned here are educated guesses rather than sure things. Then again, the auto show is always full of surprises.

Journalists get the opportunity to see the Chicago Auto Show first during two press days, which begin on Feb. 12. Bob Dover, the CEO of Aston Martin Lagonda and managing director of Jaguar and Land Rover, will be the speaker at the annual media breakfast hosted by the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) and the Chicago Automobile Trade Association (CATA). Dover will discuss these three British brands in the U.S. market, and he’ll take a look at where the luxury market is headed — in both automotive and nonautomotive worlds. He is expected to confirm the opening of a new Chicago regional office for Ford’s Premier Automotive Group, which includes the three British marques along with Volvo.

Paul Halata, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, will speak at the Auto Shows of North America luncheon during the press preview. Mercedes-Benz will unveil an E55 AMG sedan, which is essentially an E-Class sedan with the Kompressor engine from the SL55 AMG. Given the lower weight of the E-Class, it should prove to be the fastest production Mercedes-Benz ever, a spokesman advised.

Minivans could be the big news from Ford Motor Co. Mercury is expected to introduce a new minivan called the Monterey that would fill the role previously occupied by the Villager, which was dropped after the 2002 season. The Monterey borrows its name from a series of Mercury models of the past. While the Villager was related to an earlier version of the Nissan Quest, the new Monterey should be strictly a Ford product. The Ford division also intends to unveil the production version of its redesigned Windstar minivan, which will also carry a new name.

BMW will introduce a Sport Package for its high-end 745i and 745Li sedans. Adding extra zest to the sedans’ ample helping of luxury, this option group will include a sport suspension, a three-spoke sport steering wheel, shadowline exterior trim and performance tires on special 19-inch wheels.

Volkswagen intends to unveil a 20th anniversary edition of its sporty GTI hatchback, which is based on the two-door Golf. Porsche will provide an update on the Cayenne Crossing Initiative, an environmental program that was first announced at last year’s Chicago Auto Show.

Volvo will introduce a version of the S80 sedan with a Four-C (which stands for Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept) chassis that was adapted from the high-performance S60 R and V70 R. The Four-C suspension has comfort and sport settings and can adjust itself about 500 times per second at any of the four wheels. The Swedish automaker will also announce an S80 with all-wheel drive. Both models go on sale this summer.

General Motors has a batch of introductions planned for the Chicago show and another group that will be seen at the Canadian International Auto Show. Held in Toronto, that show takes place this year at the same time as Chicago’s event. GM has not yet released details on its full auto show plans, but Chevrolet will introduce the high-performance Impala SS sedan and a Monte Carlo SS coupe in Chicago.

DaimlerChrysler is holding back on details for its Chicago presentation. Its Dodge division held sway at Detroit’s North American International Auto Show last month and might be the focal point in Chicago, too. One day soon, DaimlerChrysler is expected to introduce a new rear-wheel-drive version of its full-size sedan lineup, but there’s no telling what will be announced at this show.

Acura, Honda’s luxury division, will present the redesigned full-size RL sedan, which goes on sale as a 2004 model. Toyota introduced the redesigned Sienna minivan in Detroit. For the Chicago show, Toyota plans to unveil a Tundra Double Cab full-size pickup truck, which the company says will be significantly larger than the regular models.

Mazda used the 1989 Chicago Auto Show to introduce its very first Miata sports car and has followed up with special editions at subsequent shows. This year is no exception, as Mazda plans to display a special 2003.5 version of the Miata. In the spirit of reviving vehicle names from the past, Avanti will introduce a model bearing the Studebaker badge.

Mitsubishi launched its new Endeavor sport utility vehicle at Detroit’s auto show, and the Japanese automaker will have the 2004 Lancer in Chicago. Saab will emphasize its 9-3 Arc and Vector Sport Sedans, the latter of which comes equipped with a 210-horsepower engine. These cars should reach dealerships in early spring.

In addition to displaying the KCD-l Slice concept car that was unveiled in Detroit, Kia will issue an announcement about its new Southern California design center, where future Hyundai and Kia products will be designed. Kia also expects to give an update on its new retail facility program, and the South Korean automaker anticipates receiving an award during its news conference.

Suzuki promises two world premieres at the Chicago Auto Show and two world premieres at the Canadian International Auto Show, but details are not yet available. Subaru will introduce a “performance enhancement” to one of its crossover vehicles.

Antique and special-interest vehicles invariably attract plenty of auto-show visitors. This year, the Volo Auto Museum of Volo, Ill. — a longtime supplier of antique cars to the Chicago show — will bring a trio of intriguing automobiles. Showgoers will get to gaze at a 1909 Buick roadster, a 1954 Buick Skylark and a 1967 Shelby Mustang that appeared in the film, “Gone in 60 Seconds.”

Celebrities invariably help draw visitors to the Chicago Auto Show. Organizers are still working on the details, but sports figures and local radio and TV personalities are likely to appear.

On Feb. 13 — the evening before the show opens to the public — CATA will host its annual First Look for Charity event. Those attending the formal affair will have a chance to win a 2004 Pontiac Grand Prix supplied by General Motors. Production on the redesigned Grand Prix actually begins during the week of the show. Tickets for the event cost $175 each, and the proceeds benefit 17 area charities. Each year’s black-tie fete raises approximately $1.8 million. Details on the First Look for Charity and other show information can be found at the official show site.

Show tickets for the public days may be ordered online. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for seniors (62 years old and over). Children under 12 years old are admitted for free when they accompany a paying adult or they pay $5 if they are alone. Weekday discount passes are available from new-car dealers and selected banks.

Feb. 18 is Women’s Day and will feature special programs of interest to female motorists. The auto show’s annual Food Drive takes place from Feb. 19 to 21. Patrons who donate three cans of food for the Chicago Christian Industrial League get a $5 discount off their admission. During the Kids’ Concept Cars program, youngsters can draw automobiles and vie for prizes.

Show hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. except on Feb. 23 (closing day), when the doors close at 8 p.m. Sky Cams will be hooked up to allow Internet visitors from far away to check out the show floor.

(Photo) 2004 Mercury Monterey will be unvield Feb.12
 

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