"We felt a surge even before we opened the Chicago show's doors," said Dave Sloan, general manager of the annual show held at McCormick Place on Chicago's lakefront. "Our pre-show sales were in excess of 200,000 tickets. That led us to believe that we were going to be in for a good year for both our exhibitors and our dealers once the show closed its doors."
Mr. Sloan added that while the first weekend of the show "generally leaves our area franchised new-car dealer showrooms a bit light," by the second weekend, "consumers are making decisions on where they're going to spend their money, and showroom traffic and purchases spike."
After the 2011 Chicago show, many car dealerships reported triple-digit sales for the closing weekend of the month; according to the Chicago Automobile Trade Association, this year's 10-day run seems to be following the same model.
Steve Foley Jr., chairman of the 2012 show, noted that "the age of the nation's fleet is now older than it has ever been—nearly 12 years. Increasingly, people not only desire new cars, but have a need to replace what's in their garage."
High fuel prices usually hurt new-vehicle sales, he continued, "but in an odd twist, the industry may actually be poised to benefit from the situation."
For the seventh straight year, thousands of showgoers voted for their favorites in five categories in the event's "Best of Show" balloting. Winners in those categories were:
- Best all-new production vehicle: Ford Shelby GT500 (23 percent of vote);
- Best concept vehicle: Lexus LF-LC (30 percent of vote);
- Best "green" vehicle: Chevrolet Volt (24 percent of vote);
- Best exhibit: Jeep (29 percent of vote); and
- Vehicle I'd most like to have in my driveway: Ford Shelby GT500.
Mr. Foley said "in a year where attendance increased yet again and we boasted four indoor test tracks and five outdoor test drives, consumers had a better chance than ever to weigh the competitors and let their voice be heard.
"The Chicago show doesn't offer an indicator of the local auto market alone. It foretells the return of the entire economy. If you look back at just about any recession our country has experienced since WWII, it was the automotive sector that led it back. Let's hope that the trend continues."