Special Coverage

2011 Chicago Auto Show

CHICAGO – What goes around comes around.

Back in 1901, most visitors to the first Chicago Auto Show had never seen cars before, much less slipped inside one. So as a bonus not only did they get their first look, they also were given rides around a wooden track inside the exhibition hall in order to convince them to buy one of the new 4-wheeled contraptions destined to replace the horse.

While those attending the 2011 Chicago Auto Show are by now very familiar with motorized transportation, they'll be able to repeat history by being driven around in the newest industry offerings – only this time on one of five test tracks located in McCormick Place South and North during the show that runs Feb. 11-20.

“It’s a great sales tool,” says Dave Sloan, president of the Chicago Automobile Trade Assn., show sponsor.

Show goers will have the opportunity of being driven in Toyota Motor Corp. SUVs and trucks, Jeep Wranglers, Ford Explorers, Fiat 500 cars and the Chevy Volt plug-in electric sedan.

Since 2005, Chrysler Group LLC has had a track in the South Hall for visitors to be driven around in a variety of the auto maker’s cars and SUVs, a feature that has proven so successful other manufacturers now are joining in.

Sloan says the Chrysler track regularly attracted 80,000 riders during the show’s run, and the addition of more vehicles on more tracks means even more consumers will have the chance to learn more about the vehicles up close and personal during the show.

“We're excited because it gives the audience the chance to experience the cars, and auto makers love it because it gets consumers in their vehicles,” he says. “It means a lot to an auto maker to see people willing to wait in line for 45 minutes to get into one of its vehicles. That shows them the vehicle means something to the consumers.”

Test tracks are important at Chicago because the show is aimed at consumers, the people who buy what the industry produces, Sloan says, noting Chicago has the space to set up tracks with auto maker's exhibits to draw people in to see the rest of the lineup.

Final details still are being worked on, but the Jeep track is expected to have hills to navigate. The Toyota circuit will feature a construction site, Ford Motor Co.’s will offer a teeter tauter the Explorer will drive up and over and the Volt track will wind through green forest complete with live trees.

In addition to test tracks, Ford will have a Boss 302 Mustang on a dynamometer making 100 mph (161 km/h) gallops with a show visitor in the passenger seat.

The Porsche and Saab brands, which had been absent from the Chicago lineup, return to the show this year.