More stories related to Chicago Auto Show CHICAGO – This year the Chicago Auto Show will occupy McCormick Place South, its usual digs, and North, increasing exhibit space to more than 1.2 million sq.-ft. (112,000 sq.-m) from 840,000 sq.-ft. (78,036 sq.-m).

That extra space will allow Chrysler Group to add three indoor tracks so consumers can be chauffeured in cars, trucks and SUVs over and through obstacles. (See related story: Chrysler to Offer Indoor Test Drives at Chicago Show)

But it also will make room for new exhibitors such as the Specialty Equipment Market Assn., which will be holding its first public exhibition at the show.

SEMA members produce and sell parts, components and accessories to dress up and power up existing vehicles. (See related story: SEMA to Invade Windy City Show)

The association will have a 7,000-sq.-ft. (650-sq.-m) display in McCormick Place South between Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. to show off the winners of its first Vehicle Design Award competition chosen at its annual convention last year.

Chicago show floor, under construction last week.

For decades SEMA has used that convention in Las Vegas to introduce the latest in customizing wares. But the show is private, so the public has to wait until the accessories hit the stores to check them out.

"The industry SEMA represents provides accessories for virtually every car and truck on the road today," says Carl Sheffer, vice president of SEMA. "We want consumers to be aware of all the items that the automotive aftermarket can offer them and our Chicago Auto Show exhibit will do just that."

Sheffer says the vehicles in the SEMA display not only will feature accessories that are available now but also show how consumers can use them.

The contest winners scheduled to be at the show are the Ford Mustang for "Best Car," the Ford F-150 for "Best Truck" and the Chevrolet Tahoe for "Best Sport/Utility."

"These are the vehicles our members voted as the most accessory friendly for ’05, and we'll have several examples of each on display," Sheffer says.

The aftermarket accessory business totaled $29 billion in sales last year and is expected to top $30 billion this year.

Sheffer says SEMA hopes the display also will prompt dealers to consider offering accessories at their stores as well as perform customizing as an added dealership revenue source.

The move to expand floor space for Chicago Auto Show has been in the cards for many years, says Jerry Cizek, president of the Chicago Automobile Trade Assn. (CATA), the show’s sponsor.

"Expansion plans actually go back to the days when we held the show in the old McCormick Place along (Lake Michigan)," Cizek says.

The original McCormick Place was destroyed by fire in 1967 shortly before the auto show was to take place. The building reopened in 1971 to provide 640,000 sq.-ft. (59,456 sq.-m) of exhibit space on two floors, the upper and lower levels, but from day one it didn't offer sufficient space for exhibits, much less for visitors to see the exhibits.

"The old building was always cramped and the main entrance actually was the basement or lower level," Cizek says.

The building was so crowded that some visitors either found themselves deposited by escalator on either the upper or the lower level without ever realizing there were two levels to the show.

In 1986 a new North Hall was completed, and in 1996 a new South Hall was opened next to it. In 1997, the Chicago Auto Show moved from the old building, which has been renamed Lakeside Center, to the South Hall.

"When both the South and North Halls were completed we started asking how we could fill both of the halls with the show," Cizek says.

The CATA felt the need to expand because the industry had grown so much.

In the old McCormick Place the "Big Four" domestics (GM, Ford, Chrysler and American Motors Corp.) took up most of the exhibit space on the upper level, while Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen AG and the upstarts from Japan – Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. Ltd. and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. – were crammed alongside a small assortment of pickup trucks between a maze of support pillars in the lower level.

Over the years, the number of auto makers and vehicles from Japan, South Korea and Europe have increased. Trucks have gone from an afterthought to center stage. And a couple new segments have emerged – SUVs and cross/utility vehicles.

With its current size, the Chicago Auto Show now ranks as the third largest auto show in the world behind only Frankfurt and Paris, Cizek says. (See related story: New Civic Headlines Chicago Show Menu)

"And we still have the old hall along the lake with 640,000 sq.-ft. of space that we could use if needed, so we still have lots of room to grow in the future, and I'd like to think that this expansion is just the beginning of expansion for the future," Cizek says.

Future growth will be dictated by the manufacturers and exhibitors, he adds.

"We'll use the 2005 show as a learning experience as to what the manufacturers want and what they may dream up in the future,” Cizek says. “There could be ideas for exhibits that no one has thought of before. Who would have thought, for example, that Chrysler wanted to put up test tracks inside the show.

"The expanded space means less squeeze on the manufacturers and exhibitors as well as on show visitors who will now find it easier to see, as well as more to see," Cizek says.