Chicago in the winter — Media days at its 2013 auto show

By Russ Heaps

(February 10, 2013) CHICAGO — I am writing this from my hotel in Chicago. Nissan flew me in and put me up for two nights to attend media days for the auto show where it showed off Nismo editions of its Juke and 370Z.

I don't see Juke Nismos flying out the showroom door in large numbers, but the Nismo 370Z is another story. It's hot and the Z buyer is much more likely to plunk down the extra bucks to soup up his Z than is the Juke buyer. That's my opinion, at least.

 Whether or not Nissan had anything to show us, it still would have flown in the scores of media types it did because it has a contract with the auto show to do just that: fly in scores of media types for the show.

I spent roughly eight or nine hours at the show yesterday, wandering around, attending press conferences, shooting photos and generally goofing off.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you already know that I am not a big fan of auto shows. I know to some, attending these things sounds somewhat glamorous, but, believe me, it isn't.

I hung out in my room this morning working until check out. Although the travel folks wouldn't allow us to fly out before mid afternoon, there isn't much going on at the show today. Today is actually devoted to "social media."

Social media is all the rage among auto manufacturers these days. They have themselves convinced that someone tweeting or posting to Facebook that they like a car, and then their followers clicking on "Like," somehow sells cars for them.

Good luck with that. It's a circle jerk of epic proportion.

So while traditional media continues to do the heavy lifting in moving iron for the carmakers, it’s the tweeters and bloggers that are getting the bulk of the love.

I know; this is a blog. I lead a conflicted life.

Nowhere will you hear more about social media than at the Chicago auto show. My guess is that the folks honchoing the show believe that inviting a bunch of local tweeters to its media days will influence thousands more young people to attend the show. I am skeptical. But it's their show and their media days to put to whatever use they want. What do I know?

Enough of my social-media rant.

 Probably the most important vehicle introduced at this show -- measured in its importance to its brand -- is the redesigned Toyota Tundra followed by Kia's redesigned Forte Five-door. I just drove the redesigned Forte sedan in Arizona and was thoroughly impressed. I predict the five door is even more fun to drive.

The 2014 Tundra was designed, engineered and is being built in the U.S.A. It will have five different trim levels each with its own unique grille. Standard on every model will be eight airbags, a backup camera and Bluetooth connectivity. Three available engines will power Tundra, including a 5.7-liter V8, that when properly equipped, can tow up to 10,000 pounds. It goes on sale in September.

 Going on sale in the fall, the 2014 Kia Forte Hatchback will come with a 2-liter four-cylinder engine and feature keyless entry, Bluetooth connectivity and a backup camera.

As I was leaving the show yesterday, the snow began to fall. In Chicago terms, it was flurries; but it was fairly impressive to a Southern lad.

Mazda hosted dinner last night at a Chicago landmark called Gino's East. It's a pizza joint of the highest caliber. You can spend as much as $32 on a large, deep-dish pizza. A few stouts and a couple of deep-dish slices later, I could have easily fallen asleep in my chair. But, alas, I had to soldier on.

Several carmakers got together and sponsored the show's after party at a Blues joint called Buddy Guy's. Although we weren't entertained by Buddy himself, the music was good. Servers worked the room with trays of sliders and other fare; while the two bars did a brisk business.

I wasn't prepared to navigate the icy sidewalks going and coming between the shuttles and assorted venues. My only shoes were of the leather-soled dress variety. I nearly bought it a couple of times. My balance didn't improve with the stouts.

 Thank God we had shuttles everywhere we needed to go.

Some sort of junior Olympics or some such thing was going on in Chicago this weekend. The Sheraton where I stayed was lousy with sub-12-year olds and their parents. As I sat in the lobby patiently waiting for the editor of my financial dot-com client that's headquartered in Chicago, I was surrounded by no less than six little girls all jazzed up about whatever is going on today. God help me!

For lunch, we walked a couple of blocks from the hotel to an Irish joint called Timothy O'Toole's. My French Dip was decent. I also wolfed down a cup of Twice-Baked Potato Soup, engineered to clog my arteries and warm me up. Oh, and a Half and Half was required to wash it all down. Then it was back to the show to catch a shuttle for the airport.