By Jeff Gilbert

CHICAGO — (WWJ) After posting strong sales numbers in January, auto companies are hoping this week’s Chicago Auto Show will help them keep the momentum going.

While the show in Detroit always gets a lot of media attention, Chicago is one of the nation’s largest consumer shows, with more than a million people coming to McCormick Place for the week long event. The show opens to the public after press previews on Thursday and Friday.

The all new Corvette Stingray and other vehicles that debuted in Detroit will be on display in Chicago, so will a number of new vehicles, mostly variations on existing models, and work related vheicles.

Chicago will feature the debut of the diesel version of the Chevy Cruze small car. It will get 42 miles per gallon, but cost $25,695, when it arrives in dealerships in the late spring.

“We expect when we ramp up on this vehicle, people who know and embrace diesel technology will be some of our first buyers,” says Chevy small car marketing manager Kristi Landy. “They understand the technology and the value of it.”

So the initial marketing, Landy says, will not be meant to educate new buyers on a diesel’s improved fuel economy and power. But, Landy says the benefits of diesels will help sell the vehicle.

“We are clearly going to promote the benefits of diesels People who are interested in performance and efficiency and who drive a lot of highway miles are going to immediately see the benefit.”

Volkswagen has seen strong sales of diesel small cars. But, it still remains a small part of the market in the U.S., where many buyers have bad memories of diesel cars of the 80’s. Also, the cost of diesel fuel is generally higher than the cost of gasoline.
But, diesels have a core of loyal fans.

“Y’know, I think there’s a certain consumer that wants a diesel, wants that torque,” says AutoPacific analyst Dave Sullivan. “The Cruze is a great vehicle in the segment.”

General Motors sells a diesel powered Chevy Cruze in other parts of the world. Diesel passenger cars make up more than half of the market in Europe, where gasoline prices are a lot higher, and the government subsidizes the price of diesel fuel.

Another important introduction in Chicago is an all new Toyota Tundra. The Tundra has taken some sales away from American brand pickups, but hasn’t done as well as many people expected. Sullivan doesn’t expect big changes in the vehicle.

“If you’re looking for Toyota to come in and rewrite the book on pickup trucks, this is not going to be it.”

Where you will see a big change is in work trucks for the Chrysler group. Ram CEO Fred Diaz will be introducing something entirely different, called the ProMaster. It’s based on a Fiat product called the Ducato, which has been sold in other markets for more than 30 years.

Like the European based Ford Transit-Connect, the Ram ProMaster will be aimed at businesses, who will have it modified to meet specific needs.

“Whatever commercial buyers want to do with it, whether they want to make people hauler, or specifically for a plumbers needs, or an electricians needs, they can modify it however they want to modify it,” said Diaz.

Both Chrysler and Ford will be hitting the market with new work trucks at the same time, making for an interesting battle. AutoPacific Analyst Dave Sullivan says it is an indication that the economy is on the rebound.

“It’s not a sexy segment in any way, but it’s a very important segment for the American economy,” he said. “It’s a very good indicator of how we’re doing.”

Connect with Jeff Gilbert
Twitter: @jefferygilbert


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