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SUVs, trucks highlight Chicago Auto Show

David Shepardson and Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Automakers are rolling out new SUVs and special-edition cars and trucks at the Chicago Auto Show on Thursday as low gas prices continue to help juice sales of larger vehicles.

General Motors Co. will unveil a refreshed Chevrolet Equinox and a custom-edition Silverado pickup, while Honda Motor Co. takes the wraps off the 2016 Pilot. Toyota Motor Corp. will show its new luxury Avalon sedan — as well as special versions of its Camry and Corolla. Hyundai Motor Co. is showing a special edition of the Veloster.

General Motors will unveil a refreshed version of its Chevrolet Equinox, left, and a custom-edition of its Silverado pickup, above.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Ford Motor Co. also will debut special models in the Windy City. Ram Truck will unveil redesigned luxury versions of its top-end Laramie Limited light- and heavy-duty pickups that feature exclusive amenities and exterior styling, including a new chrome grille, to help them stand out from the rest of the Ram lineup.

Automakers like special-edition models because they are loaded with more options and are more profitable. With a stronger economy, low interest rates and up to eight-year loan repayments, many buyers are willing to pay for higher-riced models that only result a modest monthly payment increase.

Many ideas for the new vehicles come from the specialty equipment and aftermarket industry, which is two to five times more profitable on a profit-margin basis than new vehicle sales, according to Hanno Lorenzl, EY Global Automotive & Transportation Center senior manager. "The importance of the whole sector, everybody is paying a lot more attention," he said.

Like many models, the Equinox is getting updated safety features — including standard rear visibility cameras — and fancier touches like a larger color radio display.

The 2015 Silverado Custom sports 20-inch aluminum wheels, chrome bumpers, a body-colored top cap above the front bumper, and chrome mirror caps and door handles. It starts at $33,820 compared with $31,940 for a similar truck without the custom features.

2015 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Custom

"The economic recovery has led to booming sales of high-end pickups like the Silverado High Country," said Sandor Piszar, marketing director for Chevy Trucks. "But there are also millions of customers in the heart of the market who want a great looking, well-equipped truck at an affordable price."

The Ram luxury pickups include all the bells and whistles of a luxury crossover or sport utility vehicle including fine leather, real wood interior components, unique badges and LED lighting.

Ram Truck's exclusive Laramie Limited grille features a "twin-nostril" design with bold, chrome "RAM" lettering. It does not have the brand's signature crosshair symbol.

Ram Truck will unveil redesigned luxury versions of its top-end Laramie Limited truck, above.

Despite all the trucks, the show will have a number of green car announcements and reveals.

GM North America President Alan Batey is expected to confirm the automaker plans to build the Chevrolet Bolt at its Orion Assembly plant.

The electric vehicle will get 200 miles on a single charge and retail for around $30,000 after federal tax credits.

Ford Motor Co. will show off its 2016 Police Interceptor utility, developed with the help of law enforcement.

Ford Motor Co. will take the wraps off its 2016 Police Interceptor utility, <137>based off the 2016 Ford Explorer and<137> developed with the help of law enforcement officials.<252><137>2016 Ford Police Interceptor <252><137>

Kelley Blue Book senior analyst Karl Brauer said while sales of crossovers, SUVs and pickups were increasing before the drop in gas prices in 2014, lower prices are likely pushing some on-the-fence buyers toward larger utility vehicles. "When you start comparing small CUVs and mid-size SUVS and compact and mid-size sedans, I think a lot of people who are considering vehicles just don't see that much of a gap."

The Chicago Auto Show features fewer debuts than shows in Detroit, New York and Los Angeles.

But it is recognized as one of the top consumer-focused auto shows.

"It's the place automakers have a real great show stand and a solid presence of new products, so the people that actually buy cars can get up close, behind the wheel," Brauer said.

Chicago Auto Show

Media preview: Thursday and Friday

Public show: 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday through Feb. 21, 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Feb. 22

Tickets: $12; $6 age 62 and older and ages 7-12; free age 6 and under

Location: McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore, Chicago