Pickups, utility vehicles to star at Chicago Auto Show

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Automakers are driving into the Windy City this week with a fleet of new and updated pickups and utility vehicles to unveil for the 2016 Chicago Auto Show.

Major reveals expected through Friday include the all-new Kia Niro, a hybrid utility vehicle — and a redesigned Nissan Armada SUV. Updated pickups, crossovers and SUVs also are expected from Chevrolet, Ford, Hyundai, Ram Truck and Toyota.

“That has been a trend for this show for quite a while, and we see that continuing,” said IHS senior analyst Stephanie Brinley, adding the Niro, Armada and a refreshed version of the Chevrolet Trax are the most-anticipated debuts of the show. “The Trax, even though it’s just a minor face-lift, I think that’s important because it brings the technology and safety that vehicle needs to compete.”

Many industry experts expect the Niro to steal the Chicago spotlight for Kia Motors Corp. The South Korean automaker has released few details on the so-called “HUV” outside of a teaser photo and press releases that announced it will be based on a new dedicated eco-car platform and powered by a downsized gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain.

Michael Sprague, Kia Motors America executive vice president and chief operating officer, said the company sees “a lot of opportunity” for the global vehicle in the hybrid market.

“If you look at vehicles like the (Toyota) Prius, they’re selling hundreds of thousands of those vehicles in spite of gas prices still going down,” he told The Detroit News during a recent phone interview. “There are still consumers who like the idea of the technology and the environmental-friendliness of a vehicle like this.”

Industry analysts have characterized the Niro as a Prius-fighter for Kia. The automaker has grown significantly since entering the United States market roughly 20 years ago.

“A vehicle like the Niro is another opportunity for us to connect with consumers that we’re not already connecting to,” Sprague said.

Nissan is keeping its debut under wraps, but has confirmed it will unveil an “all-new” vehicle on the eve of the auto show Wednesday in Chicago. Many experts expect the Japanese automaker to reveal the Armada, which is overdue for a redesign and has historically shared a platform with the Titan pickup, which a new version of was unveiled at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

General Motors Co.’s Chevrolet, in addition to unveiling an updated subcompact Trax, will show a new 1LE model for its Camaro. Blacked-out editions of its Colorado midsize pickup and full-size and heavy-duty versions of the Silverado also will be shown.

Other expected debuts include special-edition versions of the Ford Explorer, including a wheelchair accessible version and sporty appearance package; unknown Ram Truck debuts; special-edition Toyota Tacoma midsize pickup; updated Hyundai Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport models; and Detroit-inspired “Alloy Edition” packages for the Chrysler 200S and 300S sedans.

The Chicago Auto Show is considered a “consumer show.” It traditionally features mainstream vehicles and annually attracts more than 1 million people.

“It’s a great venue, and as a consumer show it’s still incredibly important,” Brinley said. “And at the end of the day, everybody is out to sell cars.”

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2016 Chicago Auto Show

Media previews: Thursday and Friday

First Look for Charity: 7-11 p.m. Friday

Public show: Saturday through Feb. 21

Location: McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive