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Trends from the 2018 Chicago Auto Show

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Euromonitor attended the media preview of the Chicago Auto Show on February 8, 2018. The Chicago Auto Show is the largest show in the United States in terms of attendance and square footage. Major announcements at the 2018 show included the release of limited edition trim lines for several brands as well as the North American reveal of the Volkswagen Arteon. Four key trends stood out:

SUVs and Pickup Trucks

Given the popularity of SUVs and pickup trucks in North America, automakers prominently featured products in these categories at the show. SUVs remain the fastest growing vehicle segment both globally and within the United States and automakers ranging from the mainstream to ultra-premium have prioritized SUV development. Among mainstream automakers, large SUVs and pickup trucks tend to be key profit drivers due to their relatively high starting prices and expensive options. Strong consumer spending and low gas prices help perpetuate this trend in the United States.

Electric Cars

Many automakers had plug-in hybrid electric vehicles at the 2018 Chicago Auto Show, although an untrained observer may miss them. For example, nearly half of the BMW models on the show floor were plug-in hybrids, as were many Land Rovers. The fact that these companies chose to subtly feature their plug-in hybrid electric offerings suggests that they want consumers to believe that they can purchase these products without making major lifestyle shifts, which remains the case with all-electric cars given current charging infrastructure constraints.

Connected Cars

The static nature of the show made it hard for automakers to show off the software-based features that are increasingly differentiating their vehicles from the competition. Recently launched vehicles such as the Volvo XC60 and Ram 1500 pickup incorporate large LED screens in their interiors, although many of the features embedded within the interface were hard to experience without a product specialist or the ability to drive the car. Several automakers built mini test tracks where consumers could experience the driving dynamics and off-road capabilities of their vehicles; however, these displays largely overlooked the software-based features of the cars.

Subscription-based Ownership

Volvo featured its new XC40 and Care by Volvo subscription model, which was by far the most prominent featuring of a subscription-based ownership offering at the show. Cadillac and Porsche also offer subscription services for new vehicles, though those services are only available in select markets. The two subscription ownership plans available for the XC40 include insurance, maintenance, and the ability to swap out the vehicle as often as once a year for a set price. The consumer-focused nature of the Chicago show is an ideal forum for Volvo to gauge consumer sentiment for a subscription service like Care by Volvo relative to a traditional purchase or lease.

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