The Chicago Auto Show is back, but does it matter? Here's what industry executives think

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The 2020 Chicago Auto Show was the last of the big four auto shows to take place before major events began to be canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic and the 2021 edition opening to the public on Thursday will be the first since restrictions have eased.

Ford will be showcasing its all-electric F-150 Lightning, Mustang Mach-E and EcoSport at the Chicago Auto Show. (Grady Trimble/FOX Business)

The Chicago Automobile Trade Association-organized show has been temporarily moved from its traditional February dates and will run a truncated five-day schedule, half as long as normal.

Chicago claims it is the largest auto show, with annual attendance often over one million, and will run without capacity restrictions this year, although tickets must be purchased in advance online.

"The return of auto shows indicate a return to some sense of normalcy. Auto shows are an ideal place for consumers to shop. They can compare one vehicle against the other under the same roof with no pressure. And we know lots of consumers are back in the car market as indicated by strong sales of recent months," Autotrader Executive Analyst Michelle Krebs said.

While a few luxury brands and mainstream automakers — including Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Mazda and Hyundai — are sitting this one out, top-selling brands like Toyota, Volkswagen, Ford, Kia, Ram and Jeep will have their latest models on display.

"I think there is a very important space for seeing vehicles live," Dodge and Chrysler CEO Tim Kuniskis told FOX Business.

"People want to look, touch, feel, smell. They want to get around the cars, put the cars in perspective, see the actual size.  Size is something that’s difficult to judge online. A lot of the stuff you see online, you don’t have anything to give a perspective."

One thing missing will be the parade of press conferences and new model unveilings during Wednesday's press preview. There aren’t any major introductions planned, with many of the newest vehicles on display having debuted during online events in recent months, making Chicago the first opportunity for car shoppers to experience them in the metal outside of a dealership.

"We can’t wait for them to see F-150 Lightning up close, learn about Maverick and take a ride in Ford Bronco and the Mustang Mach-E while visiting our immersive displays at the show," Ford chief marketing officer Suzy Deering told FOX Business.

Ford will be showcasing its new Bronco with an off-road test track set up outside of the McCormick Place convention center, which was made possible by the summer scheduling, while Jeep will have its long-running Camp Jeep display inside.

General Motors has limited its auto show presence to just Chevrolet for the rest of the 2021 season, which includes the New York International Auto Show in August and Los Angeles Auto Show in November and continues to evaluate the schedule for 2022, GM auto show communications manager Sabin Blake said.

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"We recognize that due to the changing consumer, media and industry landscape it is important that we remain flexible to ensure we are reaching consumers in the right places with the right products at the right time."

Chicago plans to move back to its February slot in 2022 while the marquee North American International Auto Show in Detroit is eying a September date next year after being held in January for the past few decades.

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