Chicago Auto Show sets stage for future of automobiles


Kelly Wenzel

2015 Chicago Auto Show

By Sarah Martinson Metro Reporter

From hands-free assistance to Bluetooth capabilities, new technological innovations have infiltrated the automotive world for the past decade. This year, the Chicago Auto Show is home to many displays of these technologies, such as SiriusXM Travel Link, self-driving cars and Uconnect, an internal car connectivity system.

Created in 1901, the Chicago Auto Show, located at McCormick Place, 2301 S. Martin Luther King Drive, runs from Feb. 14–22 and is the largest auto show in the nation. It is also the largest event held at McCormick Place every year. The show features more than 40 manufacturers including Volvo, Chrysler, Ford, Aston Martin and Mercedes-Benz. 

“This is a neat show because you get to drive cars as well, so it’s exciting, and you want to have that consumer engagement so they can have a true opinion of what’s the right fit for them,” said Nicole Longhini, Fiat 500X USA Brand Manager. 

One of the latest applications unveiled for Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep is Uconnect—a connectivity app that links car to phone, giving riders access to all the features on their smartphones through their car. Riders can access the apps with Uconnect’s voice recognition and see them on their dashboard screen. 

Uconnect was first featured on the Chrysler Pacifica in 2004 and only gave users the ability to make and receive phone calls, according to Aamir Ahmed, marketing manager at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Group. After that, Ahmed said Uconnect branched into radio, offering music-streaming services like SiriusXM to its drivers. 

Besides connecting users’ cars with their smartphones, Uconnect has its own app, the Uconnect Access app, that includes a multitude of features allowing drivers to start, lock and unlock their car using a smartphone, Ahmed said. With the Access app, users can also send travel updates to friends and family that are waiting for them.  

Another suite of services offered through Uconnect is SiriusXM Travel Link, which recommends new destinations for drivers based on places they have visited previously, Longhini said. Longhini also said Uconnect and Fiat offer drivers a new level of customization. 

“The coolest thing about the Fiat brand is we engage personality,” Longhini said. “We call our dealerships ‘studios,’ as if you are going into a studio to pick out your  particular piece of artwork. This is your personality. [There are] 12 different exterior colors on this particular vehicle, and we have matching, colorful well-executed interiors so it’s the refinement and flare that comes out that people engage with.”

Volvo, Toyota and Ford have their own versions of Uconnect with similar features. Volvo has what Jim Nichols, communication manager for Volvo Cars North America, calls the “worried mother app,” which is similar to Uconnect’s location–sharing feature. 

Nichols said the most innovative efforts being made by Volvo are an initiative to get 100 self-driving cars on the road in Sweden by 2017. 

“You use autonomous drive for the boring parts of your commute, so in the bumper-to-bumper traffic going to work, that’s when you would set autonomous drive,” Nichols said.

Google is the current leader in pioneering autonomous vehicles. Google’s self-driving software, Google Chauffeur, has been tested on Toyota, Audi and Lexus models. Google expects to have consumer-ready, autonomous cars on the road by 2017. 

According to an Aug. 28, 2014, MIT Technology Review, Google and other autonomous car manufacturers still have many obstacles to overcome before self-driving cars can be made available to the public such as accurate GPS navigation, sensory detection of traffic interferences and returning control to  drivers from self-driving mode. 

The Chicago Auto Show is open from 9 a.m.–8 p.m. Feb. 14-22. Tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for children and seniors.