The Chicago Auto Show prides itself as a consumer-focused event. The organizers repeatedly mention that it's the "nation's largest auto show" and they like to draw a direct line between the show and buying cars. In a press release last year, for example, the 2016 Chicago Auto Show chairman, Colin Wickstrom, said, "As the nation's largest, the Chicago Auto Show is the perfect environment for shoppers to experience the latest technologies and safety features found in today's vehicles." So, given that we covered all 13 of the vehicle debuts already and I had a bit of time to wander the show today, I decided to do some counting. I visited every booth, made some notes, and I think I discovered something.

I went to every automaker booth and counted the vehicles there.

Before we get to the results, let's explain the rules. I went to every automaker booth and counted the vehicles there. I skipped a few that customers are certainly not going to buy - race cars like the Mazda Prototype and the Porsche 919 Hybrid, and all of the commercial trucks. I also ignored the Sprinter and conversion van areas, as well as the few tuner cars. But if it was a truck, SUV, CUV, or passenger car in an automaker booth, it got counted. I should also say that car companies change their booths quite often during an auto show, especially between media preview days and the public days. So, for example, someone at Cadillac said that the ELR will be on display tomorrow, when the show opens to the public, but it's not down there today. In other words, these numbers will likely be outdated soon, but they are accurate as of Friday afternoon. On with the show.

There are almost 600 vehicles on the floor this year, 594 to be exact. The three booths with the most vehicles were Toyota (56), Ford (56), and FCA (54). Just under half of all the vehicles - 259 - were trucks, SUVs, or CUVs. Most interesting to me, as someone who hears over and over again that electrification is coming to the auto industry, was that there were only 18 vehicles with a plug on display.

Hyundai didn't bother to bring the Sonata PHEV, because who knows why.

At the Kia booth, there was one plug-in vehicle, the Optima PHEV. There was no Soul EV to be found, but one of the representatives said she thought it had been there yesterday. Mercedes-Benz was a big surprise here. At the Detroit show a month ago, the Benz booth was full of plug-in vehicles. I think I counted five or six. In Chicago? Zero. Toyota had two, but they were the fanciful i-Road and FV2. VW didn't bother to bring the E-Golf, because it isn't sold in Illinois. Hyundai didn't bother to bring the Sonata PHEV, because who knows why. The booth with the most plug-in vehicles wasn't Chevy (which had 3) or Ford (also 3), but BMW. Bimmer had the i3 and i8 halo cars as well as the xDrive40e SUV and the 330 eDrive sedan.

So, I was glad to see some plug-in vehicles among the hundreds of regular old gas-powered cars and hybrids. You could argue that the lack of future tech on display and the reliance on large vehicles at the show is just a representation of the marketplace. That's not untrue, but the fact remains that an auto show is where an automaker could – if it so choose – stake out a direction, a vision, a theme for its brand. Looking around the Chicago Auto Show this year, those directions, visions, and themes seem to mostly be playing it safe. I mean, a Ford exec opened the show with a speech that all but salivated over the prospect of selling a lot more SUVs in the coming years. For an industry with decades of practice advertising and offering products that people didn't know they wanted until they drove one home, walking and counting ended up being a disappointing experience.



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