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Friday, March 23, 2007 

Vol. 3 No. 5

Special Guest Writer

Demetra Markopoulos

Chicago Auto Show & National Association of Fleet Administrators Chicago Chapter Meeting, February 9, 2007


As the snow continues to fall, thousands of Chicagoans bear the cold to make their annual trek to the 99th edition of the Chicago Auto Show, held February 9-18, at the McCormick Center. Over 1,000 vehicles are exhibited, surrounded by specialty displays and experts, exceeding 1,200,000 square feet of space. I spent practically all day at the show on Friday, February 9th, but I’ll do my best to give only the highlights.

The morning began bright and early with a breakfast meeting for the Chicago Chapter of NAFA. Kudos to holding their meeting in conjunction with the Auto Show- I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my Friday morning and afternoon. The meeting was chaired by Julie Bromley, Fleet Director, Reedy Industries, who gave the projected 2007 agenda for the Chicago Chapter. Following was Nominating Co-Chair, Mel Pawlisz, Manager of Transportation and Fleet Services, La Petite Academy, who proceeded with the nominations, and then elections, of the Chapter officers and co-chairs. The results were as follows: Chair- Julie Bromley, Vice Chair- Diane Lopez, Manager, Corporate Fleet Domestic, Abbott Laboratories, Treasurer- Betsy N. Kupkowski, CAFM, Buyer, Fleet Senior Square D, and Secretary- Julie McDowell, Fleet Manager, Hospira. The 2007 Co-Chairs are: Joe McDonald, Director, Account Management, Wheels, (Affiliate); Larry Janus, of Fleet Lease Disposal, (Program); Lori Miller, Area Manager/Fleet Consultant, Mike Albert Leasing, (Reception); and Mark Legrand, Regional Manager, ARI and Mark Kurth, Regional Vice President, LeasePlan, (Golf).

Now off to the show! I didn’t know where to begin, but that quickly changed when a representative from Toyota approached me to be on camera. Toyota had a stellar idea in shooting mock commercials at their display, attracting a huge crowd. I’ll have to admit, always being one to crave the spotlight (anywhere, anytime, Hollywood are you listening?), it didn’t take much convincing to get me to follow. Heck, maybe if I’m lucky enough, they’ll use it one day. If you see me on television, talking about the new Toyota Tundra, you’ll know where I made my filming debut – in the meantime, take a look at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVOVu9e2iTI (and send in your fan e-mail). In addition to the Tundra, they really placed a focus on their hybrid vehicles. For the first time ever, the entire Toyota Motor Corporation was awarded with the Best Eco-Friendly vehicles, by MotorWeek Drivers’ Choice awards.

Off to the next manufacturer. Ford Motor Company Executive Vice President, Mark Fields, journeyed to the Midwest to announce the return of the Ford Taurus during the Ford Press Conference. I took a look at the vehicle myself, and noticed a new design, giving it a look of refined style and luxury. The word “Taurus” had become synonymous with fleet, but the reintroduction should bring a sense of tradition to the Ford lineup, coupled with a new attitude. It takes more than a simple name change though to realign public perception, and Ford will have to give a lot more “care and feeding” than they have in the recent past to this brand icon back where it once stood.

Having recently met automotive legend, Carroll Shelby, at the J.D. Power International Automotive Roundtable, I had a whole new appreciation for the Mustang Shelby GT. But what can I say? It’s a classic and I like fast cars…and I do my best to avoid the speeding tickets that are almost guaranteed to follow.

Probably the most eccentric car I saw was the Mazda concept car- the Ryuga, (and no, I’m not biased because I drive an RX-8 – are you listening Mazda, I’m up for a television broadcast for you as well). The only thing I can say is that it was sleek, sharp, and it reminded me of a shark; but see for yourself in the picture and you can make your own conclusions. Now that’s a car I’d like to take for a spin!

As always, Cadillac had their array of classic, luxury cars, with the CTS as their debut for 2007, and the Escalade still stirring up buzz. Chevrolet’s futuristic, concept car, the Volt, was a sight to see, and naturally the Corvettes were just as popular. I took a waltz through Dodge’s enormous exhibit, filled with trucks like the 2008 Ram, introduced to the world at the Chicago show. Although I always viewed Dodge as producing a “man’s” car, I have to say, the Viper is definitely my style. Next I moved on to one of my favorite manufacturers, Mercedes-Benz, who boasted their collection of beautiful, upscale cars. I stopped at my favorite of the group, and of course it was the SLR McLaren 722 Edition, starting at “only” $450,000.

Lamborghini, one of the world's top exotic car manufacturers, made their debut with the Murciélago LP640 Roadster, the only one currently in the U.S. I would say from the crowd, it was a favorite at the Chicago Auto Show. With a V-12 engine, 640 horsepower rating, blowing by at 0-60mph in 3.4 seconds, and maximizing at 211mph, it will leave you blowing in the wind. Although the Lamborghinis were roped off, I was lucky enough to be able to talk and “smile” my way in for a close up (bet the regular “car guy” author of this blog never could have pulled that off). I wonder if my smile will work as good for a test drive?

On to the Maserati GranSport MC Victory-- a six-speed Cambiocorsa transmission, 400 horsepower, 0-60mph in 4.85 seconds, 19 inch rims, now that’s a hot car. It’s a limited edition model, and with only 50 being produced for the American market, and 180 total worldwide. The salesman told me that the car was available after the show was over, and if I so desired, I could drive it off the premises on the 18th. So…I took his business card and told him I’d be in touch.

Can you tell I like sports’ cars?

My only negative critique, and much to my dismay, is that I didn’t see my favorite car this year- the Ferrari. But all in all, what I did see I liked, and the show was fantastic, evident from my aching feet as I hobbled back home. I’m already looking forward to next year’s 100th Anniversary of the Chicago Auto Show!

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