It actually feels intimidating standing next to a vehicle like this GMC Yukon Denali when the hood is level with your shoulder. [credit: Jonathan Gitlin ]
After essentially flat sales in 2019, (most of) the auto industry came to Chicago this week for the first big auto show of the year. In terms of making headlines, the 2020 Chicago show is yet more proof that the days of the big trade show are almost at an end as OEMs increasingly opt for standalone events to premiere new products. Two laps of the McCormick Place convention center was more than sufficient to take it all in, and while there was little new, a clear trend was evident. Efficiency, electrification, or advanced safety systems mostly took a back seat to size, with monster-faced SUVs and trucks everywhere I cared to look. As a harbinger of things to come, I dare say there was even a sense of menace lurking in the shadows.
Arguably the biggest product news of the week—albeit one of little interest to most of this audience—was the launch of Cadillac's newest Escalade. But that took place in California earlier in the week, and the biggest, brashest, body-on-frame behemoth didn't show its bluff nose (or anything else) in the Windy City. The closely related Suburban and Denali (and their full-size pickup cousins) were out in force, and I'm not being dramatic when I say some of them felt physically threatening to stand next to even when they were stationary. I'm 5' 7" (1.7m) tall, and some of the hoods are now level with my shoulders, which is a recipe for vast, child-swallowing blindspots in front of their drivers. At a time when pedestrian safety is headed in the wrong direction, one has to wonder how we can get this pendulum to swing the other way.
Chicago's press preview coincided with a string of financial results, and as ever there are winners and losers. Lots of OEMs are changing the way they share their results, ending monthly sales. General Motors saw profits decline by nearly 20 percent in 2019, but it still ended the year $6.7 billion in the black. GM might have made a Super Bowl splash with a teaser for an electric Hummer, but the best its combined booths could boast if you were looking for evidence of its $2.2 billion electrification investment were a couple of Chevy Bolts.