An Interview With Mark Bilek From The Chicago Auto Show

 

THE KING OF KINGS

If you are into checking out the latest and greatest in cars, then you are into auto shows.  And if you are into auto shows, you know the big ones.  Los Angeles, Detroit, New York, and of course, Chicago.  But if you are not into auto shows, you might not know anything about the largest car show in the nation: the annual Chicago Auto Show heald in Illinois.

THE MOST OF EVERYTHING

One of the big things that make the Chicago Auto Show really unique is that it has the most of everything.  The most exhibits, the most interactive displays, the most simulators, etc.  The show has the most cars.  Because of the space that the show has to use, the consumer has a unique opportunity to see everything automotive in one place.  There are other auto shows that are definitely great.  But what you get here is everything automotive under one roof.

From their website, “Exhibitions include multiple worlds and North American introductions; a complete range of domestic and imported passenger cars and trucks; sport utility vehicles; and experimental or concept cars.  In total, nearly 1,000 different vehicles will be on display. Additionally, attendees will also have the opportunity to see numerous accessories and auto-related exhibits, competition vehicles and project, antique and collector cars.

WHAT A COOL JOB

Since 2006, Mark Bilek has been the Senior Director of Communications and Techology for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association who is responsible for producing the Chicago Auto Show.

“My role is unique being the director of communication and technology. My main focus is to make sure all of our technology, ticketing, networks are all working.  As the media previews start happening, we had fifteen press events last year, we want to make sure those go off without a problem,” Bilek told me in an interview.  The show has 3,000 members of the media who attend each year.

“I’m constantly pushing out information and releases during the show.  It’s a sixteen hour day for fourteen days straight.  We have about fourteen days where we are at McCormick place. We take our offices down there the whole time, just set them up right there.”

There are ten full-time staff people who produce the nation’s largest auto show.  We are working with our members all year around.  They hire another twenty-seven people during the auto show weeks to work in security, event management, hospitality and more.


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SIZE MATTERS

The number one reason that the Chicago Auto Show is the number one show in America is because of the enormous size of it.  The show is held at the McCormick Place Complex.  Mc Cormick Place is a sight in and of itself; it is THE largest convention center in North America.  The exhibit halls have 2.7 million square feet of space for the automakers, exhibitors and sponsors to fill, with another 700,000 square feet of the meeting room.  (To get an idea of just how large McCormick is, the Los Angeles Convention Center has just 720,000 square feet.)

“We are the largest show in the country in terms of attendance and square footage.  This is a consumer focused show.  Every show has a focus.  For instance in Detroit, it is for the media.  Because this show is created for the consumer, car companies do unique things here that don’t happen at other shows,” Bilek beamed.

RIDE AND DRIVE

There were three indoor rides and drive events at the 2014 show: Toyota, Camp Jeep, and the Chrysler multi-brand trek.  All three of these are inside, right on the showroom floor.  That’s another unique aspect of the Chicago Auto Show.  No other show in the nation has these ride and drive type of events for the consumer.

Mark described the ride and drive events:  “The Toyota ride and drive is 60,000 square feet alone.  We are lucky to have this much space.  Chevrolet, for example, has their largest display in the country at our show. Ford and Toyota have their largest displays here as well.”

“Automakers can display multiple vehicles of each type, so consumers get an example of a broader range of vehicles.  This gives consumers an idea of the price range of vehicles.  At our show, they can demonstrate that price range.  A $20K Honda Sonata, and a $35 k Honda Sonata are very different.  Here you can see those differences right in front of your eyes.”

UNIQUE GROUND = ADVANTAGES FOR THE CONSUMER

One very interesting aspect of the Chicago Auto Show is that there is not one of the large automobile makers of the world in Illinois. This means that the show doesn’t cater to one or two or a small group of producers, but to all of them.  This is a great advantage for the consumer in the market for a new car.  They get a lot of variety.

“What is really unique about our show is that there is no major automaker here in Chicago.  We are on neutral ground.  So all automakers feel that they have an equal opportunity to the consumers.  In Los Angeles, it is the Asian manufacturers that dominate that show.  In New York, the European manufacturers are there.  And of course in Detroit,  it’s the ‘Big 3’ (GM, Ford, Chrysler).  It is not like that here at our show,” explained Bilek.

CAN I BUY A CAR AT THE AUTO SHOW?

“It’s a non-selling show,” Mark told me.  “There are no major US shows that allow purchases right off the floor.”

The reason this policy exists at car shows is so that there is no pressure for the consumers.  The last thing people want to feel the pressure to buy a car, hear the sale pitches, etc. when you just want to go to check out the newest amenities to the industry.

Bilek went on to explain that “In Illinois, there are rules about selling cars that aren’t on the dealer premises.  It would be difficult to do because of those restrictions anyway.”

WHAT’S NEW FOR THE ’15 SHOW?

“We have some interesting things in play for social media and the auto show app for next year that will be happening.  We take advantage of the fact that our attendees are so connected (online).  We want to engage them with that.  We want to meet them there,” Bilek explained.  “I can’t say too much more than that right now, but it is going to be another great show.

Tickets for adults are just $12; they are $6 for seniors and children.

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