The 2014 Chicago Auto Show press days are over, making way for the largest crowds of any auto show this year. Several million people will visit McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive, from Feb. 8 to Feb. 17. We're guessing they'll want to escape the cold and see the latest offerings from every automaker imaginable. This year they'll like what they'll be seeing. Here are some of our favorites from the show, and not just because truckmakers decided to make a little news by releasing a new vehicle, concept or option package.
Toyota's TRD Pro Series
We got a chance to see three Toyota vehicles benefit from the new TRD Pro Series off-road package: Tundra, Tacoma and 4Runner. The Tacoma TRD Pro is essentially last year's Baja Package. TRD engineers tell us the taller and softer front coil springs on the Tacoma and Tundra don't affect payload or towing capabilities. The new off-road package will be offered later this fall on 2015 models. No word on pricing, but you can bet it won't be inexpensive.
Frontier Diesel Runner, Powered by Cummins
Everyone connected to this project was very clear: "This is a concept and we haven't made any decisions." Be that as it may, the size and power — especially when mated to a ZF eight-speed transmission — is just about perfect for the midsize Nissan Frontier. It's nice to see Cummins continuing to work with a manufacturer other than Ram. As we hear it, Cummins will work with any automaker with a power-plant offering that will work. That's probably why the Cummins/Toyota rumors persist.
Ford F-150 Tonka
Tuscany Motor Co. of Indiana has partnered with Hasbro to get the exclusive rights to produce what is being called the Tonka F-150. Available to any Ford dealership in North America, the vehicle is designed to grab attention on the roads and still be able to work and play like a half-ton pickup. There are many options to the package, not the least of which is a Pro Comp suspension lift, 20-inch wheels and tires, and all sorts of custom body effects to give the truck a unique style and design. For more information, visit www.drivetuscany.com.
Chevrolet Silverado HD CNG
With the bi-fuel expansion of the upgraded 2015 Silverado Heavy Duty pickups, GM has taken the opportunity to make a few changes to the new compressed natural gas equipment and electronics integration. The system still uses a protected single tank at the back of the bed and provides for another 17 gallons (gas equivalent) of fuel distance, which translates to just more than 200 extra miles per tank. The system starts with gasoline but switches over as soon as the bi-fuel systems are warmed up. We like that GM now allows the fuel gauge to show drivers exactly how much is left in the tank depending on what fuel they are using. Drivers also can access a unique electronic gauge that shows them how much CNG is in the tank at any time. The CNG bi-fuel option remains an $11,000 upcharge.
Chevy City Express
We get why small cargo vans like Chevy's new-for-2014 City Express are becoming more popular — solid payload, great cargo space, fuel efficient, nimble around town — but with such small engines, the ones we've tested so far are a little boring to drive. We like that GM fleet and commercial buyers will have a more reasonably sized option now, and we're hoping this means Chevy is going to get more serious about filling out the heavy-duty-plus side (4500, 5500 and 6500) of the equation. However, we're guessing buyers will be less tolerant of a badge-sharing partnership. Our favorite Facebook post from the auto show was when Nissan's public relations folks stopped by the Chevy booth, took a picture of the City Express and posted: "Looks pretty good; our second favorite vehicle in the category."
To see photos of what we saw at this year's CAS, go to our Facebook page and check out our photo gallery.