Stellantis, which plans to invest $5 billion to retool the idled Belvidere plant, is pulling out of the 2024 Chicago Auto Show in a cost-cutting move.
Citing a “challenging” market in the wake of a six-week strike by the United Auto Workers against the Big Three, Stellantis’ decision to skip the show will leave a big hole at McCormick Place next month, ending the two-decade run of the popular Camp Jeep test track, among other attractions.
“Of course, we’re very sad to see that go,” said Jennifer Morand, the show’s general manager. “But we do have a lot of indication to believe that this is just a one year thing, and we hope to welcome them back in 2025.”
In addition to Jeep, Stellantis owns Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Ram trucks and other brands, none of which will be at this year’s show. While Chrysler has been through several ownership changes over the years, the brand has been a staple at every Chicago Auto Show for nearly a century.
The Chicago Auto Show has been in discussions with Stellantis since it canceled its appearance at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November, Morand said. Despite efforts to keep the automaker in the mix, Stellantis gave notice several weeks ago that it would bypass the Chicago show as well, pointing to budgets constraints after the UAW strike and record settlement, she said.
Scheduled for Feb. 10 to 19, the Chicago Auto Show comes nearly one year after Stellantis “indefinitely” idled the Belvidere plant and laid off the last 1,200 workers amid dwindling sales for its sole product, the Jeep Cherokee.
As part of a new four-year labor agreement ratified in November, Stellantis committed to rehire thousands of workers and invest nearly $5 billion to retool the 60-year-old plant for production of a new midsize truck, build an adjacent electric vehicle battery plant and create a “megahub” parts distribution center.
Stellantis hired back nearly 165 laid-off workers late last month to begin staffing the parts distribution center. The auto plant is expected to begin production in 2027.
At the same time, the automaker decided to be a no-show at this year’s Chicago Auto Show as a way to trim marketing expenses.
“To be as efficient as possible in our media spend, we are evaluating participation in auto shows on a case-by-case basis, while prioritizing opportunities for consumers to experience our vehicles first-hand,” a Stellantis spokesperson said in an email Thursday.
Losing one of the Big Three automakers — Ford and General Motors are still scheduled to appear — is a blow to the Chicago Auto Show, one of the oldest and largest such events in the U.S. But the show will go on with 17 automakers, including the addition of Mazda to the lineup this year.
The Stellantis cancellation will mean the end of the road — at least for 2024 — of the Camp Jeep test track, a challenging indoor, off-road course that offered visitors a roller coaster ride-along to experience the brand’s rugged 4x4 vehicles in action. The sprawling attraction has been an integral part of the Chicago Auto Show for nearly 20 years.
Last year, the 28,000-square-foot exhibit featured a prominent 28-foot “mountain” climb with 45-degree approach and departure angles, making it hard to miss among the mostly static displays at the auto show.
The 2024 show will still have three indoor test tracks, including Ford Bronco, Hyundai Ioniq and the Chicago Drives Electric course, which will feature eight EV brands, Morand said. In addition, visitors can participate in outdoor test drives with Ford, Kia and Subaru.
Launched in 1901, the Chicago Auto Show went on hiatus during World War II as auto production was curtailed, but it hasn’t missed a year since it resumed in 1950. Brands under the Stellantis banner have been a part of every show since then — until this year.
Stellantis was formed by the merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Peugeot of France in January 2021.
After three years of pandemic disruption, the auto show returned to a full-sized event last year. Expanding back into two halls at McCormick Place, it drew 300,000 attendees in 2023, up 50% year-over-year Morand said.
Hopes remain high for the 2024 edition, but the absence of Stellantis and the Camp Jeep test track will likely make a dent in those aspirations, Morand said.
“I wish I was at this point saying we’re going to have a bigger and better show than ever before, and that would have been the case if Stellantis was in,” Morand said. “But we’re still going to have a good show regardless.”