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updated: 2/7/2019 8:43 PM

Amid all the auto show hype, a lot of affordable family vehicles

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  • Video: Chicago Auto Show


Industry experts batted away talk of tariffs and higher interest rates at the Chicago Auto Show media preview Thursday.

"The fact is life is good and consumer confidence is high," Toyota executive Jack Hollis said before showing a video conflating Sasquatch hunting, grilling meat and the TRD Pro truck.

The annual consumer show is open to the public Saturday through Feb. 18 at McCormick Place.

Amid hoopla over chrome-studded heavy-duty trucks and sexy sports cars, manufacturers touted a surprising number of affordable family vehicles, from Volkswagen's 2019 Jetta to Ford's all-new Explorer.

What's the best bang for the buck this year?

Consumers should check out the Chevy Equinox, Auto Show Co-Chairman Ray Scarpelli said.

"It has all the safety characteristics of what you'd expect in a more expensive vehicle."

Another best bet is the Jeep Renegade. "It's super economical to run and own," said Scarpelli, who owns Chevrolet, Kia and Chrysler/Dodge dealerships in Antioch and Fox Lake.

Kevin Keefe of Brilliance Honda in Crystal Lake touted the new Civic and CR-V. "It's one of the best SUVs out there," Keefe said of the CR-V.

Meanwhile, if you're in the market for a green car, "there will be 38 hybrid vehicles at the show," said automotive expert John Walton of Wheaton, chairman of Chicago Area Clean Cities.

Solid picks include the 2020 Ford Explorer hybrid and Honda Clarity sedan. And if you're in the mood for luxury, Jaguar is debuting the I-Pace electric, Walton said.

This year, the "buzz is all about innovation," said show Co-Chairman Tony Guido of Arlington Heights Ford.

But new technology isn't just in high-end cars. Volkswagen rolled out a refreshed Jetta that features automatic emergency braking and blind-spot detection as standard features.

Another trend involves U.S. manufacturers focusing on crossovers and SUVs at the expense of sedans.

"Consumers are definitely shifting their preferences," Keefe said. "But sedans will still be around."

About 17 million cars and SUVs were sold in 2018. This year, the National Auto Dealers Association projects 16.8 million units will leave showrooms and local experts were bullish on exceeding that goal.

"Zero percent financing will still be there," Scarpelli said. "And from what I know the federal reserve is slowing up on any rate increases."

Ratification of a new trade agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico is expected later this year, which should be healthy for the industry, Hollis said.

But if the emerging trade war between the U.S. and China escalates, it could spike car prices by up to $6,000, he said, and that won't be well-received by customers.

"Tariffs are taxes. They're not paid for by governments; they're paid for by consumers," Hollis said.

Also making news Thursday was the announcement by Ford it would invest $1 billion in assembly and stamping plants on Chicago's South Side, adding 500 jobs.

Auto show hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. except for Feb. 18, when doors close at 8 p.m. Tickets are $13 for adults and $7 for people age 62 and older and children ages 7 to 12. Kids age 6 and under get in free. For more information, go to