The Chicago Automobile Trade Assn. maintains an active schedule between its popular auto shows held each February.
“We're tops among state and metro associations in member and consumer services,” boasts Jerry H. Cizek III, association president and auto show manager. “Our building in Oakbrook Terrace (a western Chicago suburb) houses conference rooms for meetings by our 687 dealer members or our 25 affiliates, as well as for show exhibitors.
“We sponsor an hour-long Saturday morning radio show every week on ABC radio and publish bulletins and sales reports on a steady basis. And we're constantly looking for new projects.”
Formed in 1904, it is one of the oldest dealer association in the U.S. and one of the most innovative. This year it is starting service manager 20-group meetings, 4-day “boot camps” put on by NCM Associates and covering profitability, employee retention and other back-shop issues.
Finance and insurance managers already attend similar sessions of their own at association headquarters.
The association also provides labor-relations counsel for its members, most of whom employ unionized technicians, parts handlers and non-skilled maintenance personnel.
Because Illinois attorneys-general have targeted Chicago-area dealers for alleged deceptive advertising and F&I misconduct under a tough state franchise law. Cizek says the association holds full-disclosure and ethics sessions conducted by Aon's Resource training division.
“Chicago is a huge and highly competitive new-car market, stretching from the Wisconsin line to the Michigan line along Lake Michigan,” says Cizek, grandson of a northwest Chicago Chrysler-Plymouth dealer.
“Sure, there are a few rotten apples in such a big market,” he says, “but our members are united in seeking to live down the old reputation and practice what's best for their customers.”
The association's website features DriveChicago.com on which up to 100,000 used vehicles are listed for sale. The association has a full-time director of communications, Paul Brian, who hosts the weekly radio broadcasts and is active in promoting the city's auto show.
Show attendance tops the 1.1 million mark, despite a cold and windy climate and “without celebrities, lotteries or dancing girls,” says Cizek. “We have 1.25 million square feet of exhibit space available, plus another 300,000 if needed. That's a lot more than Detroit, but they're established with the North American International Auto Show label and that carries a lot of weight.”
Show rollouts next year will include as many as five exhibits from Chinese automakers. Returning by popular demand will be Chrysler Group's indoor driving track. It was such a hit this year visitors waited more than an hour to drive with Skip Barber driving school instructors.
Cizek shows a visitor a photo of a track at the 1901 auto show in the old Chicago Coliseum, near the defunct stockyards.
“Cars were a curiosity then, and the folks had to be shown what they were all about,” he says. “Now it is a terrric show idea for someone to be tooled around in a Chrysler Crossfire on an indoors track with a 35-degree incline and a 45-degree drop, and then through a pool of water.”
Cizek is proud that the show always has been dealer-managed. “That's unusual in these days of farming out shows, but our members would have it no other way, Maybe their dedication was why NADA was organized here in 1919.”