March/April 2024

Buzz captures attention

Next-gen bus plays up slimmed down Chicago show 

By Cliff Leppke 

The Windy City’s annual auto extravaganza at McCormick Place is renowned for its spectatorship. The motor-vehicle menagerie is car-buyer or enthusiast catnip. Throngs of people bravely trek through cold weather, snow, sleet and ice to see the latest wrinkles in automotive fashion. This year the weather was balmy for early February. The automotive climate within the convention hall, however, was chilly. 

But VW’s highly anticipated 21st century bus, the electrified ID. Buzz, made its American-size wheelbase debut in November in Los Angeles and its debut in Chicago as it nudges closer to reaching the US public later this year. 

Jennifer Morand of the Chicago Automobile Trade Association, now taking the show’s reins, scolded the press for missing a factoid: this is a consumer show, an emphasis she noted at the Midwest Automotive Media Association’s breakfast, minutes before the event’s media preview began.

She further argued that Chicago’s motoring maze still makes sense. It’s about the people, people who delight in a spectacle — motivated car-shopping attendees, their engagement with it and their massive digitized impressions of it, which they share on a variety of media platforms. Unlike the Consumer Electronics Show, for instance, which is primarily a trade show, (increasingly the place for vehicle debuts), the Chicago show, created by an automotive trade association and its partners, is for the end consumer — likely a person who reads the Autoist.

Morand’s admonishment rightly or wrongly communicated a truth. Yet, the elephant in the media preview ballroom — not MAMA’s Favorite Affordable Vehicle, the Chevy Trax — was the show’s shrinkage — roughly half of the convention hall’s main floor was closed. And one-third of that space vacated when Stellantis jettisoned its participation — no more Camp Jeep. Subaru’s Jumbotron/National Park exhibit, however, might suffice. 

The show’s first media day, likewise, suffered. Kia was the only company to theatrically unwrap new models — the revamped Carnival and K5. Want further evidence? The media platform for Kia’s presser had a few TV photojournalists. I joined them in another spectator smudge of our era — enjoining the entrepreneurial multimedia press with their smartphones propped up with rods — like eyes in the skies, seated below us, to fill in the empty riser spots. Now, traditional and new media could both witness unobstructed vehicle reveals. 

Kia also presented its Super Bowl ad. It’s a variation of other Kia TV spots where its EV’s » mobile energy source creates a special moment for a family’s shut-in. 

Walkarounds ruled. Ford scheduled a vehicle “walkaround,” repeating the details about the refreshed Explorer’s features, which debuted before Chicago’s show. This vehicle is built in Chicago. … And so it went. Four other carmakers hosted walkarounds. 

A media member takes a test drive of Honda’s 40-pound Motocompacto E-scooter.

Problematic Ultium

Perhaps the most engaging of these was Honda’s invitation to drive its 40-pound Motocompacto E-scooter, which conveniently fits in the Prologue EV’s aft quarters. The Prologue is Honda’s first big stab at the full-EV SUV family hauler. It’s built by GM in GM’s Mexican assembly plant, sharing the Ultium architecture, the EV platform of vehicle batteries, motors and control systems. GM has issued a stop sale for models using that platform.

Vehicles with Ultium might have lemons. What I gleaned from Honda is this: the GM stop sale isn’t problematic because Honda’s Ultium production vehicle won’t arrive at dealers until after GM resolves the snag. And curiously, the Prologue is an orphan; Honda previously announced it’s pulling out of its GM alliance. 

VW gets a boost from new law

This closed space was one of the Chicago show’s hallmarks.

VW’s Pablo Di Si, flanked by an Audi and ID. Buzz, spoke at the Economic Club of Chicago luncheon. Di Si began by celebrating his homecoming. He considers Chicago his hometown. Then, he discussed VW’s investments in North America with an emphasis on VW’s commitments to cutting CO2 emissions from its cars, plants and other practices. He wormed his way into the details of the Inflation Reduction Act — VW is the only foreign car brand producing a vehicle qualifying for the full $7,500 tax credit, which eligible buyers can use as a down payment at any VW dealer. Plus, VW is currently developing its parts sourcing and manufacturing based on the IRA’s incentives. 

Other VWoA executives were visible during the press preview. I suspect they were drumming up dealer support for VW’s new ad campaign and its upcoming deliveries of the ID. Buzz and ID. 7 sedan. Both were at the pre-show garage. Another ID. Buzz was at VW’s booth. VW didn’t display the ID.7 at VW’s stand. One must read between the lines. While I saw two Buzzes and one 7, and only one of them at VW’s showplace, those two extra EVs were in Chicago for behind-the-scenes purposes. 

The last automaker specific event was at 3 p.m. — BMW’s Innovator Reception — capped with boozy margaritas and hors d’oeuvres. I missed the innovator part; all I saw were the BMW vehicles and the alcohol-fueled respite. 

Tesla’s stainless steel origami called Cybertruck.

Later that evening, I checked out Sweet Home Chicago, an automaker-sponsored shindig where vehicle reps and media mingle. It’s an annual first-media day nightcap. Live music and Pizano’s pizza, cheesecake and an open bar set the scene for car talk. One conversation centered on my “famous” Squareback. There’s an image of it on a website and other places. Meanwhile, others noted a recent Hagerty piece that claims excellent-condition Sciroccos now fetch $60,000 and that most buyers are younger than baby boomers. Why? Well there’s a younger generation who saw these wedgy wonders when they were kids. Now, they’re motivated to get one.

For some, the show’s shift from carmaker crafted and staffed lands of desire into a much tamer and less emotional bits of McCormick concrete into dealer-sponsored presentation of vehicles from their lots — Mazda, say — was nothing short of fabulous. 

Chicago’s show chopper— reducing its splendor to something closer to smaller auto shows like Milwaukee’s — was in a sense relaxing. The usual manic rush to capture one press conference and then yet another, gave way to a self-guided stroll through automobility — letting you feast your eyes on Tesla’s enormous Cybertruck in all of its stainless steel origami. 

I would have joined in that assessment if automaker reps, and they were in Chicago, say VW’s CEO, whom I briefly spoke to at VW’s booth, were easier to find. And for those of us who must pay our own way to cover the show, we couldn’t help but notice if it weren’t for Nissan’s investment in paying for its friends to fly in, stay and then depart Chicago, the number of us attending the show would shrink more than the topic of a Seinfeld episode.

VW chose the second media day for its news event and brunch. It didn’t debut a new car but rather were three old ones and the new ID. Buzz. The Buzz technically wasn’t a debut because VW previously presented it in Los Angeles. 

Traditional oil spots under a pristine Beetle.

The VW event, however, was about a new 75th anniversary advertising campaign dubbed “An American Love Story.” VW teased us, showing a long-form video. A 60-second version culled from this presentation, kicked off VW’s anniversary-theme promotion during a third-quarter Super Bowl LVIII TV spot. It presents VW’s journey, its unbelievable ascent from a Beetle sent to New York, three-quarters of a century ago, when Ben Pon tried to drum up dealer interest in the humble Bug. It didn’t work — at first. But eventually, the small amphibian that crossed a big pond became the prince or king of small cars in the USA — the land of Detroit dishpans. 

VW’s booth presented three vintage VWs: a 1949 Beetle with traditional oil spots below its engine — the vehicle featured in VW’s ad, a 1967 Microbus and Max the sort of 1964 Beetle. The center stage showcased the 1949 model on the left and the two-tone 2024 ID. Buzz on the right. 

The video display behind these two machines featured visual snippets from the extended version of the soon to be shown “American Love Story.” For example, just a few feet behind the Buzz, a red VW Rabbit Cabriolet straight out of “Remington Steele” or perhaps “Big Bang Theory” presented VW’s Easter basket of funmobile.

Cliff Leppke |


  • UNRELIABILITY: A deep dive reveals key features of the ID.Buzz, described as clean, cheerful and friendly.
  • A THUMBS-UP: Correspondent Tom Janiszewski finds that public reaction to the ID.Buzz is overwhelmingly positive.
  • NEW CAR SURVEYS: VWs across the board get poor scores in new Consumer Reports and J.D. Power surveys.
  • FINAL EDITION BEETLE: A longtime owner has decisions to make after repair bills begin to grow.


  • Small Talk – VW + Audi at a glance
  • Retro Autoist – From the VWCA archives
  • The Frontdriver – Richard Van Treuren
  • Local Volks – Activities of VWCA affiliates
  • ID.Insight – Todd Allcock
  • Classified – . . . ads from members and others