This is What it Takes to Assemble the 1-Million-Square-Foot 2018 Chicago Auto Show

We take a behind-the-scenes look at the gargantuan task of building the nation's largest auto show.

Chicago Auto Show

If you’ve ever attended an auto show—any auto show—you've probably enjoyed one of the many activities present at modern events such as racing simulators, photo booths, video walls, swag giveaways, and the always-tasty candied nuts vendor. But have you ever wondered how all that stuff got there to begin with?

The 110th Chicago Auto Show will kick off next week with a two-day media-only preview before it welcomes hundreds of thousands of potential car buyers over nine days. From open to close, the show will see nearly 1,000 cars come through its doors, host 3,500 members of the media, and raise millions of dollars for 18 local charities. But before any of that can happen, 1.1-million-square-feet of space must be made show-worthy.

Chris Konecki is the Director of Operations at the Chicago Auto Show, and he recently shared with The Drive some little-known facts about what it takes to build the nation’s largest auto show. It’s not easy, per se.

The first four of the 14 days allotted for the setup are spent installing lighting rigs only. “The cars are the stars of the show, and having the proper lighting to show them off is crucial,” said the 30-year auto show veteran. In fact, 6,000 lights are added to the McCormick Place’s stock lighting setup, but don’t think it’s as simple as adding a few more light bulbs. Entire motorized rigs must be installed in order to raise the purpose-built lamps to the predetermined height.

As the army of contractors and electricians race to complete their part of the project, crews begin to unload never-ending rolls of carpet and sub-flooring from delivery trucks. And because the show takes place in February, flooring materials must be allowed to sit and “thaw” for a period of time so they’re pliable. “Snow and extremely low temperatures are our biggest enemies,” Konecki said, “weather can make things extra difficult, as all supplies (including the cars) are delivered via trucks.”

With lighting rigs and flooring in place, individual booth structures can begin to be assembled by a multitude of contractors and subcontractors. While Konecki orchestrates the entire operation, car companies have their own contractors that carry out their specific design ideas. With manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz, FCA, Honda, and Chevrolet typically building highly interactive and rather large booths, the process can be lengthy and tedious.

Lastly, all vehicles must be prepped thoroughly before being allowed onto the show floor. It takes all of the final two days to get nearly 1,000 vehicles from point A to point B, making the passageways of the McCormick Place as congested as Chicago’s freeways during rush hour.

“It’s not easy, but the men and women of the Chicago Auto Show manage to put on this entire show in just two weeks. It’s quite amazing, really. I’m convinced that there isn’t another crew in any other city that can do that,” said Konecki. “It all starts with an empty space, and it ends with an empty space.”

So there you have it. Next time you visit the Chicago Auto Show (or any other auto show), think of all the hard work that went in to make sure your experience is a rewarding one.

The 2018 Chicago Auto Show will be open to the public Feb. 10-19.