Chicago Auto Show 2009: And The Award For "Best Lighting" Goes To…(2009 VW Passat CC)


One of the big problems with the venue where the Chicago Auto Show is staged annually is that the lighting is nothing short of appalling. Which makes things rather difficult when you want to look at and/or sell those car things that the kids are so crazy about these days. Or, of course, when you want to take pictures.

Volkswagen apparently put some thought into this. I’m sure there are other venues where the lighting is equally terrible, and it’s not like they’re not a bit…control-freakish in nature. So it’s not terribly surprising that they’d want to control everything as best they could—up to and including bringing their own lighting rig to ensure everything looked as sumptuous as anything VW produces ever could.

But maybe that’s just a reflection of the current VW corporate mindset. The 2009 VW Passat CC photographed in this photo is clearly aiming for Savile Row rather than Moore’s Clothing For Men.  And a lot of the car-buying process has to do with putting buyers at their ease about whatever vehicle it is they’re going to purchase.

The VW booth?  Made you happy as soon as you walked in.  No lie.  Maybe those are UV lamps and there’s some nefarious plan to perk up any wintry, sun-starved towns that the VW mothership touches down in.

[Update: Here are a few more photos from the VW booth, again courtesy of Joe Lucente.]

3 thoughts on “Chicago Auto Show 2009: And The Award For "Best Lighting" Goes To…(2009 VW Passat CC)

  1. PaulBrian says:

    Appalling lighting? Manufacturers hang just under SIX MILES of truss lighting in McCormick Place for this show. Have you been diagnosed with some form of automotive macular degeneration? While I, too, think that the VW display is the most brilliant in its design, you’re making it sound like we should give a miner’s light with each admission. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a terrible thing. Perhaps they’re working on their own part of the solution.

    Since you evidently didn’t take us up on our challenge to the media to attend the show when the real customers–you know, the ones who pay for cars and comment on them without a free shrimp in their hands–come to see it, you might have learned that the main lights in the halls are not turned on for the media preview, so the show you saw is not the show the public sees. You really should attend the show when it’s open to the public. You’d be amazed to see what goes on at an auto show. They’re designed to sell cars and trucks, you know. I might be overstating the obvious, but then… well, you know.

    In any case, I’m pleased you came to see the show and hope you visit again when the lights are on full tilt. I’ll be happy to show you where the concession stands are, too! (But you actually have to pay for it)

    Best regards,


  2. Joe says:

    I’ve been visiting the Chicago Auto Show semi-annually since 1989 as a paying member of the public. I remember my first visit because it was the year that the Plymouth Laser and Mazda MPV both debuted. Of course, in the winter of 1989 I was only twelve years old and only cared about collecting swag, gawking at hot sports cars, and trying to steer my mom toward that Mazda MPV – my minivan of choice, with its V6 and AWD.

    My mom never did get that MPV, but I continued attending the Chicago Auto Show. As I grew older, I watched the show grow and change as well. I also began taking notice of things other than the cars and free posters. Particularly the environment in which the show was being presented. More to the point, McCormick Place itself. As a hobbyist photographer, I looked forward to events such as the Chicago Auto Show as an opportunity to practice my craft. Unfortunately, I had become so frustrated trying to take pictures in McCormick Place over the years that as a spectator, I simply stopped bringing my camera.

    It’s not necessarily the lack of light (I can always supplement that with a good flash), but as an amateur photographer, my real gripe with McCormick Place has always been the harshness of their lamps, along with the strange directionality of the way those lamps are aimed. They create glare, hot spots, lens flare, odd shadows, and countless other photographic challenges. For me, however, the most confounding aspect of the lighting in McCormick Place has to be the bizarre collision of color temperatures. Some lamps look like tungsten, others halogen, other fluorescent, and still others sodium. I had no idea how to set my white balance or which filter to put on the end of my lens. Again, I’ve noticed this problem for years while attending the show as a paying spectator, on those supposedly properly lit “open to the public” days. As a spectator, I had all but given up trying to photograph anything on the show floor of McCormick Place. At least on the media preview days there were no crowds to fight, so I could take my time in setting up my shots and in making adjustments to get the best out of the available lighting, all without having to worry about getting in the way of fellow spectators.

    Now, let’s forget about the whole photographic point of view. After all, I’ve attended the show sans camera for years – forgetting about taking pictures and simply going to enjoy the show. I’m commenting on behalf of no one other than myself as a spectator who has attended the Chicago Auto Show for years – on public show days. The lighting HAS affected my mood. The clash of colors, the harshness of the lamps, the relatively dimly lit show floor. These factors did not just vex me as an amateur photographer, but have had a negative psychological impact on me as a spectator and as a potential consumer. The lighting makes me feel ill at ease, anxious, even glum. This has made me less receptive to the message the manufacturers and vendors were trying to convey. That’s why VW’s display stood out this year.

    Like Janaki, I felt my mood lighten as I approached Volkswagen’s display. Their soft, diffused, even lighting, raised white floor, and smartly appointed accent lights featuring a rotating color spectrum not only impressed visually, but had a positive impact on me psychologically. I became generally relaxed and more receptive to what the German marque had to show me.

    One final point I’d like to make absolutely clear is that I am in no way slighting the hard working union electricians, carpenters, and craftspeople who put together the Chicago Auto Show every year. I too am by profession a union tradesman, and am confident that my union brothers and sisters are doing the best they can with the tools they’ve been afforded, especially considering the limitations and challenges dictated by the facility.

    Best regards & happy motoring,


  3. Janaki says:

    Mr. Brian,

    Firstly, let me preface my response by saying that I’m honoured you took the time to visit and read what I (and we) have had to say. And secondly, I’d like to clarify that I in no way meant to slight the people (yourself obviously included) who stage the massive undertaking that is the Chicago Auto Show every single year. What I actually meant to point up (and perhaps could have been clearer about) was my feeling that the facility itself is less accommodating of what you do every year than it could be.

    I should perhaps explain here that I grew up in Chicago, and in fact have attended the Chicago Auto Show as a paying customer for quite a few years—this year, in fact, was the very first time I ever was lucky enough to participate in a media preview day. And I do count myself very lucky to have done so; in years past, one thing that’s frustrated me has been not always being able to touch and examine and play with every vehicle in which I’m interested. While I won’t deny that you guys treat the media wonderfully, what I was (and remain) most excited about was the opportunity to explore without the limitations imposed by trying not to be a jackass to other people attending the auto show! :) It’s like one of those Mastercard commercials, only me sitting in and playing with a Brabus-tuned Smart ForTwo is what’s priceless, and a memory I’ll cherish for quite some time.

    But as someone who grew up in Chicago and who is also interested in motorbikes, I also want to mention that the Chicago IMS every year is a bit more inviting—and that’s entirely to do with the facility and the lighting. (I’m also not meaning to intimate that I think you guys should move to Rosemont—no way is their facility big enough to accommodate what you guys do every year! ;) ) I want to say again that I in no way meant to slight you or anyone with whom you work; you guys do (and have done) a fantastic job. But I do think there are certain limitations to McCormick Place as a facility, and I’ve had discussions with Chicago-dwelling friends (including even some who work professionally with staging trade shows) who feel similarly.

    Happy motoring,


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