What do car buyers really want in 2016? Local dealers hope the Chicago Auto Show will answer that question at a contradictory time — when low gas prices are biting into hybrid sales, SUVs are back, millennials are thinking about buying, and the industry experienced its biggest year ever.

U.S. vehicle sales topped 17.5 million in 2015, the highest since the pre-recession record of 17.35 million in 2000.

The growth trend will continue in 2016 with SUVs and crossovers, predicted auto show Chairman Colin Wickstrom of Wickstrom Auto Group in Barrington. But “it’s not necessarily large crossovers and utility vehicles. It’s small crossovers like the Ford Escape, which is our No. 1 selling brand,” Wickstrom said at the auto show’s media day Thursday.

The show opens to the public Saturday and continues though Feb. 21 at McCormick Place in Chicago.

One paradox facing automakers is the fluid millennial market. While the generation is typed as preferring transit or rideshares such as Uber, that’s changing, experts say. Mark LaNeve, Ford Motor Co. vice president of marketing, sales and service, said the automaker is aiming at two age groups: millennials and baby boomers.

Millennials might “delay getting their driver’s license, may be getting married later, may be taking longer to graduate, but the fundamental need for transportation hasn’t changed at all.” With a demographic of 80 million, “it bodes well for our industry and SUV sales,” LaNeve said.

As gas prices average $1.50 in the Chicago region, drivers aren’t fretting about mileage as much, and that’s why SUVs, pickups and muscle cars are dominating the show.

Some must-sees debuting Thursday included Kia’s Niro Hybrid crossover, Chrysler’s Pacifica Hybrid minivan, Toyota’s remake of the “Back to the Future” 4×4 truck, and Chevrolet’s latest Camaro and its polar opposite — the Bolt EV crossover.

Auto blogger Andrew Krok recommended the Niro. “It’s a crossover, but it’s got a more rugged aesthetic,” said Krok, an Elk Grove Village native and associate editor with Roadshow on CNET, a consumer website. Kia’s goal of 50 mpg on the Niro “keeps it ahead of the curve with regulations as we get closer to 2025,” when tougher federal mpg standards kick in.

Much hype centered on high-tech features such as Pacifica’s automatic parking brake that snaps into action when a driver exits the vehicle, or the 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe’s remote start.

Volvo Car USA CEO Lex Kerssemakers went further, predicting a “driverless” car could hit the market in 2020.

Ford’s LaNeve wouldn’t put a date on it. “A fully autonomous (vehicle) — where you take hands off the wheel — that will roll in over time.”

Kicking green car tires was Environmental Law and Policy Center chief Howard Learner, who raved about the Bolt EV. “It is absolutely great automakers are now competing on clean cars,” he said. “They’re cool, they’re low-polluting and what consumers want in the future.”

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