Carmmunity: The Arc of a Diver

A celebraton is happening here! - Photo by Randy Stern

A celebration is happening here! – All Photos by Randy Stern

In Minnesota, there is an extended thaw that occurs every year. Though March may signal the start of spring, it never happens on time. We could get snow in April and temperatures that linger below 60 Fahrenheit until May.

Yet, the carmmunity is restless. Several cruises came about as back as February. The Twin Cities Auto Show was supposed to signal the beginning of the mental thaw of the carmmunity. Enthusiasts and owners scramble to get vehicles out of storage for the eventual rites of spring.

That itch became evident this past Sunday. The thaw enabled the rain to come down instead of snow. Rain that dissuaded a car meet to meet, but of two cruises, a business meeting of a club and a group-sponsored meet and eat at a local center for enthusiasm. The day before brought a slow warm-up with one of the clubs cruising in their finest machines, while I tackled a piece of southeastern Minnesota in a newsworthy machine.

When the stars align, magic happens. It did in this carmmunity. And, the stars came out.

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The Speculator: A Mid-Sized Truck Renaissance?

2015 GMC Canyon - Photo by Randy Stern

2015 GMC Canyon – Photo by Randy Stern

General Motors fired a shot across the bow of the pickup market. It did so by creating a triple threat against the competition – the three-truck strategy. While they battle in familiar territories – full-sized, half-ton and heavy duty segments – GM returned to the mid-sized segment with a duo of global trucks with distinctive exteriors and a singular vision.

The Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon practically changed the game in the smaller truck segment. Their Thai/Australian roots offered up a strong frame and dimensions only shadowing a Silverado/Sierra. The result is one of the hottest products in their respective showrooms. Production is ramping up, but they still need to fulfill customer orders. Rather, customers are looking for configurations that are slowly being fulfilled at the plant to take delivery. There is also a promise of a diesel engine – the Duramax 2.8liter four-cylinder – that is still on target for the 2016 model year.

As soon as the first Colorados and Canyons hit dealer lots, Toyota fired back. Their Hi-Lux-based, US-developed mid-sized pickup, the Tacoma, broke cover for 2016 on the floor of Cobo Center in Detroit. The new Tacoma appeared to of the same size as the Colorado/Canyon, which meant that Toyota knew it had to be of the size to compete in the revitalized segment. No word on specific engines – a four-cylinder and V6 is expected, but no diesel – and other important performance and capability numbers.

Where GM and Toyota are re-establishing the mid-sized truck market, one wonders why they differ in marketing approaches. Chevrolet wants Colorado buyers to have a rock n’ roll attitude, which lends to more play than work. Toyota made it clear that the Tacoma was strictly for play. Yet, fleet customers and small business owners wonder whether these trucks can do the job for them, even as they either supplant larger trucks or augment their fleets for lighter jobs.

Does this open the door for this segment to grow again? Continue reading

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Commentary: “And, On That Bombshell…”

Photo courtesy of The BBC via The Guardian (

Photo courtesy of The BBC via The Guardian (

Today, the British Broadcasting Corporation ended their relationship with Jeremy Clarkson as one of three hosts of “Top Gear”” This came from an incident on March 4, 2015 in which the popular co-host of the show was involved in a “fracas” with a producer over a meal not provided after a long day of shooting. The BBC reported that Clarkson made violent physical contact onto the producer with continued verbal abuse. The investigation led to the decision not to renew Clarkson’s contract.

Why is Clarkson so important to us? He, along with James May and Richard Hammond, had the attention of 350 Million viewers worldwide. His work at the BBC began in the late 1980s with the same show – though under a different format. Since then, Clarkson was seen as the byline to read when discussing automobiles – more notably in The Sunday Times during the 1990s. He was also the voice to hear – though some found him not so easy on the eyes on television.

Since the show’s reboot in 2003, Clarkson took liberties within the context of the show to challenge the new Britain of visible diversity and swath of New Labour. He was old school, though born well after the end of World War II and growing up after the end of the Empire. His views were quite conservative and had something to say about everyone and everything. These statements either were laughed at or called for apologies and action against Clarkson.

Because of Clarkson, chiefly among other reasons, the “Top Gear” franchise grew to localized editions in other countries – including the USA. Continue reading

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Commentary: Was There Something We Missed in March?

Cathy Heying of The Lift Garage - Photo courtesy of CNN

Cathy Heying of The Lift Garage – Photo courtesy of CNN

There could be some commentary this month on things. Some of the topics are car-related; some not.

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Historiography: Infiniti and Now – Twenty-Five Years in the Making

1990 Infiniti Q45 - Photo courtesy of Infiniti

1990 Infiniti Q45 – Photo courtesy of Infiniti

Luxury is defined in many ways. It everyone followed the same definition of luxury; we would not have any way to differentiate one product from another – even if it is the same kind of product.

Twenty-five years ago, two Japanese automakers introduced new divisions to sell their idea of a luxury automobile. Toyota created Lexus, now one of the leading brands of premium automobiles in North America. Nissan was developing their own concept of the luxury automobile. It would be different in every way – from the design of its flagship to the dealership environment. Over time, this luxury brand went through many waves of success while trying to find a groove to satisfy owners, enthusiasts and future customers.

On November 8, 1989, Nissan opened the doors to a handful of dealerships under the brand name of Infiniti.

That moment brought more puzzled faces than praise. Prior to that date, Infiniti teased us on what to expect from its products. The advertising and marketing teams chose to use imagery of what luxury means to a Japanese entity than what to fully expect from a Japanese luxury automobile. Critics wondered why an opal stone had anything to do with a luxury car, let alone the Japanese idea of luxury. This was one a few images being touted with a brief message vaguely conveying the concept of Infiniti with cultural references and minimal mention of product. This strategy continued after the dealerships opened for business.

Behind the imagery was a flagship that broke many rules and stood out in a crowd. Continue reading

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Twin Cities 2015: The Industry’s Celebration Comes “Home”

A;ll Photos by Randy Stern

All Photos by Randy Stern

Ten years ago, I attended my first Twin Cities Auto Show. It was my first since moving to the area. I had no idea what to expect, but I was certainly excited to go.

Luckily, I worked in downtown Minneapolis on a temporary assignment with a major corporation. I left for the Minneapolis Convention Center after I was done with work. It was a short walk on the Skyway, but every block was worth the anticipation. Arriving there, I saw all of the exhibit halls open up to accommodate almost every brand sold in the Twin Cities market. Flashbacks to auto shows from Los Angeles to Washington to Chicago welled up inside as I went from exhibit to exhibit, just taking it all in.

My best memory is kept from a photo taken by a marketing team with Chevrolet. It was me inside of a red C6 Corvette convertible. I do remember spraining my ankle coming out of the car. The photo still looked pretty darn good.

Over the past decade, I experienced my fair share of milestones attending and working the Twin Cities auto show. Continue reading

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A Rogue – In Memory of “Mr. K”

2015 Nissan Rogue SV - All Photos by Randy Stern

2015 Nissan Rogue SV – All Photos by Randy Stern

A Victory & Reseda Review of the 2015 Nissan Rogue

It was 2011, and I was on the cusp of a new turn in this work.

Things were doing just fine. I was ready to take on my second Chicago Auto Show Media Days – the first since 2004. Yet, I needed to show I can write on a level worthy of taking this career to the next level.

The week running up to Chicago, I rented a car for the week. I can now reveal that my visit to the Hertz office in Richfield yielded a choice. The counter person, an acquaintance, pretty much made that decision for me – a 2011 Nissan Rogue S.

One point was made in that article – I wrote about that generation of Rogue before. The original write-up was also based on a rental in 2010. This second one would not be the last, as Nissan sent up a 2012 Rogue SV as one of the first OEM-supplied vehicles for review. Last year yielded the new generation Rogue for a full review published everywhere I had a byline.

You would think I had my fill with Nissan’s compact crossover. Think again.

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Historiography: Sports. Utility. Vehicle – Part 2

All Photos by Randy Stern

All Photos by Randy Stern

We pick up the story at the end of the 1970s…

By the mid-1970s, the SUV market shrank due to the loss of Land Rover and International Harvester. As the decade continued, the segment was stagnant as most customers did not take these vehicles as seriously as in those in certain parts of the country. Places, such as rural communities and in mountainous regions, were ripe for these vehicles to serve as primary transportation through any climatic condition.

There was an automotive development that would change the future of the SUV. Throughout the 1980s, the station wagon was under threat by a brand new transportation option – the minivan. Families figured out that you can have a vehicle that would seat seven, carry their stuff and park inside of a garage.

Meanwhile, another development began to shake up the automotive world. Continue reading

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Historiography: Sport. Utility. Vehicle – Part I

All Photos by Randy Stern

All Photos by Randy Stern

War is hell….but for the victors, the spoils sometimes go a very long way.

Think about what came out of World War II. In America, it would be the prosperity that lasted well into the 1950s and beyond. It introduced new technology, such as the jet engine and more efficient engine and transmission designs. It gave us the Jeep – in various different forms.

Recently, I did some client work on the subject of Land Rover. The basis of this work was to recount the history of the brand. One little known fact today was the genesis of this vehicle actually came from a leftover GP from the American Armed Forces that was used in the UK. In other words, for the one vehicle that opened up the British Empire and beyond, it took an American invention to spawn this machine.

It was not a strange idea. The Jeep was also the catalyst for Toyota’s own off-road vehicle. Though Toyota developed a couple of vehicles based on a captured American Bantam GP, when they were asked by Willys Overland to build the military-issue vehicle for the Korean conflict, it rekindled the development of the Land Cruiser. This would be the vehicle that would replace the Land Rover in almost every part of the globe.

The Land Rover and Toyota Land Cruiser would not have had the experience of exploring jungles, remote deserts, the greatest mountain ranges and hidden river valleys without the greatest spoil of war. Continue reading

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V&R Stories: Passed Up Dreams at The Used Car Lot

Photo by Randy Stern

Photo by Randy Stern

There’s a car on any given lot that gets your attention every time you pass by it. It may have been for sale for weeks – even months. Yet, when you see that particular car, you always think “why hasn’t anyone bought it?”

There could any set of reasons. Recent reminders of things past opened up the memory banks to attempt to address this scenario.

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