Commentary: Fifty Years of Hot Wheels

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Photo by Randy Stern

Want to talk about being born at the right time?

I was four years old when Mattel introduced their Hot Wheels cars at the 1968 New York Toy Show. What happened afterward was a phenomenon that engaged a child into a world of the automobile.

Fifty years and six billion units later, Hot Wheels is a universal toy that engages children and adults together. It brings both production and concept cars to life, even at 1:64 scale.

Mattel was known for its success with the Barbie doll. Continue reading

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My Favorite Vehicles From My Father

Chippewa Valley Cars & Coffee - May 2018
All Photos by Randy Stern

This Sunday is Father’s Day.

This is not one of the easiest days to deal with. Sheldon Simon Stern passed away in 1986. He left our family in 1972. Overall, he was a father who ultimately never had a good relationship with his sons.

If I had to glean something positive from my relationship with my late father – he liked his cars.

From the time he left the house, he would do annual leases of his cars until he met his second wife. Then, his car ownership history became somewhat stable.

Even prior to meeting my mother – and through their marriage – he also had an interesting relationship with the automobile. Continue reading

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Travelogue: Detroit Revisited

Foxtown 2018
All Photos by Randy Stern

Twelve years ago, I arrived in Detroit for the first time. Being an automotive person, I felt that this city had been missing in my life. While the trip presented plenty of firsts and enabled me to hit almost every automotive location as possible, it served as a foretelling of the future.

I’ve done a few more trips to the Motor City since then. All on business – the North American International Auto Show in 2013, a couple of trips out to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Chelsea Proving Grounds, a drive to deliver several 2015 Hyundai Sonatas from Chicago to Ann Arbor, and an additional trip a few years to Motor City Pride (and, as a bonus, the Chrysler Employees Motorsports Association annual show). Each trip had a concentration on what I had to do at that moment. Every trip gave me a better view of the region where the American automotive industry is rooted and the history that emanated from it.

This year, I returned to Detroit for a regional drive event for Hyundai. Continue reading

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Quickies: An Aloha From Detroit

2018 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD
2018 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD – All Photos by randy Stern

A few years ago, I attended the media drive for the current Hyundai Tucson. The company knew it had to grow its SUV/crossover lineup in order to compete with the growing trend of their proliferation upon this market. The result has been tremendous growth for the Tucson, the Santa Fe, and the Santa Fe Sport.

Even with the success of these three products, Hyundai knew it needed to add more models to its SUV portfolio. It needed a smaller one, as the subcompact SUV segment was primed for growth. The answer was simple – make one but make it cool looking.

Enter the Hyundai Kona.

It had a brilliant launch on Hawai’i’s Big Island near the city of Kona – some weeks ahead of the latest eruption of Mount Kilauea. Yet, I had held off on driving one until I fulfilled an invitation to do so with Hyundai in Detroit.

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Quickies: The Sum of Veloster’s Value Equation

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Ultimate
2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Ultimate – All Photos by Randy Stern

Remember those fun-to-drive and relatively affordable little sports cars? We had a lot back in my day. They ranged from very small roadsters – such as the MG Midget – to funky little hatchback coupes – like the Nissan Pulsar NX. In the 1970s and early 1980s, it seemed that everyone had one, varying in seriousness and performance.

The good news is that they still exist. At least one does – the Hyundai Veloster.

Hyundai invited me and a bunch of other regional journalists to Detroit to check out the new 2019 Veloster. Let’s see how this second-generation coupe turned out.

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On The Dial: Where The Music From…and More

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Photo by Randy Stern

June has two cultural designations: African-American Music Appreciation Month and LGBT Pride Month.

Some have said that there were a couple of times when the two were fused with each other. One time was when Disco was hot – a dance music that emerged from the Soul and Funk movements with a higher beats-per-minute added and more pronounced percussion, and driven by African-American artists. The second was House music – a latter movement that took Disco and modernized it without a lot of instrumentation.

Where radio came in was at the first movement. Disco was big by 1975 that popular stations could not ignore it. Getting there may have been a short road, but the same forces of segregation had already been in place towards integrating so-called mainstream radio with radio from the African-American community.

Even at the start of radio, there seemed to be two sets of frequencies. Continue reading

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As “Big” As A…Big Tree That It’s Named After

2018 Toyota Sequoia Limited 4WD
2018 Toyota Sequoia Limited 4X4 – All Photos by Randy Stern

A Victory & Reseda review of the 2018 Toyota Sequoia

It is a fact that I have worked with every model in Toyota’s current lineup – except for one.

If you look back at my work over the past seven years through all of my outlets, you can say that I missed out on three such models. One is the FJ Cruiser, which is one of the most capable SUVs Toyota created not based on the Land Cruiser. It is derived from the same platform as its global Hilux pickup truck, which is a proven and tough basis to build an equally tough SUV. Sadly, the FJ left our market because we wanted softer SUVs rather than ones that would get us through the Rubicon Trail.

The second is the Venza. The Camry-based crossover was more of a curiosity than a competitive product. It came when it was fashionable to make such things. However, Toyota learned that its customers wanted an SUV rather than just a tall wagon based off of their most popular car. The Venza was simply canceled.

The third one is still with us. Continue reading

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Historiography: The French in America

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All Photos by Randy Stern, except otherwise noted

Do you remember the time when French cars were a thing in America?

At one time, American foreign car customers would walk into a showroom to see a Peugeot 504, a Renault 12, and a Citroen DS side-by-side. There were contrasts in design – a modern sedan that could be ordered with a gasoline engine or a diesel, a fastback four-door that offered high value which some quirks, and a 15-year-old design that foretold the future of the automobile. Yet, it was not unusual for a foreign car dealership to offer these three makes, alongside an assortment of British, Italian and/or Swedish cars in a single location.

As the 1970s came along, Citroen would cease selling their unique products here, leaving Peugeot to make it on their own. Renault would soon morph into American Motors, finding a larger dealership network to sell both French and Wisconsin-made products stateside.

A century ago, the French were seen as innovators in the automotive world. Continue reading

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Commentary: Not The Final Mic Drop

Photo courtesy of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles



This was rumored to be Sergio Marchionne’s curtain call at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

The man was responsible for saving Chrysler from oblivion in the face of the Global Financial Crisis. Marchionne lead the integration of the company into Fiat S.p.A., which was seen as a huge gamble on both sides. The formation of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles received mixed reviews. While the critics wondered if this new company will outlast the last attempt at integrating a European automotive firm with an American one will last and how much either side was going to run each other.

As reports and rumors began flying earlier last week, this would be Marchionne’s final Five-Year Plan as the boss of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, it sounded as he was going to do a mic drop with some bad news for both sides of the Italian-American corporate family.

Well…Marchionne did wear a tie at the “Capital Markets Day” presentation in Balocco, Italy.

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Popular Ambition

2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD
2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD – All Photos by Randy Stern

A Victory & Reseda review of the 2018 Mazda CX-5

In the most competitive automotive segment in the USA, you have to find a way to stand out.

For years, Mazda went “all-in” on the CX-5. The first-generation model set the tone for a new chapter in Mazda’s history – by translating its enthusiast bent onto an SUV. It worked. By the end of its run, it would lead sales in the USA and other places around the world above the other Mazda offerings.

Now, there’s another strategy taking place at Mazda – the push upmarket. It is not enough to become an enthusiast’s brand. It is to seek opportunity for those with higher incomes and deeper demographics.

That push began with the mid-sized, three-row CX-9. It was a well-executed in every way possible, including a new posh version – the Reserve. Mazda made it clear that some of its models would not stop at the Grand Touring trim, which already mixed a level of luxury and content without compromising its enthusiast bent.

For 2017, the second-generation CX-5 arrived at the dealership offering the promise of upmarket aspirations with high style inside and out, while maintaining the core essentials that make the first CX-5 a success.

I had a previous turn in the Mazda CX-5 last year for another publication. Continue reading

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