Commentary: The State of The Truck Business

At the top of the charts.... All Photos by Randy Stern

At the top of the charts…. All Photos by Randy Stern

For the bane of repeating myself, I need to quote statistic again: In 2014, 60% of all new vehicle sales in the state of Minnesota were of trucks, crossovers and SUV – the highest percentage of any state in the Union.

Higher than Texas? Yes. Greater than North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska…Iowa? I’m afraid so. Even Alabama, Mississippi…Arkansas…Alaska…California? Yes, yes…and yes.

Why am I quoting this again? So far in 2015, I have received a slew of pickup trucks – four in total, an average of one per month. Normally, I would be lucky to get one – maybe two – per year. However, the importance of the pickup truck market still drives sales and profits for those who sell them in this country. It is important for an automotive writer based in a state where there is a higher propensity for truck ownership and enthusiasm to cover vehicles not only for a regional audience, but for a North American one, too. One look at the USA and Canadian sales charts will tell the entire story.

The Ford F-Series – the F-150 and Super Duty combined – own both sales charts. On the average, Ford would sell 60,000 pickup trucks per month in the USA and Canada alone. General Motors, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Toyota sell their pickup truck wares in the tens of thousands of each in the same countries.

This market is lucrative. Continue reading

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A Different View – 2015 Ford F-150 King Ranch

Photo by Altamish Osman/Altamish Osman Photography

Photo by Altamish Osman/Altamish Osman Photography

People like visuals. So do I.

Photos are what attracts people on social media. No time to read…look! A photo is what engages more than a bunch of words.

But, when you see photos of mine…they’re good, but they’re from a different aspect. I do more “matter of fact” photos, letting the default capture is best from people, vehicles, locations and so forth.

I do admire photographers that capture the art, as well as the fact of an automobile. Some of them happen to be friends and colleagues – such as Chicago-based Ian Merritt and Twin Cities-based Alex Bellus. They can do things I either do not have the skill, equipment of patience to accomplish.

A couple of friends, Twin Cities-based photographers Altamish Osman and Eric Vilendrer, asked to photograph one of the vehicles I was reviewing for my outlets. It turned out to be the 2015 Ford F-150 King Ranch SuperCrew pickup. Though conditions were less than ideal – a rainy, drizzly day – Osman, Vilendrer and I went for it. What you will see below is a series of images from these two photographers from rolling shots on dirt/gravel roads and a rig shot inside of a parking ramp (er, garage).

Enjoy these images!

Continue reading

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V&R Analysis: A Tale of Two F-150s

All Photos by Randy Stern

All Photos by Randy Stern

It is rare that a journalist with a specialty in vehicle review gets multiple stints in the same vehicle. That is, of course, said journalist specializes in a particular brand and/or model. Otherwise, we generalists try to bring in different models to evaluate and write about in our specific outlets.

However, I wound up with two 2015 Ford F-150 pickups to review in a span of three weeks. This is not a matter of luck, but of circumstance. It also gave me license to work harder to cover one of the most newsworthy vehicles of the past 15 months. It also fits with a strategy to review vehicles that are relevant to my main regional audience of the Upper Midwest. Pickup trucks are common vehicles in this home market, and the one that gets the most talk is the Ford F-150.

In my reviews, I point out that its 37 years of sales leadership is due to brand and product loyalty, reputation and innovation. Ford pulled out all of the stops in the new F-150 by introducing aluminum as the basis for cab and box construction, while maintaining a strong rolled steel frame and adding a new EcoBoost twin-turbocharged V6 to the engine lineup. These were done in the name of weight loss and higher fuel efficiency, while maintaining class-normal payload and towing capacity targets.

Driving two different Ford F-150s certainly added to the context of the basic story. There were of different specifications – trim levels, engines, equipment and so forth. They also provided additional questions not addressed in either forthcoming review.

Perhaps to understand the importance of the new F-150 is to put the two versions I drove for my upcoming reviews in a comparison. Continue reading

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Carmmunity: A Collaboration

All Photos by Randy Stern

All Photos by Randy Stern

Collaborations could go many ways.

It could be a charming idea, in the beginning. A meeting of the minds would come up with a brilliant plan for two groups to come together for a single event. It could be executed well with all stakeholders on board.

But, what if there were challenging interests? What if a disagreement came up that would threaten the event’s launch? What if the two parties stuck to their guns on fundamental ideals to never come up with compromises to make it work? What could possibly go wrong before the event starts?

There are always hopes and fears when two groups collaborate on anything. I certainly had mine when I was told about the Spring Kickoff Meet co-hosted by Lifted Trucks Minnesota and MN Nissan Infiniti at Running Acres in Columbus, Minnesota.

Did this collaborative effort work?

Continue reading

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V&R Fiction: Plum Crazy (Part 1)

Photo by Randy Stern

Photo by Randy Stern

So, I’m going to try out some fictional writing on V&R. Don’t worry, they will be more… – RS

Rick would be the least likely person to be cool about anything.

Yet, he survived his senior year at Reseda High School without a scratch. Rick was smart, but not exactly an honor’s student. His lone appearance in an Advanced Placement English class caused a stir with the school’s intelligentsia. Rick was never good enough for team sports, but could serve as a decent water boy – otherwise known as a “manager” – for the varsity football team. He was never good with the girls – awkward, a bit chubby, plainly dressed, wore wire-framed glasses and was very shy.

Was he bullied? Teased, maybe. Was he disciplined at home? Luckily, no. He was just Rick. He was just…there.

What did Rick that no other person at Reseda High had? Continue reading

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What Ever Happened to Tailgating?

Photo by Randy Stern

Photo by Randy Stern

Let me take you back out to the ballgame.

In the past, I discussed tailgating, an All-American ritual (and Canadian, too) that ties the automobile and professional spectator sports. It is a simple thing to do, though sometimes complicated by sophistication and some crazy idea found on the Food Network.

Not that I have anything against the Food Network, though I found Vice’s Munchies YouTube channel more entertaining…

I get it. There are two approaches to tailgating. One is a simple approach. It involves a quick trip to the store or a nearby fast food joint, a cooler, some beverages and a few folding chairs. When you get to the parking lot, you open up the rear of the vehicle, the cooler and a few beverages. The food comes shortly afterwards…

Then, there are those who are adventurous about their tailgating. Continue reading

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My Favorites from the Home Edition of the New York International Auto Show

Nope, I was not there... - Photo by Randy Stern

Nope, I was not there… – Photo by Randy Stern

The New York International Auto Show has been closed for some time. But, its resonance is still felt.

In years covering auto shows remotely – now called the “Home Edition” – this was one of the best. It rolled out very significant debuts – with more impact than the other majors on the global circuit. These debuts showed the urgency of manufacturers to create vehicles that will have an impact on their brands and selected markets.

All well and good, but which ones will actually have that impact? As I review the tape (i.e. the video from the pressers), I came up with some favorite production-ready models from the 2015 New York International Auto Show.

The best thing about all this – I did not have to wear that name tag with that name from my birth certificate on it…saving the embarrassment from the floor of the Javits Center.

Continue reading

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Commentary: Four Years In

Four years of doing this can make you look like this - Photo by Randy Stern

Four years of blogging on the automobile could make you look like *this* – Photo by Randy Stern

How do you celebrate four years of being a blog?

Do you throw a party? Do you go out to dinner and add a few cocktails in the mix? Do you put together an event where others can celebrate by getting their cars detailed and hoon on the exit?

None of the above, to be honest.

You reflect. You look back and celebrate the good. You evaluate and seek improvement. You thank everyone for their support.

These past four years had their highlights and low points. Continue reading

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Historiography: A Room at The Inn

Looking for a room at the inn - All Photos by Randy Stern

Looking for a room at the inn – All Photos by Randy Stern

A weary traveler needs a respite from a long journey.

Even in the days when it took longer to get from coast to coast and the roads were not of the greatest shape, finding time to rest was something that was a part of the journey. If a motorist could afford it, there were places where a night’s rest from the road offered a bed, a shower and a few other amenities.

The motel was a part of Americana. It still is. Some say it was probably the best idea that came out of the growth of the automobile.

The word “motel” came from combining the words “motor” and “hotel.” It was a perfect word to provide a comfortable bed and bathing facilities for drivers and their passengers on journeys that took days to complete. It also offered a scaled-down experience that was once the dominion of wealthier travelers worldwide.

How so? Continue reading

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My Favorites for the Fourth Anniversary of V&R

The first vehicle to arrive for V&R four years ago! All Photos by Randy Stern

The first vehicle to arrive for V&R four years ago! All Photos by Randy Stern

Four years ago, Victory & Reseda had its coming out party.

It became a successful outlet for me in terms of telling the story of the automobile, recounting its history, commenting on various issues, and speculating the future. It was also the first place my reviews would appear online before sending them to my other outlets.

Through V&R, many doors opened. I was able to participate in various on-site activities from major auto shows to OEM-sponsored opportunities. It became my calling card towards gaining inroads with the local carmmunity around my Twin Cities base and a bit beyond. From meeting with retailers, clubs, driving groups, motorsport pros and key executives, V&R was the vessel that carried me through these life changing moments.

Since December, V&R went through some changes to concentrate on telling the stories from the driver’s seat – or, the passenger one. It is still the home of my more personal work. Now, I seek opportunities to tell stories that are unique, experiential and support the idea of freedom through mobility.

There is a throughline to all of this. The automobile is a central figure. It is a magnificent machine that still engages my senses and provokes thought since the day I was born.

I am often asked “what is my favorite car?” Continue reading

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