Commentary: Lions, Lambs and Madness

There's too many vehicles to review...
An "overflow" at the V&R Garage. All photos by Randy Stern

March – there was no telling the lion from the lamb last month.

It was full of madness, however. Between the work for V&R and Lavender and entertaining seven review vehicles in rapid succession, this March lived up to its billing.

A few readers, friends and others may have pointed to last month as something that was in the universe. Perhaps it was. It was a fantastic opportunity to raise the profile for both V&R and Lavender as viable outlets for automobile writing.

Last month, I officially welcomed three new manufacturers to the V&R Garage – Mazda North American Operations, Kia Motors America and American Honda Motor, Inc. Two of these manufacturers I had histories with through car ownership and prior experience with other products. The latter is true for the third. The opportunity to present their vehicles in the pages of both outlets was a rewarding experience, especially when they brought newsworthy vehicles to cover.

The parade of review subjects was simply amazing – ranging from a subcompact hatchback to a luxury two-row crossover. Five of these seven already made their appearance on V&R. Lavender will have a few of these coming up online and in print over the month or so – starting with Thursday's issue.

Goodbye Mazda3...

It was indeed an honor to drive these seven beauties for the limited time I had them at the V&R Garage. The cycle begins again next week…with two more new manufacturers making their first official visits here over the next few weeks.

There is one thing that needs to be addressed. There had been some backlash against those of us who "brag" about the vehicles we drive. We tweet, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest our vehicles of the week, but there is an agenda behind what we do. In my case, it is a way to spur interest in a subject from you, dear reader. If you're interested in a certain vehicle I'm driving that week, you can always ask questions about it – even follow along to see where I might take it.

The point being is the one of the tenets of social media – engagement. To engage is to draw interest, converse readily with others and to share the experience of the evaluation in real time. The engagement has become part of the story – the review of the vehicle. If we cannot engage, what's the point of using Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.?

2012 Buick Regal eAssist 4

Part of these engagement efforts is getting these vehicles out in the world. Sometimes, we try to keep them to ourselves and not use them as intended. To spark interest in a subject, I try to include them in my social outlets as possible. If there's a birthday brunch in Uptown Minneapolis, a group event in Saint Paul or just seeing a good friend elsewhere in The Cities, the review vehicle becomes an integral part of the experience and is counted towards the evaluation. When someone asks about the vehicle, that’s when engagement begins to pay off for everyone involved in the process.

Speaking of engagement, I'm certain everyone has their social media outlet pointed to the coverage of the New York International Auto Show this week.

Sadly, I am not in New York covering the auto show. I can live with that. The journalist pool is usually quite large and I heard about some fighting for seats to work at in the pressroom. The Javits Center also can be intimidating – so I heard. Perhaps I am comfortable with my two "homes" for auto show coverage – McCormick Place in Chicago and the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Welcome to the 2012 Central Minnesota Auto Show

In a sideways move, I decided to compensate for my absence from New York to attend an auto show – in Saint Cloud, Minnesota. With the Honda CR-V at my disposal, I drove up to the new River's Edge Convention Center in downtown Saint Cloud to see what the Central Minnesota Auto Show was all about.

For starters, I had no idea this was going on. One look at the website of Sears Imports (the Mercedes-Benz dealer in Minnetonka) tipped me off on the show. I jumped in the 2012 Honda CR-V tester and headed westbound on Interstate 94.

On the way, I stopped in the exurb of Rogers, as I was curious about this vintage car dealer and museum alongside the Interstate. A pop into Ellingson's was worth it as there was plenty of automobile history on display – and for sale. For example, you can get a 1928 Dodge for about $10,000. There are collectables offered – some in the six digit realm.

A little gem I found at Ellingson's

I did buy something. For a buck, I found the December 1971 edition of Car and Driver featuring six "super coupes" in a comparison test – including the likes of the Mazda RX-2, Opel 1900 Rallye and the Chevrolet Vega GT. It brought back memories of perusing these magazines to moderate success in my reading tests.

In Saint Cloud, I found the auto show to be mainly a dealer-run affair – with a couple of dealerships missing. Sears brought the only true luxury cars to the show – Mercedes-Benz. Most brands sold in the Saint Cloud were represented – with sales people cutting deals on the show floor as I was walking around. It is worth noting that all of GM's brands and Nissan were not represented there.

The new convention center in Saint Cloud was quite small, so even if you had everyone there, room would be at a premium. Also, everyone had some sort of giveaway – from samples of a new flavor from Pepsi to $40,000 in cash.

2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8

Granted, I am used to the larger shows. There's more manufacturer involvement in those shows (Minneapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Washington DC, San Francisco, Los Angeles), which would leverage such frills as Ride & Drives, charity first look events and concerts by Blues Travelers and Blood, Sweat & Tears.

However, I see the value in smaller auto shows combining dealer involvement and organization with connecting the local and regional communities. When you get a group of dealers together to take over convention floor space for such an event, you can create an atmosphere that induces the curiosity of the future shopper – without the intimidation of the dealership.

I tip my (SRT Nike Golf) cap to the organizers of the Central Minnesota Auto Show. If you need some help with your social media efforts, I know a guy…

2012 Porsche 911 Carrera

Last month also meant getting involved more on a local scale. Getting a chance to bridge readers with the Twin Cities Auto Show was indeed an honor to do. Doing their media event was also good exposure, while connecting with people in the industry and local media. Believe me, there’s more to come both locally and beyond!

Last month was a sign that this work is starting to pay off. Between my articles in Lavender – both in print and online – and the plethora of enthusiast-driven postings on here, you are witnessing a dream blossom into reality. It takes a lot of work to get to this point, but the payoff can be amazingly rewarding.

April is no time to slow down. There's a lot going on this month to keep you engaged and wanting more. You do want more, right?

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