Twin Cities 2014: The Advantage of Being "Local"

My interviewing Eric Peterson of Ford
Werk! Randy interviewing Eric Peterson of Ford at the Twin Cities Auto Show. Photo by LS2Group for the Ford Motor Company and Victory & Reseda

In terms of the auto show season, this is a "normal" year for me.

A "normal" year consists of two focal points on the auto show map – Chicago and the Twin Cities shows. If budget and employment would allow, I would be happy to attend every major auto show on the planet, while ensuring a stop at my home auto show to connect with the local automotive community. Unfortunately, I am not that lucky to have that level of prominence to include auto show stops, such as Los Angeles, Frankfurt/Paris, Detroit, Houston, Dallas, Geneva, Washington, Shanghai/Beijing and so forth.

For what I do, Chicago and Minneapolis works for specific reasons. Chicago is where I catch up with the major debuts from prior major shows, connect with colleagues and contacts and source future stories. Currently, it is the show where I present the Vehicle of The Year award. In the two days I am inside McCormick Place, I could accomplish enough to make the rest of the year work for itself.

However, the Twin Cities Auto Show kicks off the work I do right here in my home market. It leverages my position within this region to network with local entities towards stories based in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and environs. It also puts me in the position to participate in the local coverage.

At this show, I had a chance to chat with a couple of people regarding upcoming products. The 2015 Ford F-150 presents a paradigm shift for full sized pickups by its extensive use of aluminum in the cab and bed, while being mounted to a steel frame. Ford states a weight savings of 700 pounds, while employing the expansive use of EcoBoost engine technology in its lineup.

Ford's Eric Peterson made the point that EcoBoost engines amount for "40 percent" of all F-150 sales since its introduction. There are arguments either way as to whether this is a smart move or not. In Ford's eyes, diesel in the F-150 is not a viable option as the EcoBoost takes care of its efficiency thrust.

Peterson and Ford know they have the loyalty of millions of owners – individuals and fleets included. Present a new model and they will trade in their old truck. It sustains the 60,000-plus unit monthly sales figures for years to come. The 2015 model is doing exactly that.

I will admit that the new F-150 is warming up to me. The paradigm shift towards extensive aluminum construction alone is a curious tack to comprehend. Yet, the F-150 is going to be competitive, but I must argue against it without even taking the wheel.

The Ram 1500's leadership in ride and load control, and the use of an appropriate diesel engine will keep it in the forefront of the truck game. Quality is up at Chrysler and the Ram continues to present a formidable argument against the F-150. GM now offers a solid ride-handling mix for its half-ton pickup, though there are points where the F-150 will exploit with the 2015 model. The Toyota Tundra is coming strong, but they remain no match for the Ram and the 2015 F-150.

How Nissan respond with the new Titan and its optional Cummins V8 turbocharged diesel? We have ten months to wait until Fred Diaz pulls the covers off of his new baby in Detroit.

The other conversation came with the general manager of one of the two Porsche dealers in the area. The focus of our conversation is the new small crossover, the Macan. It is interesting to hear not just the excitement over the Macan, but the contrast on how a sports car maker has embraced this market through the Cayenne and its all-wheel drive offerings.

The Macan provides two arguments. One is an old one – how much will this dilute the essence of the brand? The second is the fact of reality – will this further enhance the brand on top of the core products.

We have succumbed to the latter argument, but in a positive manner. Porsche is looking to increase volume to a 200,000-unit clip worldwide. Yet, the products being introduced do not counter against its sports car core: 911, Boxster and Cayman. The Cayenne is the most versatile product offering more engine and propulsion options never thought of in the brand's history. Yet, at its essence, is still a Porsche in terms of balancing subtlety and performance.

The Macan could be one of two things. It could be a concentrated lineup of three models with three distinct performance levels. Or, it could be a platform to shadow the larger Cayenne with more propulsion options – including a higher performance GTS model. Still, the Macan drew the crowds at the Twin Cities Auto Show. It could be the Porsche that will be an icon amongst its class, at least in this market.

There were vehicles driven at the Ride & Drives that I finally got under my belt. The Scion xB remained the only model of its lineup – historically and present – I had yet to experience. Though I missed the little underpowered box, this one seemed to be forgotten in the hubbub of the Kia Soul. It is larger with rear blind spots thanks to a thick C pillar and is burdened by a huge interior fascia that houses only an instrumentation binnacle up top and a thick console below. However, the xB is comfortable, smooth and powerful – thanks to an old 2.4liter corporate four-cylinder. From the front seats back – it is a spacious conveyance. No wonder why they are being used as taxicabs in some cities.

The second – and most important – Ride & Drive is something V&R will cover later this year: The 2014 Mazda3. On "Pi Day," I only got a piece. It was real good. I want the whole pie next time. That is how good this Mazda3 is. Let us see if this summer will yield one for review.

Unlike years past, I had no reason to do the other scheduled events at the Twin Cities Auto Show. This year, I was able to go to the Automotive Job Fair. The booths at the Job Fair were mainly staffed by the dealer chains in the area. I did not mind that at all. I talked with human resources people and handed off resumes. This is not a precedent, as some of my colleagues also work in the automotive retail, service or parts business and write on the side.

Thinking about this year's visit to the Twin Cities Auto Show, I needed to look deeper as to why I went this year as media instead of some other reason. Though I feel a larger part of the media corps in the Twin Cities, including my appearances in Lavender Magazine and being a part of CarSoup.com's Buyers Guide, I believe I am in another transition. I am not sure how to explain this or what I could reveal here, but I do feel there is something looming that will affect this work.

One would hope that this would be a positive move. I do, too. I felt that there has to be a point where I could do more than just review vehicles and pontificate about the past, present and future of the automobile. Do not get me wrong – I love what I do. I would love to do more than that.

This year, I was glad to be presented with the opportunity to interview folks here at the show. I am glad that I am recognized to be important enough to participate on that level. Yet, I need to be mindful of my place in my community. That is another can of worms I would rather not open up here.

What the universe has in store after the end of the Twin Cities Auto Show, I will welcome. For now, my auto show season has ended. The next several months are looking good towards participation in various forms. I hope you all will be there along the way.

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