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  • ALV of the Year Announces 2017 Program Details

    One-day event to include on and off-road driving

    By Nina Russin

    ALV 2016 winner Nissan Titan tackles the off-road route

    ALV 2016 winner Nissan Titan tackles the off-road route

    ALV of the Year announces plans for its 2017 program, taking place on Friday October 20. This year, the active lifestyle vehicle program combines media and athlete ride-and-drive events into a single day, with guests arriving on Thursday October 19 and departing the morning of Saturday the 21st. The host hotel is the Phoenix/Chandler Hilton, located off the Chandler exit of the 101 Freeway.

    The ride-and-drive program is open to credentialed media, ALV jury panel members and twenty elite athletes including representatives from Arizona Legends, retired NFL players living in the Phoenix area. The day-long event features on-road routes as well as an expanded off-road driving program in the Tonto National Forest east of Phoenix. The awards ceremony will take place during dinner at the Hilton on Friday evening.

    The Butcher Jones recreation area in the Tonto National Forest combines spectacular scenery with challenging trails for off-roading.

    The Butcher Jones recreation area in the Tonto National Forest combines spectacular scenery with challenging trails for off-roading.

    “By compressing the program and focusing on elite versus regional athletes, we believe ALV is both raising the bar and giving all participants who vote on vehicle entries equal access to driving opportunities,” said ALV of the Year LLC president, Nina Russin. “Our goal continues to be evaluating these vehicles with metrics important to buyers with active lifestyles, including performance on and off-road, safety, ergonomics and cargo capability.”

    ALV is expanding its administrative team to better address the needs of OEM participants and create a larger media footprint through traditional channels and social media.

    The 2017 ALV team includes:
    Tyson Hugie: OEM liaison and marketing
    Sam Haymart: Public relations, drive route coordinator
    Eric Noble and the Carlab: off-road course, ballots
    Becky Antioco: Event management, participant registration.
    Nicole James: Social media
    Jim Woodman: Elite athlete coordinator
    Cathy Droz: NFL liaison
    Robert Russin, CPA: Finance
    Charlotte Stacy: Accounting
    Carrie Owens, Jeff Jordan, Page One Automotive: vehicle preparation
    Raul Vargas, Eric Goetz, DriveShop: vehicle preparation:
    Nina Russin: Event oversight

    Upcoming press releases include the 2017 jury panel, call for entries, hotel information and an expanded schedule.

    For program updates, visit the ALV website.

  • 2017 Chicago Auto Show

    Nation’s largest consumer show expands family-friendly activities

    By Nina Russin

    Nissan Midnight Edition

    Nissan Midnight Edition

    Those of us inside the car industry tend to forget the role consumers play in an auto show. In addition to new product introductions, these events are a rare opportunity for those outside the bubble to get up close and personal with cars they are thinking of buying. The driving public is the meat and potatoes of the Chicago Show, held each February at the McCormick Place convention center. In terms of attendance, it is the largest auto show in the United States.

    This year’s show features fun for all members of the family, including those too young to drive: a Lego Batmobile at the Chevrolet booth plus scale replicas of the Y-Wing Starfighter, X-Wing Starfighter, TIE Striker and AT-ACT, all displayed under the Death Star in Nissan’s special Rogue One Star Wars Limited Edition Display appeal to the kid in all of us.

    Nissan Rogue One Star Wars Display

    Nissan Rogue One Star Wars Display

    Those of driving age can get behind the wheel and have some fun at the show’s five indoor test tracks.

    Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz include test tracks as part of their displays: an appeal to millennials who value experience over the written word. Mercedes-Benz’s Iron Schockl is a 45-degree grade, demonstrating the outstanding climbing ability of the G-Class, while Camp Jeep brings off-roading indoors with rock crawls, steep inclines and sandy surfaces. A Ram proving ground includes six stations that demonstrate the trucks’ work capabilities while Toyota enthusiasts can test drive the new RAV4 and Highlander midsize crossover. Read the rest of this entry »

  • ALV of the Year Announces 2016 Winners

    Thirteenth annual competition sees record attendance

    By Nina Russin

    ALV 2016

    ALV 2016

    The 2016 edition of the Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year competition that took place October 21-22 in Chandler AZ saw record attendance, with an expanded full-day media drive and half-day ride-and-drive during which over four dozen athletes drove and voted on vehicles.

    ALV is the only car-of-the-year program in the United States to combine the input of nationally recognized automotive journalists with elite and area athletes to determine which vehicles currently in production best meet the needs of buyers with active lifestyles.

    ALV of the Year is pleased to announce the following winning vehicles in eight categories:

    Best Value On-Road: 2016 Volkswagen Golf TSI
    Best Value Off-Road: 2016 Ram Rebel
    Extreme Off-Road: 2017 Nissan Titan PRO 4X
    Luxury On-Road: 2017 Kia Cadenza
    Best Value Family: 2016 Ford Explorer
    Luxury Family: 2017 Nissan Armada
    Green ALV: 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel
    Urban: 2017 Kia Soul

    2017 Nissan Armada at ALV

    2017 Nissan Armada at ALV

    “With twenty-six of today’s leading active lifestyle vehicles entered in the competition, the 2016 program was the most competitive to date,’ said ALV of the Year co-founder, Nina Russin. ‘It was also one of the most exciting, thanks to our expanded media day that included off-road driving in the Butcher Jones recreation area and the Phoenix area debut of the 2017 Acura NSX super car as a special feature.”

    Media Day Presentation

    Media Day Presentation

    Among the athletes were representatives from Arizona Legends, retired NFL players of Arizona including former Arizona Cardinals, Jay Taylor, Rodney Thomas and Mark Walczak as well as Marshane Graves, formerly with the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos. Elite runners, cyclists, triathletes, paddlers and kayakers rounded out the teams of athletes.

    “The quality of the competition depends not only on its participants but the resources for evaluating the vehicles,” Russin continued.

    Volkswagen Golf Alltrack at ALV

    Volkswagen Golf Alltrack at ALV

    “Eric Noble and his team at The Carlab, Orange County-based engineering consultants, raised the bar by overseeing the off-road driving area. With routes designed for both all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive vehicles, the automakers had the opportunity to demonstrate their most recent technology for vehicle handling and active safety.”

    ALV would like to thank its 2016 sponsors, Toyota, FCA, Mitsubishi, Kia Motors America, Nissan, Mindfold Inc. and The Carlab.

     

  • Toyota 2017 Model Year Wrap-up

    New sports car, 50th anniversary Corolla, V-6 and hybrids enter showrooms

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Toyota 86

    2017 Toyota 86

    Toyota enters the 2017 model year with a significant birthday, expanded hybrid offerings for its Highlander crossover, refreshed Sienna minivan and a new sports car. With Scion closing its doors, Toyota is introducing a refreshed FR-S as the 2017 86, paying homage to the AE86, also known as the Corolla Levin.

    Core features remain the same: a two-liter boxer engine with available six-speed manual or automatic transmissions in a rear-wheel drive platform. The engine combines port and direct injection, the former for fuel efficiency when cruising around town and the latter for throttle response on the track.

    2017 Toyota 86

    2017 Toyota 86

    The retuned two-plus-two features new differential gearing for the manual transmission version for better launch characteristics. Redesigned intake and exhaust manifolds help the engine breathe better. Enhanced torsional rigidity from a stiffer transmission tunnel and thicker strut tower brace boosts steering response. Engineers also retuned the suspension.

    Styling is refreshed inside and out, with new 17-inch twisted spoke wheels and all-LED front and rear lighting. A smaller steering wheel with audio controls, Granlux shoulder pads on the seats and Granlux inserts in the doors reflect the interior’s driver focus. Read the rest of this entry »

  • First Drive: 2017 Nissan Titan, Armada and Pathfinder

    New truck line-up appeals to buyers with active lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Nissan Armada

    2017 Nissan Armada

    Nissan has redesigned its core truck models for 2017, including all new Titan and Armada plus a significant refresh for the Pathfinder. In each case the automaker responded to buyer demands for enhanced active safety technology and more capable off-road performance.

    The 2017 Titan Crew Cab follows on the heels of the diesel-powered XD introduced earlier in the year: a slightly smaller more affordable offering with plenty of towing and payload capacity. There are five trim levels, including the off-road oriented PRO-4X.

    2017 Nissan Armada

    2017 Nissan Armada

    The full-size Armada sport-utility vehicle remains the brand’s flagship, with seating for up to eight passengers. Active safety features include intelligent cruise control with forward emergency braking, lane departure warning, backup collision intervention and an around-view monitor. Pricing starts at $44,000 plus destination for the base SV 2X4 model. The new Armada rolls out this month.

    The Pathfinder, produced at Nissan’s Smyrna, Tennessee assembly plant, competes against the Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot. Changes to the 2017 model include a redesigned exterior, new powertrain featuring a 3.5-liter direct injection V-6 engine, enhanced towing capability and more responsive handling on paved roads. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Chicago Auto Show

    Year of the truck

    By Nina Russin

    Toyota TRD Pro Tacoma

    Toyota TRD Pro Tacoma

    The Chicago Auto Show held each February at the McCormick Place convention center on the shores of Lake Michigan is epic in every way: it has the biggest show floor and the best consumer attendance of any such show in the US. There’s something for everyone at Chicago, but this year it was the trucks that stole the show. From the world premier of the 2017 Nissan Armada that kicked off the media preview to Ram’s newest Power Wagon, Kia’s new hybrid utility vehicle and Toyota’s TRD Pro Tacoma, automakers unveiled their newest designs for adventurous travel. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Heels and Wheels 2015

    Women’s automotive conference charts changes in the industry

    By Nina Russin

    Heels and Wheels 2015

    Heels and Wheels 2015

    It’s been a long time coming, but the automotive industry has finally realized that women think about cars differently. Since female buyers account for 50 percent of all new car purchases, understanding how their preferences impact purchase decisions significantly impacts automakers’ bottom lines.

    For the past five years, my colleague Christine Overstreet has assembled a group of female journalists, product specialists, market analysts and engineers for Heels and Wheels, a conference focused on the growing impact women have on car design, engineering, media coverage and automotive sales. This year’s conference that took place in Southern California included market analysts from Kelly Blue Book, engineers from General Motors and FCA, products specialists from GMC, Buick, Dodge, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lexus, Mitsubishi, Kia, Nissan, Infiniti, Mazda and Volkswagen.

    Two-dozen journalists covered the gamut from traditional outlets such as Cars.com and Autobytel to electronic media, travel writers and mommy bloggers. While earlier Heels and Wheels programs focused primarily on the dealership experience, the 2015 event had a broader base, looking at recent trends and giving journalists a chance to spend time with women who work for the automakers on product development teams. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 MAMA Spring Rally

    Two-day drive event attracts journalists from coast to coast

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Dodge Viper ACR

    2016 Dodge Viper ACR

    People from Wisconsin are fond of reminding out-of-towners that their weather can chance in the blink of an eye. In May, when MAMA hosts its annual Spring Rally at Road America in Elkhart Lake, the weather can vary between balmy sunshine and bitter cold depending on the day.

    This explains how I found myself standing in the middle of 25 mile-per-hour winds on a 45-degree day this past week, wondering which of the cars available for testing came with heated steering wheels.

    The Midwest Automotive Media Association has been coming to Wisconsin’s preeminent motorsports park for over a decade to hold the larger of its two annual driving events. The two-day program starts with a fish fry at the Lake Street Cafe, a local haunt popular among racing fans and concludes with a day of off-roading and autocross in the far reaches of Road America’s 640-acre facility.

    In between there is a day of hot laps on the track together with a city streets course during which the hundred journalists in attendance can literally drive their hearts out. Read the rest of this entry »

  • In Memoriam: Denise McCluggage

    By Nina Russin

    Denise McCluggage

    Denise McCluggage

    Yesterday we learned that our dear friend and colleague, Denise McCluggage had passed away. She was 88 years young.

    I had the honor of knowing McCluggage as a friend and mentor. She was part of our Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year jury panel from the get go, resigning her position on a more prestigious jury in the process because that program had requested exclusivity.

    “Nina needs me more,” she told them. She was right. While her reputation as a world-renowned race car driver, elite athlete and award-winning journalist were all feathers in our cap, McCluggage’s biggest contribution was the infectious enthusiasm she instilled in all of us.

    Denise McCluggage drank at life in big gulps. As an automotive journalist, she busted the glass ceiling for women working in the field and never looked back. Fear was not part of her vocabulary. She didn’t have time for it.

    Everyone has his or her favorite McCluggage story. This is mine: Several years back Mercedes-Benz staged a fuel economy run as part of their media launch for the then brand new E-Class Diesel sedan.

    We knew prizes were involved so everyone drove the route as if they had eggshells under their feet, air conditioning off and tires overinflated. McCluggage was having none of it. Pedal to the metal, she sped through the course back to the staging area. For her efforts, she received the ‘Lead Foot’ award.

    Her response: “You can buy more fuel but you can’t buy more time”‘

    Bigger than life in life and forever in our hearts, Denise McCluggage you will be sorely missed.

  • Chrysler/Toyota Win Top Spots at TAWA Roundup

    OEMs bring over 50 vehicle entries to March ride-and-drive event

    By Nina Russin

    Photo courtesy of Major League Photography

    Photo courtesy of Major League Photography

    Everything is bigger in Texas. From bighorn steers to ten-gallon hats, the Lone Star state is the land of supersizing.

    This includes the weather. Because north Texas lies in the path of the Jetstream, the area gets a lot of wintery weather other sections of the southwest miss. People who live in north Texas are used to this, so Plan A always includes a Plan B.

    When pouring rain, wind and forty-degree temperatures on the day of the Spring Roundup put the kibosh on hot laps at Texas Motor Speedway, members of the Texas Auto Writers Association donned their thinking caps and executed Plan B.

    And although journalists missed the opportunity to drive supercars such as the Dodge Viper, Nissan GT-R and Chevrolet Corvette on the track, neither the cars nor program attendees spent much time in the garages. Everyone had a good day of driving. Read the rest of this entry »