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  • 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 »

  • 2015 Chicago Auto Show

    Nation’s largest consumer show fills McCormick Place

    By Nina Russin

    Nissan Press Conference

    Nissan Press Conference

    The history of the Chicago Auto Show dates back to 1901: the same year Walt Disney was born on a cold December day, Winston Churchill made his maiden speech in the British House of Commons and baseball’s American League launched its maiden season.

    During its 107-year history, Chicago has become one of the four biggest auto shows in the country and the most heavily attended by consumers. The Chicago Auto Trade Association reported sales of 250,000 tickets for the 2015 show prior to the box office opening.

    Sandwiched between the holiday season and the onset of spring, the Chicago Auto Show entices parents and their kids to break free of the confines of their homes at a time when the weather is frigid and daylight scarce. The McCormick Place convention center is large enough to hold something for everyone, from indoor test tracks to a special edition SpongeBob Toyota Sienna minivan for the kids.

    Media days for the 2015 show took place on February 11-13. The show opened to the public on February 14 and runs through the 22nd. Read the rest of this entry »

  • In-Car Weather Forecasting Moves Forward

    New technologies connect the driver with the road

    By Nina Russin

    Real-time weather updates warn drivers about unsafe road conditions.

    Real-time weather updates warn drivers about unsafe road conditions.

    It won’t be long before your car can warn you about an ice patch on the road ahead. Whereas today’s real-time weather alerts give drivers general information about climate conditions, emerging technologies will provide real-time road and atmospheric conditions in the driver’s exact location.

    The new advances are made possible by connected car technology that includes a GPS indicator for the vehicle. Baron Services currently provides weather data for news broadcasts. The company that has been in business for a quarter of a century also builds radar systems for defense contractors and the U.S. National Weather Service.

    Chris Carr, a meteorologist and director of business development for Baron Services, explains that the company acquires raw data that it applies to a global map divided into one-kilometer squares. Combining this with ground surface information about urbanization, geography and the type of road surface, scientists can predict how weather will impact the road surface in real time. They can also predict how fog, for example, can settle into a valley and cause visibility problems or how a wind tunnel through the mountains can make high-profile vehicles such as semi trucks unstable. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Pro Athlete Chamber of Commerce

    NFL vet John Bronson helps fellow athletes find paths to success

    By Nina Russin

    John Bronson

    John Bronson

    Former Arizona Cardinal, John Bronson knows from personal experience how hard it can be to transition to civilian life after retiring from the NFL. The former pro football player and Penn State University graduate is helping fellow current and retired pro athletes with a new chamber of commerce designed to help them network with vetted members of the business community and not-for-profit organizations.

    The Pro Athlete Chamber of Commerce currently has one chapter in Phoenix, Arizona, and soon will have two additional in Seattle, Washington and Cleveland Ohio. Bronson, who is based in Phoenix, has recruited a team of marketing and business specialists to help him build his new network. After only seven months, the Chamber has 330 members. Bronson expects the number to increase to 500 by the end of this calendar year and have a spike of activity during the 2015 Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona.

    One of the keys to Bronson’s success is that he’s not trying to reinvent the wheel. By partnering with existing programs such as the Pro Athlete Franchise Initiative and the Sports Financial Advisors Association, his organization can focus specifically on networking, rather than replicating the legal and consulting services other groups already have in place. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show

    Compact crossovers rule at the season’s first major show

    By Nina Russin

    Scion Press Conference

    Scion Press Conference

    Pistons pump, wheels spin, exhaust pipes growl and the auto industry moves forward. From new propulsion systems to connectivity inside the car, technological advances occur at warp speed.

    But since the economic downtick of 2008, evolution in the car industry has changed. OEMs have become risk averse. Aha moments, when the blankets come off to reveal something startlingly different, are few and far between.

    As one of four major auto shows in the United States each year, Los Angeles sets the tone for the season. While LA is the last of the shows during the calendar year, Detroit being first, it is considered the first show of the auto show season coming closest to the traditional beginning of the industry’s new model year.

    Porsche Display

    Porsche Display

    The 2014 show was arguably the best attended by media in its history, with press conferences attracting standing room only crowds. New product ranged from the powerful Mercedes-Benz AMG GTS sports car, Porsche 911 Carrera GTS and Ford Shelby 350 GT Mustang to a gaggle of compact crossovers, including the Mazda CX-3, Honda HRV, Fiat 500X and Scion iM concept, the production version of which debuts in New York next spring.

    The show, filling both halls of LA’s expansive convention center, seems to have something for everyone, from the dyed-in-the-wool driving enthusiast to pragmatic first-time car buyers. But what it lacks, in this writer’s eyes, are any real surprises.

    While manufacturers flood the compact crossover and sedan segments, others, such as the compact pickup truck are largely ignored. Although each press conference in LA threatened to take us to the brink of the ship and jump into uncharted waters, those waters were, in most cases, rather shallow. Read the rest of this entry »