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  • 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 »

  • 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-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 »

  • Change of Seasons

    Now is the time to winterize your car

    By Nina Russin

    Photo courtesy of Bridgestone Winter Driving School

    Photo courtesy of Bridgestone Winter Driving School

    Although autumn officially begins in late September, October is the time when most of us see the weather start to change dramatically. While we enjoy watching the leaves turn fiery red and gold, it’s also time to start thinking about how winter will affect our cars and our driving.

    In a series of #eBay buying guides, I’ve gathered some information about the best way to winterize a vehicle as well as tips for driving safely on ice and snow.

    “Five Ways To Winterize Your Car” focuses on mechanical issues that can lead to cold-weather breakdowns such as dead batteries, old coolant, bad belts and hoses. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Active Lifestyle Vehicle Winners

    Athletes and journalists reveal top picks from thirty vehicle entries

    By Nina Russin

    Photo by Chris Dodson

    Photo by Chris Dodson

    The Carspondent.com Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year’, the only car-of-the-year competition that combines the input of automotive journalists with elite and area athletes, announces winners for the 2015 model year competition.

    This year’s event that took place at the Local Motors’ micro-factory in Chandler, Arizona was the most competitive in program history, including thirty vehicles from over a dozen auto manufacturers, automotive journalists and close to 100 athletes. Winners were often decided by hundredths of a point.

    Athletes on hand for the October 18 finals included members of Arizona Legends, retired NFL players of Arizona, representatives from Sole Sports Running Zone, Fit Mom Diet and Fit Fathers, elite runners, triathletes, paddlers, cyclists, swimmers and more. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Buying and Selling

    Smoothing the transition into new wheels

    By Nina Russin

    Photo courtesy of Tempe Dodge

    Photo courtesy of Tempe Dodge

    Back in the day September was the official start of the new car model year and with it, the beginning of car-buying season. Late in the summer the automakers would host full model previews that every journalist with a press card in his or her fedora attended. Dealerships covered their windows with paper to block the public’s view until voila! The new models debuted.

    Today the automakers introduce new car models year-round, and a shopper is as likely to sign on the dotted line in June as in January. The beginning of auto show season at the end of September is the last remnant of the good old days described above.

    What has not changed is the anxiety many car shoppers experience as they begin the journey into a new set of wheels. This doesn’t necessarily start at the dealership. Car owners are as nervous about selling their existing car as they are about shopping for a new one. Read the rest of this entry »