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Rating the best and worst in cars, SUVs, trucks, motorcycles, tools and accessories.

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Forbes.com

Automobility LA and the Los Angeles Auto Show

by Jason Fogelson

Last week, I attended the press days for the 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show. Actually, there was a change this year. The traditional press days have been subsumed by a new event, an industry trade show called “Automobility LA.” This new event combined the expected press conferences and new model reveals with the previously separate Connected Car Expo that had preceded the auto show. Instead of two days of back-to-back events, I was now faced with four days of reveals interspersed with keynote addresses, panel discussions and presentations from technology companies in addition to the automotive OEMs. Many of the auto companies chose to move their reveals off-site, competing for attention by diverting journalists away from the main venue at the Los Angeles Convention Center. It turned the whole week into a bigger slog than usual, compounded by the rampant exchange of germs that left me and a number of my colleagues sick as dogs with the LA Auto Show Grippe.

I did manage to get some work done during the week, though. I was part of Autobytel’s team, helping to produce this Must See Vehicles at the LA Auto Show, and I put together this list of Must See Crossovers and SUVs at the LA Auto Show.

I also did a few executive interviews for Forbes.com: Reid Bigland of Maserati; and Don Swearingen of Mitsubishi.

Also coming soon: a review of the 2017 Lamborghini Huracån RWD, and an interview with some of the Lambo execs.

So, despite the Grippe, it was a pretty good LA Auto Show.

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Harley-Davidson’s New Milwaukee-Eight Engine

by Jason Fogelson

A new engine from Harley-Davidson is big news. Last week, the Motor Company revealed its new Big Twin engine, the Milwaukee-Eight. Initially, this new engine will appear in the touring lineup, including the Road King, Electra Glide, Road Glide and trike variants – thirteen models in all. Some will get liquid cooling in addition to the air/oil-cooled versions, and there will be two new displacements: 107 cubic inches (1,750 cc) and 114 cubic inches (1,870 cc). Harley promises 10 percent more power and 8 – 12 percent faster acceleration, along with better heat management, lower vibration and a richer exhaust note. The Touring bikes will also get new front and rear suspensions, with easier tool-free pre-load adjustment for the rear. I can’t wait to ride these new bikes.

8186The engine defines generations in Harley-Davidson motorcycles, as styling evolves slowly.

Over the years, there have been numerous Big Twin engines fitted in Harley touring bikes.

  • 1909 – 1911: V-Twin
  • 1911 – 1929: F-Head
  • 1929 – 1935: Flathead
  • 1936 – 1947: Knucklehead
  • 1948 – 1965: Panhead
  • 1966 – 1983: Shovelhead
  • 1984 – 1999: Evolution
  • 1999 – 2016: Twin Cam

The first 6 engines got their names from H-D customers, nicknames that stuck as buyers bonded with their bikes. Starting with Evolution, the Motor Company’s marketing department took charge of the nomenclature.

The Milwaukee-Eight probably gets its name from Harley-Davidson’s hometown, hyphenated with a reference to its four valve per cylinder (eight valves total) design.

MY17 Lit Book Outtakes

I can’t wait to ride a new Harley-Davidson Touring bike. Stay tuned for a full review.

You can read my report on the Milwaukee-Eight at Forbes.com.

2017 Yamaha SCR950 Review

by Jason Fogelson

Everything old is new again. Motorcycles travel through trends where form follows function, then fashion determines form. It has happened over and over again, and will continue to happen as long as motorcycles are lifestyle accessories and not transportation.

Witness the latest trend: Scramblers.

BJN11415Back in the late 50s/early 60s, scramblers were the dual sports of their day. Stock standards were modified with knobby tires, upswept exhausts and mid-set footpegs. They were then ridden on the streets, on fire roads, on trails and all over the desert by tough riders who wanted to challenge themselves and their motorcycles. Picture Steve McQueen riding with his buddies, covered in dirt and dust. They’re riding scramblers.

Fashions change. Dedicated dirt bikes with long-travel suspension overtook scramblers. Sport bikes overtook standards. Choppers came and went, then came and went again. Dual sports rose. Cafe racers returned.

Now scramblers are having their day again.

BJN11750The latest is the 2017 Yamaha SCR950. It’s a very good bike. Is it a go-anywhere, rough-and-tumble scrambler in the tradition of the bikes of old?

Read my 2017 Yamaha SCR950 review on Forbes.com to find out.

Sturgis and Home Again

by Jason Fogelson

So, I finally did make it to Sturgis. I’ve had it on my wish list for almost two decades, and one thing or another has always kept me from getting there.

In case you don’t know, “Sturgis” is what motorcyclists call the Black Hills Motorcycle Rally, which just happened for the 76th time in and around Sturgis, South Dakota. Every August, bikers converge on the tiny town for a week of riding, drinking, eating, shopping and hanging out. 2015 marked the 75th annual gathering. It was the largest to date, with an estimated attendance of over 739,000. This year’s event was substantially smaller – probably in the 400,000 range.

Harley-Davidson has been a major sponsor of Sturgis for decades, and the vast majority of the motorcycles on hand are Harleys of assorted vintage. Still, wander the streets of Sturgis, and you’ll see bikes of every brand and style parked along Main Street. Many brands have formal displays and demo fleets in town, including such unlikely candidates as Moto Guzzi, Ducati, Royal Enfield and Can Am.

IndianRideCommand-2Indian Motorcycle has made a substantial push to increase its visibility at Sturgis, having scheduled most of its public and press debuts at the Rally over the past three years. The company puts up a big display and experience center on Lazelle Street in downtown Sturgis, and was the motorcycle sponsor at the Buffalo Chip, Sturgis’ 400-acre campground and event center.

Indian’s push into Sturgis is bold and audacious, and makes a whole lot of sense. Indian wants to take a chunk of Harley’s business, and this is where the customer base comes to live the motorcycle lifestyle. I saw a surprising number of Indian motorcycles on the streets – many more than the brand’s modest sales figures led me to expect. Despite Harley-Davidson’s dominant market position and loyal customer base, Indian is starting to gain a foothold.

My Sturgis experience was a positive one, I’m glad to report. I spent a lot of time riding, and got to see some of the major area attractions like Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer, Deadwood and Hill City. I rode in the big procession of the Legends Ride, and I saw the final heat of the Hooligan Races at the Buffalo Chip.

Mostly, I got to have the experience of being in the majority on the roads as a motorcyclist, a very rare opportunity for those of us on two wheels. At first, it was a little disconcerting. I’m used to seeing occasional bikes on my rides in different parts of the country. Even when I attend motorcycle events, the concentration of bikes thins out quickly away from the venue. But during the Black Hills Rally, there are bikes everywhere. Every parking lot is full of motorcycles. Eighty percent of the vehicles on the road are motorcycles. A few days in, and I felt the empowerment of being part of this group, and I realized that I fit in by virtue of my passion for traveling on two wheels. Even if I didn’t share many of the political views I saw advertised (Guns! Trump!), I started to see the great range of individuals at the Rally as my people.

I don’t know if I ever need to go back to the Rally, but I will definitely return to the Black Hills during the off-season. It’s a beautiful part of the country, with fantastic roads and beautiful natural settings. The Old West atmosphere is for real, and I want to explore it without the crowds.

You can read my article about Indian Motorcycle’s 2017 Lineup at Forbes.com.

Photos (c) Jason Fogelson

A Conversation with Rod Copes, President, Royal Enfield North America

by Jason Fogelson

A few weeks ago, I rode and reviewed the 2016 Royal Enfield 500 Classic for Forbes.com. So when I got the chance to have a phone conversation with the manufacturer’s President for North America, I activated my trusty recording app and fired some questions at the man, Rod Copes. You can read my Rod Copes interview on Forbes.com.

If anyone has a chance to succeed with Royal Enfield, it’s Copes. He brings his experience with Harley-Davidson to the table, most of which was focused on developing motorcycle sales in markets outside of the USA. He’s doing the same thing with Royal Enfield – but flipped on its head. He’s taking a brand that is beloved in India and re-introducing it to the US.

RODThe time is ripe for Royal Enfield. The bikes are cool and retro, and they’re relatively cheap. They’ll appeal to the traditional motorcycle buyer – a guy with gray hair and a beard looking to squeeze more adventure out of life. They’ll also appeal to the buyer that every motorcycle manufacturer is chasing – the new rider. The low price, retro looks, light weight and demure performance will attract hipsters, women, young people and city riders. These bikes have a quality that is a buzzword right now: Authenticity. And if Rod Copes can keep the company on track while getting the word out and building a solid dealer network, buyers will discover Royal Enfield.

I think he can do it.

Photos (c) Royal Enfield

2017 Audi Q7 Test Drive and Review

by Jason Fogelson

Big crossover vehicles confuse me a little. I don’t understand why I love the 2017 Audi Q7 so much, but I do.

Audi lavished some much-need attention to Q7 for 2017, taking a chisel to an exterior that hadn’t changed in almost a decade. The sharper, more angular body looks a little less locomotive than before, with a front end that’s lower and sides that feel tucked in rather than bulging. It’s a good look and further differentiates it from corporate cousins Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg.

Audi does interiors really well, and Q7 benefits from the latest styling and technology the company has to offer. And that’s to say – really classy, sleek and attractive.

Q7 used to be offered with a choice of diesel or gasoline powerplant, but thanks to the VW diesel scandal, it’s strictly gasoline for the Q7 in the US for now. The 3.0-liter turbo V6 is no slouch, but doesn’t get the same reported fuel efficiency ratings that the diesel was famous for – dishonestly, as it turns out. Shame.

news-2017-audi-q7-60Even with all this goodness on offer, I’m still confused. The big crossover is obviously an on-road vehicle, without a hint of ruggedness anywhere. Who is it for? In my hometown of Los Angeles, I see plenty of Q7 crossovers in traffic carrying a lone driver, not the big family I’d expect. Audi’s got two smaller SUVs, the Q5 and Q3, that would seem to be better choices for commuting.

But the Q7 makes a statement – a big statement. And maybe that’s what it’s all about.

Read my 2017 Audi Q7 Test Drive And Review on Forbes.com.

Photos (c) Audi

2016 Royal Enfield Classic Motorcycle Review

by Jason Fogelson

If you’re not into motorcycles, you may never have heard of Royal Enfield. Even if you are into motorcycles, and you live in North America, the brand may not be on your radar.

It’s all different in India. Royal Enfield outsells all other brands there, and India is an enormous motorcycle market. The brand has been available in the US for decades, but with little impact. Expect that to change, as Royal Enfield North America has just taken over distribution, wiped the slate clean and started over with the marketing, distribution and sales of these middle-weight bikes.

2016RoyalEnfieldFogelson-8The vast majority of motorcycles sold in the US are 800 cc or larger. Royal Enfield’s 2016 US offerings are 499 cc – 535 cc, a range that has been all but abandoned by most companies, who seem to be concentrating on 300 cc starter bikes and heavyweight cruisers, baggers and adventure bikes.

Why would you want a 499-cc bike like the Royal Enfield Classic? With just 31 lb-ft of torque, the bike is very friendly to new riders and returning riders. It is relatively light, and not a bit intimidating. Its retro styling — strike that. It’s not retro. It is authentically old-fashioned, carrying over designs from the 1940s and 50s. Anyway, its styling will appeal to older riders and hipsters alike.

You can read my 2016 Royal Enfield Classic Test Ride and Review on Forbes.com.

Photos (c) Jason Fogelson

The Future of Farming?

by Jason Fogelson

A few months ago, I took a tour of Motivo Engineering’s facility in Gardena, California. I had been invited down by my friend and PR whiz Dean Case. I saw a few projects that Motivo had in progress, including the impressive Blade 3D-Printed Supercar. But what really turned my head was the Harvest project.

Harvest is a solar-powered compact modular tractor — and it is so much more. It’s a communications hub, an energy storage device, a generator and a potential game-changer for remote fields in underdeveloped nations. It could also be the best addition to a high end estate or country club. If everything works as designed and promised, Harvest could have a major impact wherever it is deployed.

You can read my article, “A Conversation With Praveen Penmetsa, CEO/Founder Of Motivo Engineering” on Forbes.com.

Photo (c) Jason Fogelson

Bondurant and Dodge SRT

by Jason Fogelson

Anyone can buy a fast car, but it takes skill and training to get the most out of your purchase. That’s why Dodge SRT has teamed up with the Bob Bondurant School of Performance Driving to offer SRT buyers a free day at the school in Chandler, Arizona.

LG016_001MBI got to attend a day at the school, and I wrote about the SRT/Bondurant experience for Autotrader.

I also wrote about the whole muscle car concept for Autotrader in “Why Muscle Cars Matter.”

When I got back from this trip, I felt like a better driver. I always do after driving instruction. Even if you think you’re a good driver, spending some time behind the wheel with a pro driver in the right hand seat giving you real time feedback can make you better — right after it makes you feel like you’re the worst driver in history and that you should never be allowed behind the wheel alone.

While I was in Chandler, I met Ryan Kim, SRT Brand Manager. I couldn’t really put my finger on what a Brand Manager does, so I arranged to do an interview with Ryan Kim, and ran it on Forbes.com. I’m still not quite sure that I know what a Brand Manager does — but Ryan is a really smart guy with real passion for SRT.

I’ll go to any driver training program, anywhere, anytime. It’s a great experience that pays off every time I get behind the wheel.

Oh, and did I mention that I got to meet Bob Bondurant, the legend himself? He’s a great guy, friendly and engaged, and can still drive the wheels off any car he chooses.

Photo (c) FCA North America

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