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Jason Fogelson

Musings on the Detroit Auto Show

by Jason Fogelson

The 2019 North American International Auto Show press days are in the books. Some of my colleagues are calling it “The Last Detroit Auto Show,” because in 2020, NAIAS will move to June, avoiding the Michigan winter. The move promises to open up all kinds of new possibilities for ancillary events, like rides-and-drives, demos and other outdoor activities that are just not possible in January. Organizers claim Detroit’s downtown renaissance will support the timing, and it will be a big party. Or will it?

Rescheduling to June takes NAIAS out of the traditional auto show calendar, and indeed, out of the model year cadence. Will manufacturers see the show as a venue for early introductions of next year’s models? Or will they see the move as a return to the show’s roots as a regional event for the Detroit Auto Dealers Association to market cars to local consumers?

Looking at this year’s show, it was apparent that something had to be done. All of the European luxury brands, including Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Land Rover, Jaguar, Aston Martin, Bentley, Rolls-Royce and others, were conspicuous in their absence. Only about a dozen new cars and concepts made their debuts at the show. As a journalist covering new cars, I only had to spend one day at NAIAS this year in order to catch all of the relevant press conferences and to see all of the unveilings. It wasn’t a dirge like 2009, but it was a definite down year.

Peering through the end-of-an-era cloud hanging over the Cobo Center, I saw signs of the future in the mist.

Yu-Jun-speech

The final vehicle reveal press conference of the first media day was held by GAC Motor (Guangzhou Automobile Group Motor Co., LTD), a Chinese company that is a subsidiary of GAC Group. GAC debuted its Entranze EV concept vehicle. The concept was the first public display of a product designed in GAC’s California-based design studio, which was established in 2018. The concept itself is fine, a futuristic minivan with sliding glass doors and 3+2+2 seating. It’s the kind of thing that will never get built, but may serve as a design inspiration.

img_1833The memorable aspect of the GAC presentation was not the concept or the products on display; it was the culturally tone-deaf presentation by GAC. Once the assembled press — about 200 – 300 participants, I’d estimate – settled in, a GAC spokesperson introduced a lineup of company executives and VIP guests, one by one. Each person stood and acknowledged the crowd’s polite applause. Then, the spokesperson introduced an officer of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association (DADA), who read a brief message from a script with the enthusiasm of a war hostage. The spokesperson then introduced Mr. Yu Jun, President of GAC Motor, who gave a transliterated speech in English that was as stilted as it was incomprehensible and self-congratulatory. Time to unveil the concept car – cue the modern dancers! A troupe of eight (four men, four women) dressed in chiffon and spandex, performed a two-minute dance to modern classical music, then whisked the silk off of the concept car to muted applause. Another executive from GAC stumbled through a speech with the details, and the press conference was mercifully concluded.

img_1846Audience members walked away with a gift bag containing a scale model of the company’s flagship SUV, the GS8, a fancy USB drive loaded with vehicle information, photos and GAC info, and two glossy brochures: one with vehicle photos, descriptions and features; and one entitled “The Road to Greatness: GAC Motor,” which is a 32-page photo essay/manifesto/propaganda piece extolling the virtues of the company. It opens with this poem:

The Road to Greatness

This is GAC Motor.

I say no to mediocracy,

and stay committed to my own path.

I never compromise of give in.

With fearless resolution,

I endeavor to make breakthroughs and strive forward,

To develop a brand that I take pride in.

GAC Motor believes greatness does not belong to the few.

Everyone has the potential to be great.

As long as you dare to dream, have courage and keep striving,

You are already on the path of greatness.

The Road to Greatness, GAC Motor.

Wow.

Now, this might have been a state-of-the-art presentation at the Shanghai Motor Show, but in Detroit in 2019, it was out of touch and a little sad. I have little doubt that Chinese vehicles will soon be sold in the United States under their own brand names, and the quality of the vehicles will rapidly improve to meet the marketplace standard. Look at how rapidly Hyundai and Kia vehicles have developed in the past decade as a model for assimilation.

img_1830Even better, look at Toyota Motor Company’s press conference this year as they revealed the 2020 Supra. No less an eminence than Akio Toyoda, TMC’s President, handled the presentation himself. In stark contrast to the GAC presentation, Toyoda was relaxed, joyous, poised and funny. His command of the English language isn’t a whole lot better than the Chinese executives, but it didn’t stand in the way of his passion and charm. Toyoda won the crowd over with his buoyant nature. It was a very American presentation, but still entirely appropriate to a Japanese product and executive.

GAC Motor can learn a lot from Toyota, Hyundai and other companies who have found the keys to conquering the United States. You don’t have to make the US bend to your will – you only have to slide into the openings that are always available, and make the most of the opportunities you find there.

Photos (c) Jason Fogelson, NAIAS, GAC Motor

Autoline

by Jason Fogelson

I’m always happy to share my opinions about cars and the car business. Every once in a while, someone invites me into their studio to do just that. This week, I was a guest panelist on Autoline After Hours (episode #413). Also on the panel was Mike Austin from Hagerty. You can watch the one-hour webcast or listen to it as a podcast here.

jmcelroy_bigJohn McElroy is the host of Autoline After Hours. Here’s an excerpt from his bio on the Autoline site: “John McElroy is an influential thought leader in the automotive industry. He is a journalist, lecturer, commentator and entrepreneur. He created “Autoline Daily,” the first industry webcast of industry news and analysis. He is also the host of the television program “Autoline This Week,” an Emmy Award-winning, weekly half-hour discussion program featuring top automotive executives and journalists. And he co-hosts “Autoline After Hours,” a weekly live webcast that focuses on new cars and technology… McElroy also broadcasts three radio segments daily on WWJ Newsradio 950, the CBS affiliate in Detroit. He writes a blog for Autoblog.com and a monthly op-ed article for Ward’s Auto World.”

The first part of the show this week was a conversation with Tim Clyde, the CEO of Katzkin Automotive Leather. Katzkin brought a 2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited outfitted with Katzkin leather seats — a great package that you can order from the MOPAR Accessories catalog when you buy a new Wrangler at the dealership. I have toured the Katzkin factory in California, and have a Katzkin interior in my wife’s 2012 Mazda3 — so I was able to participate in the conversation with some first-hand knowledge.

After the Katzkin discussion, Tim Clyde left the set, and McElroy, Austin and I had a free-form conversation about some of the automotive news of the day. All three of us had been to a Ford press conference earlier that day, and so we talked about the current state of the company and future plans. The conversation then ranged to the upcoming New York Auto Show, Fred Diaz’s appointment as CEO at Mitsubishi North America, and how potential tariffs might effect the US auto business.

I had a great time participating in the show. McElroy is an excellent host, directing the conversation with probing questions and (best of all) listening very well. Before I knew it, the hour was complete, and I had escaped without saying anything dumb.

Take a look at Autoline.tv if you’re interested in the latest automotive news. There’s a ton of content on the site, and it’s professionally produced and presented. I hope they ask me back again.

2018 Chicago Auto Show

by Jason Fogelson

I went to the 2018 Chicago Auto Show last week as a guest of Nissan, and I covered the event for Autobytel.com. Here’s a link to my article for them, which was entitled “Must See Vehicles from the 2018 Chicago Auto Show.”

I love going to the Chicago Auto Show. Of the major US new car shows, it is always the most relaxed and easy to navigate. The event happens at McCormick Place, a massive convention center, and the lucky journalists stay in one of the high-rise hotels that are connected to the building — which means that the weather is not a factor during the day. And that was a good thing this year, as the weather was cold, snow fell constantly and there was no reason for man nor beast to be outside.

The trip in was a pleasure, as Nissan invited Detroit-area-based journalists to travel to Chicago with them via Amtrak. Getting to my closest train station in Dearborn was a bit of a struggle, as the big snow storm extended across the Midwest and dropped several inches of the white stuff on the roads during the night before my departure. I had planned to take a Lyft or Uber for the 10-mile trip to the station, but when I was ready to leave, there were no willing drivers available. I had to wake my wife, who donned her winter coat over her pajamas without complaint and drove me through the snow-covered streets. The train trip to Chicago took about four hours, most of which I spent chatting with other journalists. Nissan shuttled us to the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, where warm rooms awaited.

On the first night, I attended Nissan’s welcome party in an adjacent hotel ballroom, and then took an Uber to the Lexus party in an event space on the other side of downtown. Lexus had a 10th Anniversary F-Sport RC-F on display, along with a West Coast Customs replica of the Black Panther’s LC. An Uber back to the hotel afterwards, and on to bed.

In the morning, I attended the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) breakfast, with a keynote address from Subaru of America’s CEO, Thomas Doll. Then, it was off to the show, running from press conference to press conference. At the end of the day, my dogs were barking, but I still found the energy to jump on a shuttle to Geno’s East for the annual Mazda Pizza Party. I’m not really a deep dish guy, but it was a very nice meal and a good time hanging out with Mazda PR folk and auto journalists. I had a ticket for a music event, Sweet Home Chicago, but chose instead to return to the hotel for some rest.

The next day, more press conferences, more snow, lots of writing. I made a quick swing through the show floor to take some photos (I’m sharing some here for your viewing), and prepared for my flight home. Unfortunately, the weather had other plans, as I got notices from Delta Airlines that my plane was delayed from a 4:45 pm departure to 9:00 pm. I decided to punt, and bought a ticket on the 5:40 pm Amtrak from Union Station back to Dearborn, because I was pretty sure I’d make it home — and it would be better than sleeping at O’Hare airport. I finally pulled in to Dearborn station at 1:00 am, and made it home by 2:00 am in an Uber.

All-in-all, an excellent trip, made a little bit frustrating by the weather. It could have been worse — I could still be sleeping at O’Hare.

Photos (c) Jason Fogelson.

 

2017 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance

by Jason Fogelson

What would you do if you had planned a big outdoor party for Sunday afternoon, and the weather report called for thunderstorms and four inches of rain? You’ve been planning your party for a year, and guests are coming from all over the world. If you’re Bill Warner, founder and chairman of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, you make a quick decision – and move your party up one day to Saturday.

That’s what happened this year in Florida, and the shocking thing is how smoothly the switch was pulled off.

A Concours d’Elegance is a juried car show with multiple classes and awards. There are usually multiple winners, with the big prize being “Best in Show.” Think Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, but for cars. There are currently dozens of Concours events held across the United States, often on a golf course or luxury estate. The exhibitors are often wealthy car collectors or car museums; they can also be ordinary individuals who own one or more special vehicles. The fancier Concours events attract a very upscale crowd. Luxury and sports car manufacturers love getting access to this demographic, so they show up as event sponsors, and host display booths that show off their current products alongside classic cars from their marques. Accessory and aftermarket parts makers and affiliated businesses join the party with booths and displays of their wares. Attendees and participants often dress up for a Concours, sometimes in period motoring garb that matches their cars or favorite era. The most famous event in the United States is the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in Monterey, California.

The Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance (AIC) is a respected, significant event that’s starting its third decade of annual shows.

I attended the AIC this year for the first time, and really enjoyed the experience. I wrote about it for Forbes.com.

I took a ton of pictures, as I do at pretty much every car show that I attend. I’m posting a few here for your enjoyment.

Photos (c) Jason Fogelson

2017 Infiniti QX70

by Jason Fogelson

I get to drive a wide variety of SUVs and crossover vehicles. Sometimes it’s hard to pick a favorite. But every time I get a chance to drive an Infiniti QX70, I fall in love all over again.

QX70 used to be known as the Infiniti FX back before 2014. A front-engine/rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive crossover, it was based on the same platform as the Infiniti G37. As such, it inherited great driving dynamics, with a low center of gravity and great handling dynamics. For a few years, it was available with a 5.0-liter V8 engine as the FX 50. The combination of a distinctive, scarab-shaped exterior with a cozy, driver-centric interior made it a standout in the burgeoning crossover marketplace.

The 2017 QX70 comes with a 3.7-liter V6 engine and a choice of rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. It’s not quite the hot rod that the FX 50 was, but it is still fun to drive, luxurious and unique. It’s not the most utilitarian of SUVs, as it lacks a substantial cargo compartment and third row, but it’s still got room for five and stands out in a crowd.

Many other crossover vehicles have come along to compete for my affection, but the 2017 Infiniti QX70 still has a piece of my heart.

Read my 2017 Infiniti QX70 Test and Review on Forbes.com

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Infiniti.

2017 Mazda3 Test Drive and Review

by Jason Fogelson

The Fogelson fleet is rather small. I own a 2014 Mazda CX-5 crossover vehicle (“Maus”), a 2012 Mazda3 (“Mori”) and a 1993 Harley-Davidson Sportster Deluxe (“Manny”). The CX-5 is my daily driver, and the Sportster is my trusty motorcycle. Mori the Mazda3 is my wife Robin’s car, providing transportation to and from work every day.

Robin loves Mori. We bought the car new in 2012, and it has been trouble-free ever since. She loves the size, handling, performance, comfort and style of the compact five-door, and I have been so pleased with it that when it came time to replace my beloved Toyota 4Runner (“Moose”), I decided to downsize to the CX-5.

So, when I got a chance to spend some time with the new Mazda3, I approached it with great familiarity with the car. Sitting nose-to-tail with the 2012 model, I noted the similarities and differences with interest. Though Mazda3 got a makeover for the 2014 model year, it retains many of the design cues that attracted us to the vehicle in the first place. The front end has been refined with a new grille, and the rear fascia has newly elegant tail lamps. The body is a little curvier, a little more muscular, and a little less cute than the 2012 model – not necessarily a bad thing. Inside, the design is a little more refined, with a touchscreen display on top of the center stack and upgraded materials.

The thing that sealed the deal for Robin when buying the 2012 Mazda3 was the driving experience. Robin isn’t a performance driver by any means – she’s a classic commuter, and prizes reliability and ease of use over handling. But she loves the road feel and stability of her little car, and chose it over its competitors for that reason.

I prefer the 2017 Mazda3 to our 2012. I like the interior and exterior styling better, and the newer car felt a little tighter and crisper during driving tests.

I asked Robin if she’d like to replace Mori with a new 2017 Mazda3 after we spent a week with the car. “No,” she responded. “I love my little car.” I must admit, I’m proud of my wife. She knows what she likes, and she’s not easily seduced by the shiny new thing. I’m a lucky man.

Read my 2017 Mazda3 Test Drive and Review on Forbes.com.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Mazda.

2016 Motor Press Guild Awards

by Jason Fogelson

I’ve served as President of the Motor Press Guild for the past two years, and the position includes the responsibility to host the MPG Awards Ceremonies, our annual black-tie-optional dinner, holiday party and celebration of excellence in automotive journalism. I’ve also been the Chairman of the MPG Awards Committee for four years running. I recruited head judges for each category, supervised the submission and judging process, and served as Head Judge for the top honor, the Dean Batchelor Award. I also wrote the script for the awards ceremony, generated the Powerpoint presentation, and booked the entertainment. In other words, I’ve been very involved and invested in this program. It’s a little nerve-wracking, considering that close to 200 industry professionals attend each year. It’s also a lot of work and a lot of fun, because it gives me a chance to bring some of my theater experience to bear on my current career. It reminds me that everything we do in the present is in some way preparation for the future, and life is a constant opportunity to learn and grow as a person.

This year’s awards were a big success, thanks to hard work from everyone at MPG. We got a record number of submissions, and the quality of writing, videography, photography and audio content was outstanding. You can see the list of winners here.

MPG Awards Excellence in Automotive JournalismPeriodically, we also give out an award for lifetime achievement. This was one of those years, and the recipient was Jean Jennings. Only the second female winner of the 13 figures who have received this honor, Jean was a unanimous choice when her name came up at a Board of Directors meeting. Auto journalist Michael Jordan gave a testimonial speech, and I got to set up the award and present the trophy to Jean. It was a great honor, and the highlight of the evening for me.

Here’s what I said about Jean during the ceremony:

We received an unusually large number of nominations for this award this year. Doug Stokes, last year’s recipient, claims that giving him the award opened the floodgates — now, anyone could get one. But that’s not true. Ask Doug to show you the list of previous recipients in his wallet for proof.

Despite the long list of potential recipients, the minute that Jean’s name came up in our Board meeting, the discussion was at an end. We immediately knew that she was the right choice, and voted unanimously to honor her tonight.

I’m going to let her friend Michael Jordan tell you all about why Jean deserves this award. But first, I want to tell a small personal story…

I first met Jean at Pebble, during the heat of the afternoon. My friend, the late Patrick Paternie, waved me over to join him, Jean and Michael Jordan at a shaded table. Jean and I instantly began chatting about pop music, a shared passion. She insisted that I would love Blue Nile; I knew that she’d be into Dawes. We exchanged email addresses so we could continue our conversation, and she and Patrick departed, leaving me with Michael Jordan.

Michael looked at me, and asked whether I had spoken with Jean before. When I answered “No,” he said — “That’s impressive. She doesn’t usually take to strangers.”

I figured it must have been a fluke, but no — every time I have seen Jean since our first meeting, she has been warm, generous, funny and friendly, and I’ve never heard of anyone who has had a different experience. I guess we just figure that a person who has such an impressive background and such a list of achievements as a leader in her field must be guarded and hard to approach.

If I had allowed myself to think about Jean’s achievements as a test driver, as a writer, editor, publisher and media figure, I might have been intimidated. But all I ever see is this friendly beautiful face, usually beneath a wild hat and sporting a giant smile. I’ve followed her work from Car and Driver to Automobile Magazine to Jean Knows Cars, and I’m honored to know her personally.

Jean Jennings, on behalf of the Motor Press Guild, I’m honored to present you with the Dean Batchelor Excellence in Automotive Journalism Lifetime Achievement Award.

MPG Awards Excellence in Automotive JournalismThis was my final turn as host of the Motor Press Guild Awards. Our by-laws limit me to two consecutive terms as President, so I’ll be turning over the gavel to my successor in January. It will be a melancholy day for me, as I’ve really enjoyed my time as President, and I’m very proud of the organization’s accomplishments. But it will also be a relief, as the volunteer position took a lot of time and energy to fulfill. I’ll still be on the Board of Directors for another two years, and I’ll remain devoted to the MPG and its members. I just won’t have the tremendous responsibility of running a 700-member not-for-profit organization any longer.

Photos by Myles Regan.

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.

I Love Motorcycle Museums

By Jason Fogelson

I love motorcycle museums.

I grew up going to all kinds of museums with my family, and it became a habit when I travel. I go to art museums, history museums, natural history museums, car museums, technology museums, craft museums – just about any collection that someone opens up and calls a museum, I make time for.

My very favorite museums of all are motorcycle museums.

I can trace my love of motorcycle museums back to The Art of the Motorcycle, an exhibition at New York City’s Guggenheim Museum in 1998. Museum Director Thomas Krens engaged architect and designer Frank Gehry to create a beautiful environment that placed over 100 bikes on platforms along the museum’s spiral rotunda. At the time, the exhibition was a smashing success. It changed the way that people thought about motorcycle design, elevating it in consideration. Viewing the bikes in a traditional museum context filled me with pride at my choice of hobby, because like every biker, I already knew that motorcycles could be works of art. Now, everybody knew.

Not every motorcycle museum is as classy as the Guggenheim. Some are downright greasy holes in the wall; some are set up as time capsules and still life representations of a moment in time; some are simply warehouse spaces with bikes lined up side-to-side. But the opportunity to wander through collections and to see bikes in person that I’ve only experienced through photographs and description keeps me going back.

You can read about my Five Favorite US Motorcycle Museums on the Best Western site.

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