Cuba and its people: Cars, culture, change

Posted 04 May 2016 — by Cathy Luebke
Category Uncategorized

Interest in Cuba is on the rise with President Obama’s historic visit in March, but a couple of Phoenix-area residents beat him to the punch sharing their experiences at the April meeting of the Phoenix Automotive Press Association.

Brendy Priddy, known for her spy photography of yet-to-be-released cars, will lead her fourth trip to the island nation this fall. Ted Lagreid, a retired W.P. Carey & Co. exec, led an Arizona State Research team there just prior to Obama’s arrival.

Both agree Cuba is fascinating, the people fabulous, and change in the wind, but Lagreid adds “It’s very difficult in this country to get a balanced perspective.”

More straightforward, as evidenced by videos and photos seen recently, are the 60,000 vintage American cars on the road. That’s part of what attracted Priddy; some of her photos were featured in 2013 at a Chandler Center for the Arts exhibit. But her first trip was a KJZZ public radio people-to-people cultural exchange.

“I’ve always wanted to go to see the cars, but the people of Cuba were truly the highlight of my trip,” she says. “Being in the car industry, I realized that many of my friends, as well as the people that follow my journeys by way of my artwork, would also be interested in going, seeing the cars, the museums, and most of all – the people.”

Priddy has been very impressed with the people and the feeling of safety, walking around the cities at night. She fondly recalls a cab driver who picked her up in the rain when she’d left her wallet behind. Though they had to stop several times, to wipe the windshield, since his wipers didn’t work, she made the long trip back to hotel and wanted to get him his fare. He wouldn’t hear of it, she says. His smiling response, “My gift to you.”

It’s not just the cars that are old in Cuba, many of the buildings are crumbling giving it a Third World feel, Priddy says. The U.S. embargo after Fidel Castro seized power, means you don’t see many American cars made after 1959. There is the occasional Chevrolet pickup, new Audis and Mercedes in the hands of government officials, Ladas and other Russian brands.

“It’s amazing to see what they can do with their passion and resources,” Priddy says of the Cuban car owners resolve to keep their old vehicles running. You hear stories of people bringing in little bottles of paint from the U.S. and using diesel and tractor engines.

Lagreid has been to Cuba five times in the last 12 years. The goal of his latest trip was to see what’s happening on the island now and build a relationship between Cuba and ASU on matters both academic and diplomatic as part of the school’s global outreach initiatives.

He agrees that the Cubans are a resourceful people with challenges they must work through daily. There also are lots of ironies related to the embargo, he says. In contrast to the old cars, you see lots of American products, from Pringles to Rubbermaid carts. “It’s not his isolated place you think.”

And despite the crumbling infrastructure, some things are very modern. Cubans are a healthy people, thanks to an emphasis on preventive medicine, he says. Hospitals may not be fancy, but many doctors have a high level of expertise.

Children must stay in school until they are 17, helping to create a literacy rate of nearly 100 percent, he says.

As for the future, some things will change quickly, but most will evolve over the next decade, he says. “I don’t know how it’s going to play out.”

The first two months of 2016 brought 1 million tourists to Cuba, Lagreid says, so if you plan to go, be sure to have a hotel lined up.

Another caution, he says, is not taking things at face value but digging under the surface for the truth.BJ_5525_priddy

Ted Lagreid Ted Lagreid

Photos by Brenda Priddy

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Save the dates: ALV of the Year Announces 2016 program

Posted 17 Feb 2016 — by Sam Haymart
Category Uncategorized

ALV-2015-8The Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year has set October 20-22, 2016 as the dates for their expanded 13th annual competition.

Based for the second year at the historic San Marcos Golf Resort in Chandler, Arizona, ALV is the only car-of-the-year competition to combine the input of automotive journalists with elite and area athletes to determine which cars and trucks best meet the needs of buyers with active lifestyles.

For 2016, the event kicks off with an expanded full-day automotive media preview on Friday, October 21st. A new format will include a full-day ride-and-drive that includes a mix of scenic and challenging off-road segments in addition to and an off-site lunch.

Members of the Phoenix Automotive Press Association in addition to recognized automotive journalists from across the country will benefit from the new media day format, with more time in the vehicles and better opportunities to evaluate off-road performance.

IMG_20151016_072421883Friday’s activities conclude with an invitation-only welcome dinner set in the historic old-town village of Chandler.

On Saturday, October 22nd, jury panel teams of elite and area athletes weigh in on this year’s entries. The Saturday program begins with walk-around presentations by manufacturers, followed by a ride-and-drive program.

The ride-and-drive program encompasses a variety of drive routes to demonstrate vehicles handling, performance, and comfort. Program activities will give participants the opportunity to experience the various utility features and characteristics of each vehicle.

Jury panels are led by experienced automotive journalists and industry experts who guide their teams through the various aspects of each vehicle, helping them gain the perspective and knowledge of key areas in which to make their assessments.

The ride-and-drive concludes at the San Marcos Hotel for a full awards ceremony where vehicles will be recognized in multiple respective classes, then concludes at 2 p.m.

Thursday, October 20th is a travel and participant check-in day.

About the Active Lifestyle Vehicle Awards

A Phoenix based event, the Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year competition is produced by ALV of the Year LLC. It has consistently grown in size and prestige since its inception in 2004. The event brings the perspectives and opinions of over 100 consumers who live the active lifestyles automakers market their products to, culminating into top awards in multiple categories.

The group of athletes, celebrities and active lifestyle enthusiasts act as a valuable focus group for automakers and industry experts alike. A data rich electronic scoring system conveys comprehensive consumer perspective metrics to manufacturers.

Media Contacts

The ALV organization would like to thank OEMs for their continued support of this program. Please feel free to direct any questions to Nina Russin, , or Sam Haymart, .

Jeep Grand Cherokee is PAPA’s Best of the Southwest

Posted 13 Nov 2015 — by Cathy Luebke
Category Uncategorized

Jeep Grand Cherokee received Phoenix Automotive Press Association’s first Best of the Southwest award as part of the Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year program last month in Chandler.
This is ALV’s fourth year in Phoenix bringing together hikers, kayakers, runners and other outdoor enthusiasts along with automotive journalists from around the country to select vehicles in various categories that best fit their lifestyles.
Best of the Southwest was conceived as a vehicle suited to the region’s lifestyle, including day-to-day needs and the ability to take friends and their gear safely along unpaved forest roads and desert trails, PAPA founding President Larry Edsall explained to members. It also is a vehicle that you feel good in whether out in the boonies or handing off to the valet at a fancy restaurant in Scottsdale.

Scott Brown of Chrysler with PAPA’s Bob Golfen.

“Grand Cherokee offers the best combination of class and off-road capability,” according to one ballot comment. Another said, “The Grand Cherokee is fully off-road capable with room for a family and styling for a night on the town.”
A PAPA jury narrowed the field of 20-some ALV finalists with all PAPA members eligible to vote on the final six. The five other PAPA finalists were: Dodge Durango, Mercedes-Benz GLE450 AMG, Ford Edge, Toyota Tacoma and Audi Q3

ALV award winners

It was our biggest event ever, said event co-founder Nina Russin, an automotive journalist from Phoenix.
With a new venue, expanded media day, new awards and more participants the ALV program took place over two days at the Crown Plaza San Marcos Golf Resort in Chandler.
The awards are unique with both automotive press and outdoor enthusiasts participating, Russin said. It was good to see so many returning athletes, both recreational and professional. “I fell strongly it’s an important thing to do to mix end users and journalists to see which vehicle works.”
Vehicles were judged on city, freeway and off-road routes with consideration for features including seating, cargo capability and versatility for activities such as camping, sports and road trips.

Winners in the six ALV classes were:
* Best Value Off Road: 2015 Ford F-150
* Luxury Off Road: 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee
* Luxury On Road: 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE 450
* Best Value On Road: 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander
* Best Value Family: 2015 Ford Edge
* Urban: 2015 Kia Soul

Invitation: ALV of the Year Press Day October 16

Posted 28 Sep 2015 — by Sam Haymart
Category Uncategorized

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESLocal press and members of the Phoenix Automotive Press Association (PAPA) are cordially invited to a very special press opportunity on Friday, October 16th, 2015.

The press-only event offers the opportunity to test drive a variety of new cars, crossovers, SUVs and trucks aimed at consumers with active lifestyles. Several manufacturers and models will be represented in addition to those listed below in our agenda.

Members of PAPA will vote on vehicles, with the organization naming their first annual “Best of the Southwest” award.

The schedule begins at 9:00am and goes through 5:30pm as outlined below:

Registration begins in the San Marcos meeting room. All credentialed media must sign electronic waivers and present a valid driver’s license.

- 9 am: Toyota Breakfast begins
- 9:30 am- 11 am: Presentations
- 11:30 am. Volkswagen Lunch begins
- Noon- 5:30 pm: Ride and drive open to all credential media. Voting for ALV of the Year vehicle entries and PAPA Best of the Southwest award.
- 3 pm: Refreshment break sponsored by Mercedes-Benz

Those interested in attending should RSVP to Sam Haymart , by Tuesday October 13th.

About the Active Lifestyle Vehicle Awards

A Phoenix based event, the Active Lifestyle Vehicle Awards has consistently grown in size and prestige since its inception in 2004. The event brings the perspectives and opinions of over 100 consumers who live the active lifestyles automakers market their products to, culminating into top awards in multiple categories.

The group of athletes, celebrities and active lifestyle enthusiasts act as a valuable focus group for automakers and industry experts alike. With this year’s event moving to a new data rich electronic scoring system, the outcome of consumer perspective metrics for manufacturers will be more comprehensive than ever.

Auto design: Wild West to Big Mouth Bass

Posted 20 Sep 2015 — by Cathy Luebke
Category Uncategorized

Automotive styles – from the Wild West days of the 1950s and ‘60s to today’s Big Mouth Bass – took members of the Phoenix Automotive Press Association on a fascinating and humorous ride.
Arizona resident Ron Will, the designer behind such vehicles as Subaru Outback and the 25th anniversary Corvette, led a panel that included: Gary Smith, former General Motors designer and the force behind design website; Bruce Wheeler, a GM design modeler and automotive art sculptor; and Aurelien Francois, who moved from France to join the early design team at Chandler-based Local Motors (
Will kicked off the evening with a presentation he calls “Styles of Automotive Design – An Unscientific Review.”
While architecture and even furniture are grouped into styles such as Prarie and Tudor, it’s not so with cars, he says, taking the initiative to come up with categories of his own.
For example, cars such as the new McLaren, Toyota Venza and Hyundai Elantra, might be dubbed Latte Swirl. “They just sort of swirl and wrap around everywhere,” Will says.
On the aggressive side, think Velociraptor when you see the Veneno, one of the Lamborghini bulls it calls a “racing prototype for the road.”
You often see Xerox cars, whether it’s just tail end design or the whole works that’s déjà vu. Will points to the new Corvette Stingray’s similarity to the 2010 Lotus Elite prototype.
The audience thought of Lexus with its self-dubbed “spindle grille,” when he mentioned Large Mouth Bass, but there are plenty of others. He showed the new Scion iA, saying it looks like it flopped out a lake.
Will has other categories – to name a few, Disjointalism where pieces don’t seem to connect, Retro-Roots and The Time Has Finally Come resurrecting ideas from years ago.
But many of the most popular cars fall into a class he calls Vanillaism, when you can hardly tell one from another.
A variety of factors affect auto styling today, panel members say.
Will likened the ‘50s and ‘60s to the Wild West, when designers could do anything, the big fins, the Edsel. It became competitive to see who could be the wildest, before it settled down – and then became “far too settled,” he says
People say they want advanced styling, but they really don’t, he says. It has to advance slowly, and extremes don’t last.
Wheeler says General Motors saw the shift with a changeover in the design bosses from Harley Earl to Bill Mitchell plus a growing influence from “bean counters.”
There’s also the growing number of federal regulations manufacturers must follow. Will says, however, designers usually seek out a theme and excitement first, then work into those parameters.
Smith goes back to the Lexus examples, noting that if you got rid of the distinctive panels, they’d blend in with the crowd. Designers are searching for anything and everything to differentiate their vehicles.
Francois agrees, saying there is a new push to the wild side.
Smith also thinks the press and others who evaluate cars influence public perception of style. And while design does impact sales, so does brand recognition, he says.
Francois summed it up: “Styling is like music in the end.” One style does not appeal to everyone.

Scion iA Scion iAVeneno VenenoElantra ElantraRon Will, Gary Smith, Bruce Wheeler, Aurelien Francois Ron Will, Gary Smith, Bruce Wheeler, Aurelien Francois