The 25th Annual 2017 WAJ Media Days Recap

From the Beach to Valley to Track
The 25th Annual Media Days was a hit for all participants.
By Brian Douglas
We’ve come quite a distance from our organization’s modest beginnings. Back in 1992, the models of new vehicles outnumbered journalists, a third of whom were full-time media employees reporting on the automotive industry. Our fledgling event was one full day at Sears Point (now Sonoma) Raceway. Media Day became Days in ’94 when a day of driving in the Marin countryside was added. Some things never change- a big hit on the track in 1992 was Acura’s new NSX. History repeated itself this year with the all-new NSX winding around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Welcome, Here’s Your Paperwork
It seemed that every automaker required a fully completed vehicle loan agreement, so many of us were getting writers’ cramp while wondering if there wasn’t a better way. Perhaps a blanket hold harmless would meet the requirements of 25 or so legal departments. Pre-event DocuSign is another possibility. Of course, the good news is that the big stack of agreements meant that there were plenty of vehicles to drive.

After the signing ceremonies and registration, attendees journeyed up to the Tides banquet room with a great view of Monterey Bay and a casual reception sponsored by Nissan.  A full bar was available for drink tickets. Beef and pulled pork sliders complemented the hors d’oeuvres spread for a light dinner.

Media Days participants returned to the Tides banquet room Wednesday morning for breakfast sponsored by Acura and Honda. Page One’s Stuart Langager described the day’s activities; driving from the Tides to Carmel Valley’s Quail Golf Club for street and off-road drives. Route guides with group numbers were passed out to journalists who proceeded out to the parking deck to pick a vehicle.

New Media Days Additions
The backbone of Media Days participants are the OEM automakers, bringing scores of vehicles to evaluate. This year, we added mobile charging trucks from Pacific Gas and Electric to maintain the number of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles at the event. Navdy, the technology company that produces hi-tech heads-up displays arrived with a Tesla Model X and two Audi SUVs for active demos of their new device. The Steel Market Development Institute, sponsors of Wednesday evening’s banquet, were on hand with a display and Zero electric motorcycles brought their new lineup for testing at Mazda Raceway’s paddock and nearby roads.

The Quail is a splendid location for our combined on and off-road evaluations. Road drives departed from the Quail and made a loop over nearby Laureles Grade or alternatively, over to Highway One and the iconic Bixby Bridge. Weather was picture perfect for both the drives. Along with great road drives, Land Rover, hosts a surprisingly challenging off-road course right at Quail. The mix of trails accommodate everything from crossover to trail-rated 4 X 4s and they’re short enough for testing a variety of vehicles. Before this venue, off-road testing was a separate event at Hollister Hills.

At noon, we walked over to the Quail Golf Club for a Toyota and Lexus sponsored lunch. Douglas opened a presentation with a remembrance of our good friend Terry Page, founder of Page One Automotive, who recently succumbed to cancer. Terry was well known and admired in the automotive community and will be dearly missed.

Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca’s Gill Campbell followed with a presentation about the new plans for Laguna Seca Recreation Area and the world-renowned racetrack. We look forward to facility improvements coming soon.

Beach & Banquet
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) is a generous sponsor of Media Days and led our banquet with an interesting product presentation from FCA executives. Since our host hotel is literally on the Monterey Bay beach, our organizers had planned to stage a Jeep presentation right on the beach around fire-pits. The area next to the hotel is appropriate for this use and all permissions were in place. But an eco-sensitive chap walking his dog became apoplectic when two new Jeeps began to drive from the lot onto the sand. He threatened to film the “outrage” and go public on social media. So the PR executives moved the presentation back to the outdoor parking structure. And the all-new Jeep Compass made a fine appearance without the full beach sand setting.

Our banquet included a presentation from Dave Anderson of the Steel Market Development Association that incorporated a dramatic film of an offset crash test with a sixties Chevrolet colliding with a 21st Century model. It was pretty graphic proof that engineering and new steel alloys keep us far safer than the old school vehicle’s mass. Anderson’s presentation was followed by PG&E’s Dave Meisel, Senior Director of Transportation Services who spoke about infrastructure support for electric vehicles. The good news is that there’s lots of electricity available in our grid as well as residential and commercial solar installations.

Our silent auction contained great products, from a complete leather interior by Katzin to a couple of Navdy heads-up systems and stereo gear from Harman. Funds raised go directly to WAJ’s scholarship program. And this year, we disbursed $4,500 to our Cordell Koland Journalism Scholarship at San Jose State University. WAJ Executive VP Alex Dykes presented the check to Professor Christine Di Salvo, representing SJ State’s Journalism School. The gift will fund three scholarship grants at the school. After the banquet, Mercedes-Benz hosted an afterglow gathering in the Tides Lounge.

Track with Ride & Drives and Display
Thursday morning began with a full breakfast at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca along with a driver’s orientation from Hooked On Driving’s David Rey. David’s talk was followed by Sam Paschel, the
newly hired CEO of Zero Motorcycles, sponsor of the breakfast.

Sam gave an entertaining and informative talk about his riding and executive history and his vision of electric motorcycles entering the mainstream.

 

This year, driving opportunities were nicely balanced between performance category vehicles on the race track and a wide selection of vehicles, including Zero motorcycles, available for road loops.

 

PG&E brought their remarkable Class 5 PHEV truck that is not only a unique hybrid vehicle, its generator can provide power for up to 100 homes in an emergency. Charging a handful of EVs at the track was as easy as recess for this rig.

 

The 25th annual WAJ Media Days was very successful, thanks to our sponsors, volunteers and attendees who evaluated a score of cars without incident. Let’s do even more next year!

Read our Members Stories from Media Days

See the Photos from the 2017 WAJ Media Days

Silicon Valley Reinvents the Wheel 2015

Western Automotive Journalists event a big hit in the center of West Coast automotive technology.

By Brian Douglas

Display-&-Truck2wFor the last six years, WAJ has produced an automotive technology conference, gathering journalists, automakers and technology experts together with car demonstrations and informative panels. Two years ago, we elected to ramp up our conference, moving to The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, a venue with a central location and first class meeting and display space.

We learned quite a bit at our successful 2014 conference and on October 5th of this year, our second Silicon Valley Reinvents the Wheel was an unqualified success- attendance was sold out. For 2015, we teamed with the Churchill Club and AutoTech Council, two important Silicon Valley organizations that helped provide top talent and guests. Two hundred technology executives registered for the daylong conference, thirteen automotive brands were represented along with Tier One suppliers. And this year, the conference received major media coverage. You can find the full schedule here.

A Few Highlights
Early arrivals spent time evaluating a wide variety of vehicles in the museum’s large front parking area that’s reserved for our event. The exhibits included fuel cell cars from Hyundai and Toyota, electric and plug-in vehicles, infotainment systems with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and advanced hi fidelity from Alpine, Bose, Harmon and Tectonic. Look for an espresso truck to join the fun next year.

CNET’s Brian Cooley began the program inside in the big Hahn Auditorium with an Full-Room-woverview of trends and what the panels would offer. Then Veerender Kaul, Frost & Sullivan’s Vice President of Automotive and Transportation gave an overview of the industry. Kaul talked about timelines for alternative fuels as well as quickly emerging technologies including autonomous driving progress.

Mid morning, the AutoTec Council’s Liz Kerton introduced five startup entrepreneurs who each took the stage to pitch their technology. They were all interesting, but the most entertaining was the facial recognition technology from EYERIS. Its CEO J. R. Alaoui gave a real-time demonstration of his software that was convincing enough to solicit an inquiry from a major automaker’s lab.

The Infotainment and Connectivity panel followed with KIA’s Harry Bezih, GM’s Dan Kinney and Jaguar/Land Rover’s Matt Jones in an interesting dialogue moderated by Charlie Vogelheim. With both Apple and Google bringing mobile connectivity into car interiors, OEM systems and competition for driver attention, there’s a lot of growing interest in this space.

Automotive sound technology is more than hi fi these days. It also includes sonic enhancements for performance cars and mitigating external noise. WAJ’s Brian Douglas moderated a panel of experts from Alpine, Bose, Harmon and newcomer Tectonic, a company with new speaker technology found in Bentley models. Alpine’s Jim Walter brought a video demonstrating how the company built an entirely weatherproof hi fi system for the Jeep Wrangler and Tectonic punched up impressive sound from its speakers on either end of the stage. Following the panel, attendees were able to check out a great gathering of vehicles and gourmet food trucks during the lunch break.Dining-outside-w

After lunch, the program resumed with Michael Coates moderating a Zero Emissions panel with Dr. Alberto Ayala, Deputy Director of the State of California Air Resources Board and Dr. Morton Grosser, a Stanford and MIT schooled physicist and Silicon Valley venture capitalist. Ayala asserted that California’s aggressive carbon elimination program was attainable with new technology. Grosser spoke of the efficiency yet to be attained from petroleum and energy sources with wide infrastructure.

Google’s Robotics and Machine Learning chief Dave Ferguson took the podium and Google-Self-Driving-wdelivered an informative and entertaining presentation of his company’s autonomous driving progress. His highlight was the story of a Google vehicle encountering an elderly woman in a wheelchair chasing a goose back and forth across a city street with a broom. The vehicle’s camera footage was omitted for privacy, but the computers followed the action in front of the stopped research vehicle. You can’t make this up, let alone program for this occurrence.

That now famous question of whether the fully autonomous vehicle will decide to either save the occupant or the school children in a potential head-on collision and who is responsible for that decision was one of the ethics issues tackled by Stanford and Santa Clara professors. Since computer programmers can’t possibly code for every possibility, remember the broom-wielding goose chaser, some thorny issues were part of the discussion. Brian Cooley led a thoughtful discussion of Artificial Intelligence Ethics with a panel weighing in from an engineering, philosophical and legal viewpoint.

Attorney James Pooley, the former Deputy Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization, gave a compelling update on Cybersecurity. Pooley also ventured his opinion on VW’s scandal and how some corporate cultures can isolate management from problems that people outside the glass walls easily discover.

Academy of Art University design students are finding their way into major automaker’s studios with the reputation of the Industrial Design School now competitive with Pasadena’s Art Center and Detroit’s College for Creative Studies. Director Tom Matano and Associate Director Antonio Borja discussed how today’s designers consider interiors for autonomous vehicles where staples like steering and control aren’t required. It’s a fascinating concept to explore.

NVIDIA’s automotive director Danny Shapiro plunged into deep learning, an area of expansion for the visual computing firm based on its powerful processors. With new vehicles consuming more computing power than any other sector, it’s created a vibrant tier-one supplier structure right here in Silicon Valley.

Muri-Fuel-Cell-demo-wCNET’s Wayne Cunningham moderated the Road to Future Cars panel with representation from key Silicon Valley labs and technology offices. Panelists Nick Sugimoto from Honda Silicon Valley, Dr. Frankie James, GM’s Advanced Technology director, Delphi SV lab director John Absmeier and Dr. Maartan Sierhuis from Nissan’s Research Center in Silicon Valley took turns discussing where the automotive future was headed.

After a network reception, Eric Larsen provided the keynote address with WAJ’s BrianStanding-Room-w Douglas. Larsen shed some light on demographic trends that are counter to the notion that America’s population will cluster around transportation hubs and eschew car ownership. That’s more an aspiration of civic planners than the reality on the ground and perhaps good news for those of us who cherish personal freedom.