2018 WAJ Media Days

WAJ’s 26th Annual Media Days Another Success, Despite a Bit of Weather!
Our 2018 Media Days had a few challenges this year including calendar timing and a bit of light precipitation the first driving day, but the sun returned at Laguna Seca for track evaluation and the venerable event was another hit for journalists and automakers.

Monday, March 19th
Registration was a breeze for most attendees after the gaggle of driver release forms had been emailed to journalists in DocuSign format. After a quick and simple registration process, Western Automotive Journalists sponsored a delightful cocktail reception with hors d’oeuvres plentiful enough for dinner. And the sunset view from The Monterey Tides Vizcaino restaurant was a perfect setting.


Tuesday, March 20th
KIA sponsored a full breakfast at The Tides with brief comments and the day’s preview before attendees departed for
Carmel Valley’s Quail Lodge for on and off-road driving.


The weather was wet with a few intermittent showers, but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the more than 40 journalists 30 public relations colleagues. The Land Rover Off-Road Experience was perfectly soaked to challenge the wide range of trucks and SUVs available.



Lunch at the Quail is always a treat and Nissan’s Senior manager of Electric Vehicles, Paul Minahan, presented the new LEAF story and where EV products are headed. After lunch, test drives continued under mostly clearing skies.

Back at the Monterey Tides, RAM Trucks held a reception with an overview of the new product lineup. Most agreed that RAM has become a force to deal with in the truck universe.

Toyota sponsored our banquet and left the evening to our own devices so attendees had plenty of time to network. Following dinner, Mercedes-Benz hosted a lovely after glow reception.

Wednesday, March 21st
It was off to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for both track evaluations and additional tests on public roads. Breakfast, complete with espresso drinks was presented by Shell Oil Company, and spokesman Ray Fisher gave an overview of the Eco-marathon in Sonoma. Interested journalists were invited to attend this international event.

After chalk talk and track drive familiarization, testing began in earnest and without incident, a record we’re proud of at WAJ. Lunch featured Mazda and it was a poignant gathering with Jacob Brown giving what was the last talk at what would soon be WeatherTech Raceway. Mazda has been a loyal and generous partner with Western Automotive Journalists, enabling our use of this world-class track through their sponsorship.

Articles and Photos are starting to arrive.  Check out the latest Photos  and Member Stories Here!

2017 Silicon Valley Reinvents the Wheel Recap

The seventh annual Silicon Valley Reinvents the Wheel presented by Western Automotive Journalists and The Autotech Council was held at the Computer History Museum on Monday October 9th, 2017.

Since its inception the program has shape-shifted location, directions, format and style, improving with each year, but the focus has remained on illuminating the intersection of the auto industry and Silicon Valley’s technology.

With more than 300 people attending, the Museum’s main hall was completely packed. If the current presentation was not of interest there were 40 plus displays of current and upcoming technologies on display in adjoining room—the Autotech Council’s Science Fair. Products from companies ranging from two people up to multi-billion dollar concerns offered a glimpse of technology trends that will be found in our next vehicles.

Outside, the assembled variety of cars showcased everything from Waymo’s Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid-based autonomous technology to GM Maven’s new approach to the gig economy, offering short-term rentals of Bolt EVs for those engaging in work for the Lyfts and Grubhubs of the world. Joining these two were examples of some of the latest on-road tech from Toyota and Kia, start-ups like Autonomous Stuff, Eyeris and Reviver, and established technology companies like Intel and Velodyne.

Back in the Main Hall, the morning sessions of Silicon Valley Reinvest the Wheel were kicked off by quick overviews by CNET’s Brian Cooley and Silicon Valley Mobility’s Sven Beiker. They both talked about the two industries (tech and auto) being at tipping
points where connectivity, autonomy and electric cars are “for real.” Beiker noted that “we’re still in the early days” even though much is happening and observed that Silicon Valley’s leadership in technology development is being challenged as an exodus is taking place where technology demonstrations are increasingly taking place in other locales—from London to Chandler, Arizona.

Other morning panels featured an update from Tesla challenger Lucid Motors, leading EV infrastructure  company Chargepoint, electronics recycler IT Asset Partners and technology innovators Autonomous Stuff, Prospect SV and Motivo Engineering. The morning ended with Liz Kerton from the Autotech Council introducing top startups and giving them a chance to present their ideas before the group.

The afternoon session kicked off a brief presentation from audio innovator Techtonic. They were followed by a keynote from Danny Stillion of IDEO, who talked about design ideas for the “new era of mobility.” He was followed by a panel on “Sharing Your Mobility” from Ridecell and General Motor’s Maven.

The day wrapped with panels from:

  • University speakers from Carnegie Melon, Academy of Art and Udacity talking about how their students are planning to execute future mobility,
  • Infrastructure challenges from the move to autonomous cars facing facing states and cities
  • The future direction of sensor technology from MetaWave, AEye and Velodyne,
  • Top automotive suppliers Delphi, Continental and Intel talking about the direction they see the industry heading
  • Ford and Kia laying out their view of future technology.


2017 WAJ Media Days Member Articles



The Auto Channel – Jon Rosner
Filling up with Premium Fuel Electrons, PG&E and the Next Generation of Energy and Vehicles. READ MORE 
Why G-Vectoring In The Mazda CX-5 Is So Cool.  READ MORE

Seeking Alpha – Anton Wahlman
Anton Wahlman reviews automobiles and other technology products, as well as analyzes the automotive and technology industries. Anton represented Seeking Alpha at Media Days this year and wrote several stories on the vehicles there.  READ MORE


WAJ Media Day Offers Preview of Upcoming Test Drives
Once a year a group of automotive journalists including Clean Fleet Report gathers on the Monterey Peninsula to drive a selection of the latest models available. This year we had the opportunity to sample a variety of vehicles, with First Drive stories scheduled to appear in the near future. READ MORE

First Drive: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
Buy It Because It’s a Great Minivan; Love It Because It Plugs In
Chrysler invented the minivan back in the Eighties and it’s been a mainstay in the market until recently, when car-based crossovers added a third row of seating, bumped up their styling and fuel economy. The one-box design of the minivan has always been the height of functionality, but that was pretty much all it had to offer. The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is the serious challenge to the new status quo—a strong attempt by Chrysler to retake the high ground with a new approach to the category. READ MORE

Mazda Keeps Upping the Ante in its Most Popular Car 
Mazda is a little auto company, but it’s got an oversize presence among those who value driving for pleasure and appreciate engineering that backs up that pleasure. We had a chance to do a brief drive of revamped 2017 Mazda CX-5. READ MORE

TIREKICKER – Mike Hagerty
The 2017 Jaguar XE35t AWD
Normally, the cars you read about here at TireKicker are loaned to us by the press fleets of the various manufacturers for several days. Seven is typical. Occasionally, we’ll get a longer period of time, and sometimes it’ll only be three or four days. Our “30 Minutes With” series are cars that we spent half an hour behind the wheel of during the just-concluded Western Automotive Journalists Media Days in Monterey, California. READ MORE

The 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4MATIC 
While Mercedes builds some of the best cars in the world, I’ve always been underwhelmed by their least-expensive cars. It costs money to build a car to a standard, and that’s why E-Classes and S-Classes cost what they do. The first ML SUV was built to a price, and it showed. The most egregious example was the GLA 250’s most direct ancestor, the 2001-2005 C230 Coupe. Car and Driver was as kind as it could be at the time, but if you read between the lines, you can see that Frank Markus had to really, really try. READ MORE

The 2017 BMW 540i  
The knock on BMW is that it has somehow lost its Ultimate Driving Machine mojo, that it’s become too soft, and that its expansion into pretty much every segment of the automotive marketplace has robbed its core products of their passion. Bull. READ MORE

The 2017 Lexus IS 200t F SPORT
The IS has been around a few years in both IS 250 and IS 350 guise. So what’s the 200t about? Well, it replaces the 250 (and the 350 is now the 300), replacing the 204-horsepower 2.5-liter V6, which, like all Lexus engines was creamy smooth, but which was a bit down on power compared to the competition, with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four. READ MORE

The 2017 Dodge Charger Daytona 392 
There is nothing subtle about the Dodge Charger Daytona 392. It is, pure and simply, a muscle car in this new Platinum Age of same, an era in which the cars are not only faster than the muscle cars of the 1960s and 1970s, but do more than run in a straight line. They handle. They stop. READ MORE

The 2017 Jaguar F-Type SVR 
The 2017 Jaguar F-Type SVR is, without a doubt, the highest-grade machinery I drove all that day. Make that all this year. Possibly all this decade. The first clue came when I made the right turn onto Carmel Valley Road when leaving the Quail en route to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. I gave it about one-third throttle and immediately and literally held onto my hat…which I then tucked between the driver’s seat and the console for safekeeping. READ MORE

The 2018 Jaguar F-Pace S 
My question about the F-Pace S wasn’t whether a company like Jaguar could build a satisfying SUV…that question’s been answered in spades by Porsche, Audi, Bentley and other luxury/performance manufacturers who’ve done it, and are prospering as a result. READ MORE

The 2017 Toyota Mirai
The Mirai (Japanese for “future”) is a different kind of high-grade machinery from what I’d been driving. It’s a hydrogen fuel cell car. The idea being to take an element of nature and use it to power a vehicle, with water vapor being the only tailpipe emission. True green car enthusiasts will tell you that this is what makes the most sense, as hybrids use some fossil fuels, and electric vehicles require a charge that comes from existing power plants, some of which…burn fossil fuels. READ MORE

The 2017 Dodge Challenger T/A 392 
The 2017 Dodge Challenger T/A 392 is only three rungs down from the top of the Dodge Challenger hierarchy. Above it, the SRT 392 with the same 485-horsepower 6.4-liter Hemi, but with configurable drive modes, the Hellcat, with a supercharged 6.4-liter Hemi making what until recently was considered an insane 707 horsepower, and the soon-to-be released (or is that unleashed?) Demon with 808 horsepower. READ MORE

The 2017 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400
To look at it, you might think this was just a garden-variety Q60 (they start at $38,950 for a model with a 208-horsepower turbo four) with some aggressive looking wheels and black accents in the right places, but no….this is a very special Q60. The Red Sport 400 is the top-of-the-line, with a 400-horsepower twin-turbo 3-liter six.  READ MORE


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

Mazda: All Racing News Is Local

Word went out in late December that Dean Case of Mazda Motorsports would be hosting a Media Lunch at the Silicon Valley Auto Show in San Jose on Thursday January 5th to present the idea that there is a “local story” everywhere Mazda owners race their cars. The Auto Show features two Bay Area Mazda Racers that reinforce that premise. Mark Drennan, “the guy you don’t want to see in your rear view mirror” and Telo Stewart, Owner, World Speed Motorsports. The Sonoma-based World Speed team is known for putting Mazda drivetrains in just about anything and making them competitive.

As Barry Toepke, Maestro of the Monterey Reunion and Brad Littlefield new public relations Manager for Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca were expected to be in attendance, there was a chance that we might learn the latest status in the ongoing challenge for the operation of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Dean Case, started the introductions by letting his audience of about two dozen journalists know that Mazda owners race their cars in 46 of the 50 states and, with his usual wry smile, that he was interested in seeing what could be done about the missing four. With a miniscule 2% market share on the road, 55% of ALL Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) entries are either Spec Mazda or Mazda-powered, with the Mazda Teen Challenge being one of the most fiercely competitive classes in racing. Dean admitted that Mazda sold millions in racing parts in 2016 and that Mazda had poured $1 million into payouts for club racing level prize money.

It was really interesting to learn that the engine in the World Speed Mazda Formula Cars were standard MZR production engines with zero internal changes. Only a changed ECU, exhaust and intake yield maximum performance with maximum longevity for a dependable 200 horsepower in the sealed engines assembled by famed builder Hasselgren Engineering of Berkeley. These engines typically go 3,000 miles compared to the significantly more costly Formula Atlantic engines that are anticipated to go 2,000 miles between rebuilds. One MRZ, Dean said, had still not been cracked open with 11,000 racing miles clocked on it.

Dean added a funny story about some consternation concerning a scion of the famed Brabham family being sent out in a car, winning eight races and a championship, only to be informed after the fact that he had been given a car with a used engine! Speaking of the Teen Mazda Challenge Dean stated: “We want the series that we support to be affordable. We encourage our drivers to put advertisements for non-profits on their cars.” He suggested Mazda racers race with passion and support their passions. Dean talked about Mazda support of the SPCA for Monterey County, Project Yellow Light, and mentioned that Mazda racer Sarah Montgomery was working with Lemons of Love.

We heard from Telo about Mazda-powered Formula Cars, the Mazda Challenge Race and the Mazda Road to Indy, setting up farm teams and several levels of competition to create a feeder series for American race car drivers who dream of Indy.

Barry Toepke introduced Brad Littlefield, the new PR Manager for Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and spoke about the 60th Anniversary/Diamond Jubilee of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (which was opened in 1957). We also got to meet Mark Drennan a 50-year-old rookie who lead six races and won two in 2016. We also met Marissa Borjon, the new Mazda Western Regional PR person.

Dean kept us on schedule with a light-hearted touch and gave us a tour and walk-around of the Mazda booth and two race vehicles on display after the lunch. It was a great event, well-attended and what is probably the first of what might turn into a Mazda roadshow that will criss-cross the country shining a bright light on Mazda’s amazing footprint in the American racing scene.

Dept. of Interior Bonneville Salt Flats Fairy Tale

245fffdb-b31c-45f5-9b3a-720d5cd056adFOR RELEASE May 10, 2016
Contact: Louise Ann Noeth | 805.312.0893 – C.S.T. | lsl458mph@att.net

Americans were treated to a “fairy tale” May 4th when the Department of the Interior staff posted this link that features a captioned photo more appropriate for the Brothers Grimm than the stewards of the nations public lands.

Joseph Gruber’s photo depicts the Bonneville Salt Flats at twilight with a magnificent sky of star trails, but the surface is not the glistening white salt playa that has captivated the eye for more than 10,000 years. Instead, anemic muddy beige gypsum greets the eye. However, it is the caption that makes recreational users shake their head in disbelief:
Star trails above the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah almost look like a tunnel into hyperspace. These salt flats are made of approximately 90 percent common table salt, weighing millions of tons. The crust is up to 5 feet thick near the center of this unbelievable landscape that stretches over 46 square miles – just slightly smaller than the size of San Francisco. It’s the perfect way to celebrate #MayThe4thBeWithYou!

Fairy Tale #1: Constant, uninterrupted potash mining of the Bonneville Salt Flats (BSF) robbed the natural wonder of its thickness decades ago. There has not been five (5) INCHES, let alone five FEET of salt crust, since 1988 when a US Geological Survey made measurements of the shifting salt surface.

Fairy Tale #2: Depending on which assay results one prefers, the chemical make-up of the salt is NOT 90% NaCl (salt) but has ALWAYS been 98-99% salt.

Fairy Tale #3: It has been DECADES since recreational users have seen 46 square miles of salt. The actual usable surface is less than 20 square miles.

This, despite the BLM designating the International Speedway an “Areas of Critical Environmental Concern” many years ago which has brought little relief to the withering salt crust playa while providing a steady stream of revenue to Kaiser Chemical followed by Reilly industries and now Intrepid Potash, Inc.

In 1997, a voluntary salt lay-down project was begun to return salt brine to the Bonneville Salt Flats International Speedway located North of Interstate 80 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places – waste product from the potash mining that has collected HUNDREDS of MILLIONS of tons on the South side of the highway.

Once a promising source of ecological remediation, the current mining company, Intrepid Potash, has never equaled the test program restorative levels witnessed in 2001 when Don Vesco set the current World Land Speed Record of 458MPH driving on an 11-mile race course – the last time such length was observed.

Why must it be such a quixotic quest to get attention of our national leadership for corrective action? Digging into how this happened, we found that the DOI staffer lifted copy off the BLM website.

157239a1-05bb-4219-8a22-5124a26d548eThe racing community is working closely with the BLM to pursue a comprehensive restoration program. Part of that effort will require the BLM to update information shared with the public to reflect the current conditions of the BSF. We look forward to having five feet of salt crust so that this is no longer a fairy tale but once again a fabulous raceway.