Friday, August 23, 2013

San Diego Trip, Part 1: The Corolla

As you know, I went down to San Diego this week to check out the new 11th generation Toyota Corolla. It was a really fascinating experience as I got to see how car companies market to the press. I also got to meet with some really seasoned pros in the automotive industry. And, I got to drive a prototype car. This was truly a childhood dream of mine.

There is an embargo on the Corolla until next week, so I can't tell you anything about how the car drives. I know, it's just driving you crazy, right?

On Monday night, Toyota hosted a dinner at the hotel we were staying at. At the bar, I met the guys at AutoGuide. They are a writer-videographer duo. It will be interesting to see what they come up with, given the short amount of time they had to work with. In fact, I am looking forward to reading everyone else's reviews as we all experienced the same cars on the same roads on the same day.

By sheer coincidence, I sat at the cool table for dinner. There was another writer-videographer duo, this time from Motorweek. I begged them to please post 1980s reviews on YouTube.

Sitting across from me was the guy from Toyota who is in charge of all the Corollas in the world. This guy, the most diplomatic and the most powerful in the room, has to keep track of 16 factories around the world, including one in Pakistan that apparently still produces Mark I Corollas. The boss-man drives an Estima hybrid. Next to me was a really cool guy who is in charge of Corollas in North America. Before this gig, he worked on the Avalon. He told me that Avalons are only sold in North America and the Persian Gulf. But apparently, they are so well liked that a few have been purchased in Saudi Arabia and privately shipped to China. We talked a lot about cars, history, and geopolitics. I probably overstepped the bounds by bringing up Japanese-Chinese relations, but everyone was a good sport about it. It really got me thinking about the years of work that thousands of people have dedicated to build cars that we take for granted.

The following morning, we sat through a long, semi-slick presentation on the new Corolla. I think I know more about the trim levels than the average Toyota salesman. They closed down a small city block and parked the cars for us out front (there were 24 of us from the media). I got partnered up with Bengt Halvorson. He was a great person to be stuck in a Corolla all day with. Though we are the same age, he has been doing this for 15 years, having spent time at Car & Driver, Automobile, and Autocar after getting a physics degree at Michigan. This guy knew so much, I felt like I was Ralph Macchio to his Mr. Miyagi.

They gave us an old Corolla S to compare.

We were given four pre-determined loops to drive the various models. The loops were a long, windy road to Lake Otay, a scenic loop to Coronado Island, a Downtown loop, and a short loop.

The loop to Lake Otay was fun. It is very close to the Mexican border so we saw a border patrol officer sleeping in his truck, a retiree driving an old Crown Vic that had "Volunteer Border Patrol" painted on the side, and a few cars with Baja plates, like the Ford EcoSport seen above.

I gained four pounds on this trip. They really feed you like cattle in a high density feedlot. During lunch, they brought in a couple of food trucks just for us. One served patty melts and the other cupcakes.

As for freebies, we all received the following items with Corolla logos on them: a notepad, a pen, a water bottle, a tote bag, and a kite(!).

I have finished the first draft of my review. My pictures didn't turn out great at all and I may re-write the whole thing. Look for it next week.

1 comment:

Ed Kim said...

That's awesome! I sent one of my guys, Dave Sullivan, to the event as I couldn't make it. Don't know if you saw him there. Glad you got to experience an automotive media event.

Bengt is a very cool guy; I don't know him tremendously well but he's been very interesting to talk to the times I've spent time with him.

With any luck, we'll both end up on a media event together at some point!