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What types of stories, trends or issues are on your radar now?
Right now I’m finishing up an 8-page cover story for Automotive Engineering on the vehicle lightweighting trend, specifically what comes next. You know everybody’s been talking about mass reduction and about how important it is, but once a certain amount of low hanging fruit gets plucked in terms of technology, where do you go from here? The industry has made huge investments in new lighter weight vehicle structures, both aluminum-intensive ones and mixed-materials ones, which feature smart use of new high-strength steel and aluminum alloys. But engineers and product planners continue to battle this thing called “mass creep,” the addition of new safety, emissions and feature content that often negates any real overall weight reduction.
This is a big challenge and of course low fuel prices that were unforeseen when these 2025 CAFE regulations were planned, have really changed consumer demand for larger vehicles again. As we’re seeing in the current sales mix, electrified cars continue to be a tough sell. I’ve been covering the industry for over 30 years and this is by far the most interesting period to be writing about new vehicle technology.
What other topics are you most focused on right now?
My radar really revolves around the auto industry’s challenge to meet increasingly stringent global CO2 / fuel economy regulations. There’s no doubt this drive will continue. The issue of increasing CO2 on this planet is going to continue and force more stringent regulations. But the industry’s challenge is to keep pace with all of that … and with tougher safety regulations … while keeping vehicles somewhat affordable. Cost is the real challenge. We can make an 80-mile-per-gallon car, we can mold these things out of carbon fiber, put in very advanced powertrains, but no one would be able to afford them. So doing all of this and keeping mobility affordable is a huge challenge for product planners and engineers.
What would be your dream assignment?
I’ll take it from an editor’s perspective. My dream assignment would be to be handed the budget and resources to create a magazine or media property that is aimed at getting young people interested in all things mobility and in mobility technology – from high-tech skate boards and bicycles to motorcycles, cars, trucks, aircraft, trains and ships. It would be a newsstand publication that would dive into everything from energy sources to vehicle structures to propulsion systems to driving infrastructure and vehicle-to-vehicle communication … and would fill the wide gap out there between the enthusiast magazines and professional technical publications like Automotive Engineering.
What’s the craziest, weirdest or most fun story you’ve ever written?
Every story is fun for me in some way, but one of the most invigorating stories I’ve ever been involved with was a cover story that John McElroy, Gerry Kobe and I did for Automotive Industries Magazine back in the early 1990s, titled: “What GM Engineers Want to Tell Jack Smith (But Are Afraid of Getting Shot).”
We had been hearing a lot of frustration from many engineers because of the management dysfunction that they felt was holding GM back. While we editors believed that Jack Smith was a good CEO at the time, the sheer size of the GM bureaucracy was blocking any real progress. Management was deaf to their own people’s voices that were calling for the company to be more nimble, smaller and faster. So our cover image featured life-size cutouts of human beings that looked like gun range targets with the GM headquarters building (the Fisher Building) in the background. Of course, when the magazine hit the streets it got us into hot water with Jack Smith. One of GM’s top PR executives came over to our office immediately and ranted and reamed us for a good 30 minutes. But we also received a lot of fan mail!
What’s your pet peeve with PR people?
I’m one of the media people who spent time, in my case 13 months, in PR (with Chrysler in the mid-1990s), so I understand what goes on behind the barbed wire. And I have a lot of empathy for what PR people have to do. I’d say my current pet peeve is based on a situation we had working on a recent story, where there was a definite lack of coordination between two PR execs working for the same company. One was in Europe and one was in North America. We were provided slightly different material from each side. Neither PR exec really knew what the other was providing. So what ended up being published pleased one side, but didn’t please the other side. In an increasingly global industry, I think the communication within PR departments in different regions of the world could be better.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I was raised by parents who were kind of renaissance people. They both had amazingly broad interests that they both handed down to me. I like music of all types, especially roots music, bluegrass and what’s called “new grass.” I’m an amateur blues music historian. I’m in the process of restoring a 70-year-old Willys Jeep. I’ve written five books on motorcycle and automotive history and am working on a sixth book. I have two kids, my son is a Michigan State student and my daughter is finishing up high school. My wife Sue and I love the outdoors, we have an old house, a great garden and we love to cook.
Finish this sentence “People would be surprised to know that I …”
… am NOT an engineer. I am just a gearhead journalist, who has loved anything related to wheels or wings since I was kid. High school calculus stopped me in my tracks of pursuing anything that is numbers dependent. I’m always delighted when an engineer I respect tells me that I took a complex topic and made it understandable and calls it “good stuff.” I’ve got a masters in communications and BA in journalism, both from Shippensburg University in central Pennsylvania.
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