A Boy’s Birthday Wish: How an Arkansas Toyota Dealership Made Birthday Dreams Come True
   Thumbs Up –    Ed Laukes, group vice president of Toyota Division marketing, helps Holden Monson celebrate his sixth birthday at Steve Landers Toyota of Northwest Arkansas.

Thumbs Up – Ed Laukes, group vice president of Toyota Division marketing, helps Holden Monson celebrate his sixth birthday at Steve Landers Toyota of Northwest Arkansas.

Ask a little boy what kind of birthday party he wants, and you’ll get the usual requests: Spiderman. The Avengers. Maybe Pokémon.
 
At least, that’s what Travis Monson was expecting.
 
The Arkansas father of two was planning a birthday party for his son, Holden, and wanted some ideas.
 
“Sometimes he’s really into Batman, and other times he’s really into Ninja Turtles,” Monson says. “So that’s what I was prepared for. And then he says ‘Dad, I want a Toyota birthday party.’ And I was like… huh?”
 
To understand how Holden could dream up a Toyota birthday experience – you just need to look in the family’s driveway. They’ve been driving Toyotas for decades.  
 
Brand Loyalty
 
“It started when I was young,” Monson says. “I was six when I saw Marty McFly’s Toyota truck in Back to the Future. And I wanted one. Then later, my dad started working for a dealership. I eventually got a job handling dealer trades, and I got to drive them all.”
 
He and his wife have been loyal customers ever since – owning Tacoma pickups, an FJ Cruiser, and a RAV4 Monson’s wife eventually traded in so the family could buy another Tacoma. So when Monson needed a little help making his son’s birthday wish a reality, he knew just where to go: Steve Landers Toyota of Northwest Arkansas.
 
“Travis comes in all the time to look around, and his son comes with him as his little buddy,” says Toni Luetjen, the dealership’s director of marketing. “It’s so cute to see them in here. When Travis asked us to help host Holden’s birthday party, we wanted to pitch in however we could.”
 
The dealership’s management team arranged to keep the showroom open on a Sunday. You can’t have a birthday party without a little swag, so Monson emailed Toyota’s Customer Experience Center asking for help. That’s how word of Holden’s birthday wish reached the company’s Plano, Texas headquarters. 

   A Gift to Remember –    Holden poses in front of the 2019 RAV4. Laukes presented Holden’s family with a new RAV4 as a thank you for their decades of loyalty to the brand.

A Gift to Remember – Holden poses in front of the 2019 RAV4. Laukes presented Holden’s family with a new RAV4 as a thank you for their decades of loyalty to the brand.

Word Gets to the Top
 
“This is a story of an organic movement in this company – when things happen mysteriously that somehow get brought to the surface,” says Ed Laukes, group vice president of Toyota Division marketing. “I got blind copied on an email response to the boy’s father. He was planning this party for his son, and no one had any party stuff – streamers, balloons, those kinds of things. I sent it over to our brand team and said, ‘We’ve got to do this. We need to do something for this dad.’”
 
His team delivered.
 
Days later, Monson received boxes full of goodies – shirts, stickers, hats – plenty of stuff to make sure every kid at Holden’s party went home with Toyota souvenirs.
 
Monson got creative with games, too. Guests played “pin the tire on the Toyota” and raced Hot Wheels. Kids had a chance to climb into the back of a Tacoma. And Holden’s birthday cake was even topped with a miniature FJ Cruiser.
 
For Laukes, the party was about much more than a little boy’s birthday. It was about a family’s trust.
 
“The dad is so passionate,” says Laukes. “He loves our cars and trucks. And now his little boy is passionate about the brand. This is about the fact that we make great cars and trucks, and families trust us. They know we’re going to provide them something high quality, reliable and safe.”

   Make a Wish –    Holden blows out the candles on his birthday cake, topped with a miniature FJ Cruiser.

Make a Wish – Holden blows out the candles on his birthday cake, topped with a miniature FJ Cruiser.

The Big Reveal
 
Laukes traveled to Arkansas and personally paid a visit to the family, where he had one more surprise up his sleeve.
 
Remember the RAV4 Monson’s wife traded in so her husband could buy a new truck?
 
Laukes gifted the family a brand new RAV4 to replace it.

“I was at a loss for words,” says Monson. “You never expect something like that to happen to you. It was overwhelming and emotional, because of my connection to Toyota. It’s strengthened my loyalty to the brand.”

So what’s next for Monson, ultimate Toyota fan?

“Now I’m considering getting a Toyota tattoo.”

By Kristen Orsborn, courtesy of Toyota Motor North America

Kristin Shaw
Nissan and the American Red Cross Unveil the Ultimate Service TITAN
  “As we’ve seen time and time again, unfortunately it’s not a matter of ‘if’ disaster will strike, it is ‘when,’”  said Jeremy Tucker, vice president, Marketing Communications and Media, Nissan North America, Inc . “And when it does, the American Red Cross and its volunteers have proven to be dependable – just like the TITAN and our consumers. We hope this Ultimate Service TITAN, created in lockstep with the specific needs of the American Red Cross, will help them continue to be a great example of how a TITAN of the Community can truly make a difference.”

“As we’ve seen time and time again, unfortunately it’s not a matter of ‘if’ disaster will strike, it is ‘when,’” said Jeremy Tucker, vice president, Marketing Communications and Media, Nissan North America, Inc. “And when it does, the American Red Cross and its volunteers have proven to be dependable – just like the TITAN and our consumers. We hope this Ultimate Service TITAN, created in lockstep with the specific needs of the American Red Cross, will help them continue to be a great example of how a TITAN of the Community can truly make a difference.”

As part of the Calling All TITANs campaign, Nissan and the Red Cross collaborated to create the Ultimate Service TITAN, a mobile command center and first aid unit armed with supplies needed to help conquer the elements in the face of disaster.

The needs of rescue and recovery workers vary widely and the Ultimate Service TITAN is prepared with the following amenities:

  • With a desk, solar power generator and a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, the Ultimate Service TITAN is a perfect mobile command center for volunteers.

  • Equipped with a bed and first aid kit, the vehicle allows first responders to provide on-site care to those injured in an emergency.

  • A built-in refrigerator and the vehicle’s rugged-terrain capability allows the Ultimate Service TITAN to serve as a blood-supply delivery vehicle that can transport blood to hospitals in need.

  • For rescue and relief workers, the Ultimate Service TITAN can serve as a place to find shelter, food and a much-needed place to rest between shifts, thanks to the temperature-controlled box that features a resting area, stove, microwave, sink and refrigerator.

  • In conjunction with Red Cross Blood Drive efforts, the Ultimate Service TITAN could also serve as a place to give or collect blood donations from the field.

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Originating as a stock TITAN XD Diesel Midnight Edition Crew Crab – featuring a heavy-duty commercial-grade ladder frame, Cummins® 5.0-L V8 Turbo Diesel engine, innovative bed features and roomy 5-passenger interior – transformation into the Ultimate Service TITAN began with the addition of a factory-authorized ICON three-inch suspension lift kit, available through Nissan dealers.

After a disaster strikes, roads can be difficult to pass from washouts, mud and debris blocking roadways. The ICON lift kit on the Ultimate Service TITAN includes adjustable height coil-over shock absorbers tuned specifically for TITAN XD, custom rod end bearings and patent-pending Delta Joints – helping provide increased ground clearance and enhanced ride quality both on- and off-road.

“No matter the conditions, a TITAN fights to do what it takes to help those in need,” said Fred DePerez, vice president, North America LCV Business Unit, Nissan North America, Inc. “Built on the foundation of a rugged TITAN XD Diesel – and with aftermarket accessories from some of the most reputable companies in the industry – the Ultimate Service TITAN ensures that TITANs of the Community are able to get anywhere, at any time, with the tools they need to get the job done.”

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Body armor to help protect the vehicle from the elements comes via an Addictive Desert Designs Stealth Bumper. A WARN ZEON Platinum 12S winch was added for debris removal, rescue and recovery efforts and to help ensure the Ultimate Service TITAN can maneuver through many difficult situations. ICON Compression wheels and Nitto Ridge Grappler tires help assure this one-of-a-kind service vehicle will get through the challenging road conditions often seen during natural disasters. To avoid a fuel shortage – a common concern in disaster-stricken areas – the Ultimate Service TITAN is equipped with a custom TITAN Fuel Tank that holds up to 75 gallons to serve for long periods of time without interruption.

From there, focus shifted to the bed – a crucial piece of the service vehicle puzzle. To provide shelter and privacy for patients receiving care and rescue workers, a B&S Customizing Lightweight Bed Box, complete with a Rockit West custom wrap, serves as the backbone of this mobile command center. Inside the bed box is a Goose Gear Custom Interior, carefully crafted with the Red Cross and its volunteers in mind.

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Inside the bed box is where the Ultimate Service TITAN really earns its name. Unique storage for first aid supplies, a desk, a couch, a mobile kitchen, a generator, solar panels, Wi-Fi and a wrap-around awning are just a few of the features that allow the vehicle to transform to meet first responder needs.

A SnoMaster refrigerator was added to store blood, while additional storage is available on top with a Rhino Rack Pioneer Tray System and Pelican Professional Gear Cases. And when darkness settles in and a long night looms, lighting from Baja Designs illuminates the path ahead to ensure no potential danger goes unseen.

The Ultimate Service TITAN will be on display during the Miami Auto Show at the Miami Beach Convention Center through Oct. 13.

Mazda3: This Mid-Size Sedan is Not too Much, Not too Little... it's Just Right
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Happiness is a vacation with Mazda

My favorite time of the year, hands down, is summer in the Midwest. We pack up and visit with my parents for a month or so and enjoy the benefits of not existing on the surface of the sun (Texas). Most of the time, we fly into Chicago Midway airport and drive across highway 80 into Indiana. Planes, trains, automobiles… it’s all part of the journey.

A car, ever since I was old enough to drive, has meant freedom. Freedom to zip down the roads with the wind rushing past. Freedom to go where I wanted to go. Freedom to explore.

Now that I am a grown up (reportedly) and have a child, I value the opportunities to meander and conquer new places and show him the joys of the road. Over the summer, we made plans to drive from Illinois to Indiana to Michigan to Ohio and back to visit friends and family and experience summer the way I love it most: unstructured.

 Friends of ours moved from Austin to Chicago, and we got to visit them in their historic neighborhood. Photo by Nicole Depner.

Friends of ours moved from Austin to Chicago, and we got to visit them in their historic neighborhood. Photo by Nicole Depner.

 Roaming Michigan in this sedan is a smooth ride, and stopping along the way to take photos of random farms was a must-do.

Roaming Michigan in this sedan is a smooth ride, and stopping along the way to take photos of random farms was a must-do.

Fuel-efficient: absolutely!

When we arrived in Chicago, we picked up a Mazda 3 Grand Touring at the airport and headed east. Mazda’s midsize sedan is a five-seater, and we found there was plenty of room in the truck for even my giant, overstuffed suitcase. Since my mother makes homemade English muffins on a regular basis, I knew I had to have a bag large enough to tote back to Texas a few dozen, at least.

The Mazda3 is billed as a “fuel-efficient compact car”, but it was still a wonderful surprise to me just how fuel-efficient it is. Even after driving two hours from Chicago, I still had more than half a tank of gas.

This vehicle is offered in three trims: Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring. Starting at $18,095 for the sport – the Grand Touring trim starts at $24,195 – the Mazda3 is eminently affordable.

 The interior of the Mazda3 is nicely laid out, with intuitive steering wheel controls.

The interior of the Mazda3 is nicely laid out, with intuitive steering wheel controls.

Which trim should you choose?

Basically, if more zip is important to you, then choose the Grand Touring trim, which is the one I drove for a little over a month. At 184 horsepower, it’s on par with a Volkswagen Tiguan and has a larger engine than a Honda Accord. I had no trouble merging onto busy highways in Chicago and Detroit, and in fact, I noticed that the shift points felt great and it burst into higher speeds with none of that aggravating lurch some competitors’ cars exhibit.

Some of my favorite features of the Mazda3 GT:

  • Perforated leather-trimmed sport seats 

  • Bose® 9 speaker surround sound system

  • Steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, which were simple and intuitive

  • Advanced Blind Spot Monitoring System12 with Rear Cross Traffic Alert

  • Dual-zone automatic climate control system

  • 6-way power adjustable driver's seat with manual lumbar adjustment

  • Rain-sensing windshield wipers

 When visiting Lake Michigan, one  must  stay until sunset. It’s too beautiful to miss. And on a clear day, you can see all the way to Chicago from here.

When visiting Lake Michigan, one must stay until sunset. It’s too beautiful to miss. And on a clear day, you can see all the way to Chicago from here.

Hasta la vista, summer sedan

At the end of our trip, I felt a little sad to turn in my new friend, this Mazda3 GT. We had driven hundreds of miles together, and it represented that freedom I felt when I was a teenager. However, in this case, I wasn’t exercising my freedom to run. I was free to come home again.  

MSRP: Starting at $18,095

MPG: Up to 28 city / 37 highway

Horsepower: 155 to 184 hp

MORE REASONS TO LOVE MAZDA

Giving back to the community has always been at the heart of Mazda. Now in its fourth year, Mazda Drive for Good® gives Mazda drivers the chance to be a part of the spirit of giving. 

Raised to Date: $15,564,550

Hours of Service: 262,839

#MazdaDrive4Good




 

Kristin Shaw
Toyota Sequoia with a TRD Sport Trim (Worth It!): An Ideal Three-Row SUV

by Kristin Shaw

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When you’re carting kids around, you want space and comfort

In our neighborhood, SUVs and minivans are all the rage. Large vehicles of all shapes and sizes cruise through the school drop-off line, multiple kids in tow. I, too, have an SUV at home, but with only one child one would think I wouldn’t need much room.

As Lee Corso would say on College GameDay, not so fast, my friend.

My son is a social creature, and he likes to hang out with his friends. As a social mom, I try to accommodate that and haul him and his friends to fun places like Dart Bowl or Dave and Buster’s after school. I don’t always need that third row, but when we do, it’s a party. The problem with the third row in my personal SUV is that it’s kind of a pain to set it up and to get back there, requiring the passenger to pull the lever and push the middle seat up to climb in. Certainly, it’s not graceful. Since it’s boys back there most of the time, they don’t seem to care.

However, when I test drove the Toyota Sequoia, not only did I have the room I needed to host a pack of kids, there is a convenient captain’s chair option for the middle row. This gives the Sequoia passengers an easy path through the middle of the center row straight to the back, functioning much like a minivan.

But does it have enough VROOM? (Yes!)

Toyota is a solid brand with reliable resale value, and buyers looking for a vehicle with mid-range pricing can’t go wrong with this SUV. It offers ample power at 381 hp, which is on par with a Jaguar F-Type or Range Rover Velar, and a V8 engine, so it has no problem towing a boat or camper (~7,000 pounds), either.

Kids: happy. Me: happy.

The Sequoia also has, for you car enthusiasts, automatic limited-slip differential. For the average driver, what that means is that the vehicle has better traction on slippery conditions. When you’re driving precious cargo (including yourself!) in the rain, snow, or fresh gravel, you will appreciate this feature.

I tested the TRD Sport trim, which stands for Toyota Racing Development. The TRD team produces various tuning products and accessories, including performance suspension components, superchargers, and wheels. 

Toyota’s commitment to the community

And here’s something awesome you may not know about Toyota, straight from their newsroom just a couple of days ago (September 7, 2018):

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Toyota USA Foundation is granting $2 million to SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development, which will develop curricula, advise on state-of-the-art educational practices, provide professional development for teachers, coordinate nonprofits operating in the area, and monitor and evaluate the program. The future school will be operated and staffed by the Dallas ISD. The Office of Transformation and Innovation will co-facilitate the design of the school in collaboration with School Leadership.

The collaboration will also bring together nonprofits, including groups already working with Dallas ISD through the SMU Simmons School program, The School Zone, as well as Toyota Motor North America and Toyota Financial Services’ partners to address community issues like literacy, nutrition, transportation and after–school care –  each vital to creating successful outcomes for the community.”

We love to hear about that kind of commitment.

Facts: We’ve Got ‘Em

  • MSRP $48,700 base

  • Four trim levels available: SR5, TRD Sport (the one we tested), Limited, and Platinum

  • In terms of size, this is Toyota’s largest SUV

  • Tons of safety features (read more here)

  • Eight-passenger seating

  • Electric controls for third row (no tugging and lifting)

  • JBL audio system (sweet sounds)

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Kristin Shaw
Nissan Rear Door Alert: Designed by Mothers and Simply Saving Lives

by Kristin Shaw

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Leftover Lasagna was the Inspiration

In 2014, Marlene Mendoza and Elsa Foley were young mothers working long hours as engineers at Nissan.

"We were always sleep deprived and anxious that we would leave something in the back seat," Mendoza said.

Collectively, their hearts broke for every story they heard about children accidentally left in cars. They wanted to figure out a way to help, and began brainstorming. At the end of a long day after work, Mendoza placed a pan of leftover lasagna in the back seat and then drove home and gave her child a bath, leaving the food overnight. The next day, the smell inside the car was overpowering, and it helped her realize the potential. Rear Door Alert was born.

“You never think this is going to happen to you,” Mendoza says. “When we set out to do this, our dream was to put this in every car. We wanted it to be simple.”

The Technology Already Existed - It Was a Matter of Creative Application

The solution turned out to be as simple as harnessing the power Nissan vehicles already had: door sequence logic. For instance, if you forget to shut your trunk or don’t close a door all the way, the car will beep and/or flash a display on your dashboard to let you know.

The way door sequence logic works, in the case of Rear Door Alert, is that it monitors the rear door switches to detect open/closed status before and after a trip. If the system detects that a rear door was opened/closed prior to a trip, but then was not re-opened again after the trip was completed, the car alerts the driver. The series of notifications begins with a display in the instrument panel and progresses to distinctive chirps of the horn. Since they were leveraging already-existing technology, that made it easier to implement.

Click below on the audio file to hear the alert:

Nissan chose the 2018 Pathfinder to offer Rear Door Alert first, because it’s one of the most popular name plates for families. The Altima and the Rogue will launch this fall with RDA. For 2019, the manufacturer has added eight more vehicles; by 2022, the plan is for it to be in all models. The best time to add RDA is when a new model launches, says Mendoza.

Now, Marlene has three boys, and has been with Nissan for six years. She is proud of this technology and hopes other companies will implement something like it in the near future to protect as many children and animals as possible.

“The more, the merrier,” she says. “It would be a dream for more people to adopt this.”

Maybe it's just a gallon of milk on the floorboard behind you you don't want to forget. Maybe it's just a hostess gift you left on the back seat. And maybe the alert will help you or someone you know save something even more precious. 

If you’re in the market for a Nissan with Rear Door Alert, you’ll be glad to know that it’s standard technology and will not add any cost to the vehicle. Owners may opt in to turn the system on, and once it’s on, you can leave it or turn it off as needed.

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Kristin Shaw
Ford Expedition Max + Airstream = the Proper Tools for a Fantastic Family Vacation

By Randall Chase

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Planning a family trip is not nearly as fun as being on the trip; I think we all know that. But planning a trip is easier when you have the right tools. I learned that from my father, who often told me that a project is always easier when you use the proper tools. This view is as accurate for building a shed as it is for taking a trip. 

Growing up, I always heard stories about when my parents first got married they lived in an Airstream trailer in a field. The thought of what Airstream was had always been a part of my memories. It was the beginnings, security, and adventure. All of these ideas have been wrapped up in my memory and in my perception of what Airstream is all about. 

When I had the opportunity to take my family on an Airstream adventure, I thought about safety, security, proper tools, and (of course) adventures. So when I heard that we were towing the Tommy Bahama Edition Airstream with a 2018 Ford Expedition Max, I instantly knew that I had the proper tool for the job. The Expedition Max has a towing capacity (9000 LBS max) that far exceeds the weight of the trailer (5000 LBS). Plus, it has a fantastic backup camera and towing features, which deliver the peace of mind to take on the opportunity of creating a lifetime of family memories.

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I thought it would be a fun adventure opportunity to bring my dad along with me to pick up the Airstream and the Ford Expedition Max. We arrived at Vogt RV in Fort Worth to meet with the excellent staff and get the once over of our living quarters for the next few days. After their thorough walk around and assistance with understanding the trailer, we were ready to hook it up and be on our way. My dad was impressed with how the new Airstream utilized so many modern touches inside such a great timeless exterior. The image of a silver riveted Airstream is iconic and part of American history. Sharing this with my dad was fun. 

Hitching up the Airstream is more like art meets science than one might expect. But with the backup camera and trailer assist it was a breeze. I lined it up and got it on the first try, no joke. It even impressed my dad. 

Once the kids packed all of their bags in the back and loaded everything in their seats, they saw just how much room there was left over and wanted to get an Expedition Max to have all the time. I can’t say I blame them.

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Pulling out of the RV Center and onto the open road was quite an adrenaline rush of its own. For starters, it’s Dallas traffic, which is always a bit of a rush to drive in. But add on towing a 5000-lb trailer and you find out what kind of driver you really are. Honestly, though, it was much easier than I expected. From the passenger seat, my dad told me stories of what it was like to pull a trailer “back in the day” but this seemed nothing like that. I honestly was expecting some lag or drifting, or even some lack of visibility problems, but I really had none of those. Once I was on the road, it was old hat. I was humming Willie Nelson's “On The Road Again” in my head and had visions of me taking summer trips to the Redwood National Park driving this silver bullet through the tree-lined roads like I always remember seeing on postcards. 

One of the best things about going on a trip like this is the stories that you tell on the way to and from your adventures. These aren’t the kinds of stories you tell when you are running through the airport trying to catch a flight, or if you are strolling through a hotel lobby looking for the pool or the bar… or the pool bar. There is something different about vacationing with a trailer. You know, maybe it’s more innocent, harkening to a bygone time when families really wanted to spend all their time together without headphones or screens, and without distractions or wifi passwords. 

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While we were driving, my dad and I got to talk about some of our favorite subjects: Economic Development, Nonprofit Business management (I know -  riveting, isn’t it?), Scotch, classic cars (our 1973 MGB, to be specific), and other father-son topics that are often shared on trips. But the fact that he and I are now are in very similar fields, it was really nice to be able to just openly talk on the road. 

We stopped along the way for a bit of lunch and a much-needed ice cream break, which allowed me to practice my first chance at parking a trailer in a parking lot. I didn’t do half bad, if I do say so myself. I was able to park and get out without messing anything up after indulging in ice cream, which was fantastic on a day on which it reached 104 degrees. Soon, we were back on the road and back to more talking.

We arrived in Austin a few hours later and swung by to drop off my dad, show my mom the new wheels and the Airstream, and then pick up my wife. We were all once again united as a family, around the camper and shared a few more stories of the past and of what life in an Airstream was like (from my mom’s perspective this time). Needless to say, they both had fond memories of the silver streak, and seeing the level of luxury on the inside was quite a step up from what they remembered in their old Airstream. I don’t think theirs had a built-in bar complete with wine and scotch glasses… I could be wrong though. 

Spending time reconnecting with my dad on the way down, reconnecting with the kids, and reconnecting with my wife on this trip was totally worth it. Restoring the classic idea of a family vacation with the modern luxury of the Expedition Max made this one of the best trips we’ve been on.

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Kristin Shaw