For all motor enthusiasts, test driving the latest vehicles while travelling the world and getting paid for it would be a dream job.
For Sault Ste. Marie native Alisa Priddle, that's an exciting reality.
A journalist since the mid-1980s, Alisa has worked as an automotive journalist for most of her career, most recently as Motor Trend Detroit editor since 2016.
“It’s been the most fun job I’ve ever had. It’s the icing on the cake of a long career,” Alisa said, speaking to SooToday in a telephone interview.
“I get the chance to learn something new every day about an important industry that touches everyone’s lives.”
She lives in Windsor and makes the daily commute to the Motor Trend office in neighbouring Detroit (currently working from home in this era of COVID-19 travel restrictions).
“Other than these strange (COVID-19) times right now, I go to every major auto show in the world, so that would be, for the U.S., Detroit, New York and L.A., but I also go to Tokyo, Frankfurt, Paris, I’ve been to Beijing once, I go to the Geneva show every year, all the major auto shows around the world,” Alisa said.
“When you go to auto shows when the cars are unveiled, it’s the first look at a car that’s never been seen by the world yet.”
She has travelled to every continent, driving vehicles and writing about them, and as a judge, helps make the pick for Motor Trend vehicles of the year.
“We go to proving grounds for automakers in the Mojave Desert in northern California and we’ll spend a week driving all those cars on high-speed ovals, winding test tracks, uneven surfaces to evaluate every aspect of a vehicle. We take a lot of notes...and then we vote on what our car of the year is, truck of the year, SUV of the year, and all of this takes a couple of months to do,” Alisa said.
Honda and Hyundai proving grounds are located in the Mojave Desert, while the Fiat Chrysler proving grounds are situated in Arizona.
“Motor Trend was the first to get to drive the Mid-Engine Corvette. That was really exciting because the world’s waited 50 years for GM to finally make a mid-engine Corvette,” Alisa said.
“At the other end of the spectrum, it was incredibly fun to take a Mercedes G-Wagen, which is a really upright, military-looking SUV and drive it right up the side of a mountain in Graz, Austria. It was so incredibly capable.”
“Those two vehicles are so different, but both are just super fun.”
Because she has driven so many vehicles, Alisa said it’s tough to decide which vehicle has been her favourite.
Alisa said she has also had the thrill of driving a Volvo across frozen lakes in far northern Sweden, as well as taking a cold-weather testing road trip from northern Finland to Helsinki, making sure to organize the trip whereby she could visit the village where her Finnish grandmother was born.
“That was a really emotional and lovely thing. I’ve always been proud to have some Finnish heritage but I’d never been to Finland, so I was able to write a story that was both ‘business’ and ‘personal’ too. That was probably the most favourite thing I’ve ever written.”
“We also have a person of the year award. It’s drawn from what we call the power list of the 50 most important people in the auto industry. I’m a judge for all the other ones, but the power list is something I write and do every year,” Alisa said.
She said Sergio Marchionne, known for his involvement with Ferrari, Maserati and, most recently, before his death in 2018, as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO, was an industry figure who stands out as one of the most memorable people she met and interviewed in her career.
“While most automakers are very careful about what they say, he just told you whatever he was thinking at the time, and if he changed his mind a couple of months later he had no problem with saying ‘no, no we’re not going to do that anymore.’ He was very dynamic and passionate and really fun to cover.”
“I always say this job lets me live a borrowed life. I would never be able to drive these cars, meet these people, talk to these people, see all of these countries in my real life. My job lets me have a taste of all these wonderful things,” Alisa said.
Before moving to Motor Trend, Alisa started working as the Chrysler reporter in 2000 for Ward’s, an organization specializing in automotive reporting.
That marked the beginning of her experience working in Detroit, commuting from Windsor.
“I just thought it was a really fascinating industry.”
“Obviously, there are the car stories, but I also love touring car plants. You learn a lot about a company by looking at their plants. You’ve got car stories, you’ve got manufacturing stories, you’ve got people stories, business stories. Any kind of story you want to do, the automotive industry has it. It’s very dramatic. People are passionate about the auto industry, everybody wants to talk to the designer of the Corvette,” Alisa said.
She worked at Ward’s for six years.
Alisa then started working for Car & Driver as senior news editor beginning in 2007.
She moved on to The Detroit News in October 2008, just as the auto industry, as well as the economy of the entire world, was rocked by that year’s massive economic meltdown.
“I was at a local Detroit paper at the time Chrysler and GM filed for bankruptcy. That was a huge, huge story. It was all-encompassing and we were leading the charge in national coverage of that major story. You were cognizant of the fact you were witnessing history in the making and recording it...it was an incredibly exciting time. It was absolutely fascinating,” Alisa recalled.
In 2012, she moved to The Detroit Free Press.
She also reported on the city of Detroit declaring bankruptcy.
After years of covering such massive news stories, Alisa said “I was kind of ‘pooped’” before starting with Motor Trend in 2016 as the Detroit editor.
A Sir James Dunn Collegiate graduate, Alisa studied journalism at Ottawa’s Carleton University.
After Carleton, Alisa was set to begin a summer intern position with the Windsor Star when a full-time general assignment reporter job came up with the Sault Star.
Alisa then began her career with her hometown paper in 1984.
It was there she also met her husband Steve Yednoroz, a local sports reporter.
Covering “everything from city council to forest fires,” Alisa developed an interest in work performed by Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) officials in the Sault.
“I thought it was really interesting work they were doing, really fascinating stuff the world didn’t know about.”
Alisa spoke of her 1985 coverage of a visit to the Chapleau area by research scientist Richard Turco, who, along with four fellow scientists, including famous astronomer Carl Sagan, had stated a nuclear war would create a blanket of smoke and ash, blocking out the sun and chilling the planet.
Turco visited the area to observe a prescribed burn (a planned fire by forestry officials for purposes of forest management).
“All of the major networks, like NBC, started sending their people...all of the networks were waiting for him to come down from a flight and do an interview and talk about what he saw,” Alisa said.
MNRF officials invited Alisa, who had driven to the area from the Sault in her own car, to interview Turco at a nearby ministry outpost and to also stay there to avoid a potentially dangerous overnight drive back to the Sault, as major media crews had filled up the rooms at the one tiny motel in the area.
“While all of the networks were looking for Turco, I drove him in my car, drove him to the MNRF place where we all stayed, and then I drove him back to the Sault, stopping at Batchawana because he wanted blueberry pancakes. I got to speak to him while all these other organizations had flown people from New York and everywhere and none of them got a single interview while I had him for two days,” Alisa said, chuckling while she recalled the story.
Alisa moved on to the Windsor Star in 1987, husband Steve later going to join her there.
There she became the paper’s automotive reporter, Windsor the home of Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler plants in those days, Alisa also regularly covering automotive news from Detroit.
After many changes over the years, Chrysler minivans are still made in Windsor, Ford still manufactures some engines, while GM no longer has a presence there.
These days, “every (traditional) auto show has been cancelled for this year (due to COVID-19), all test drives. Everyone’s sitting from home, churning out copy,” Alisa chuckled, taking it all in stride.
Cancellations notwithstanding, automakers are now holding virtual auto shows and press conferences.
“It’s actually a very full calendar. You’re sitting here doing interviews, covering things virtually and coming up with feature stories, to fill up our site with stories people would find instructive and interesting,” Alisa said.
Like so many other Sault natives who have excelled in their chosen profession out of town, Alisa said the city and surrounding area will always be home.
Alisa, a mother of two and grandmother of two, said she and now retired husband Steve have recently built a home on St. Joseph Island waiting for them when she retires (planning to spend the winter months at Searchmont).
“I was born and raised in the Sault and plan to retire in the Sault…(but) I absolutely love my job so I can’t imagine retiring yet.”
She currently test drives vehicles as part of her job, but will have to buy one of her own when she does call it a day at Motor Trend, she said with a chuckle.
“I will have a huge decision to make when I finally do retire as to what vehicle to buy because I’ve fallen in love with so many of them.”