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How to Sell More Products with Amazon Product Photography

The success of third-party sellers on Amazon is due in part to standardized listings — these listings look exactly like original Amazon listings. This is great for sellers who want their brand to look professional and appealing, but this also means that it’s harder to stand out in a crowded marketplace.
One way to get shoppers to stop scrolling and to click on your listings is to get creative with Amazon product photography. Shoppers are visual, so what they see helps them form buying decisions. So much so that 92.6% of shoppers say their buying decisions are influenced by images. If shoppers like what they see, they’ll click. If not, they’ll scroll past, and you miss out on a potential sale.
Even though sellers have to follow strict image requirements to sell on Amazon, there are tactics that can be used to draw attention to product pages. Here’s a look at how to use product images to boost sales.
Amazon image requirements for product listings
To create uniformity in the marketplace and to give all sellers an equal opportunity to attract traffic, Amazon has a long list of image requirements every seller must follow:

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A few things to note about the main image requirements:

Image files must be saved in one of the following formats: TIFF, JPEG, GIF, PNG.
Images must be 1,000 pixels or larger in size.
File names must include a product identifier like an Amazon ASIN, 13-digit ISBN, EAN, JAN, or UPC.
Product images must fill at least 85% of the image frame. Images of books, music, and DVDs are an exception and must fill 100% of the frame.
The only background color allowed is pure white (RGB 255, 255, 255).
Text and other graphics aren’t allowed to appear in the main image.

For secondary images that appear in the gallery, as long as they meet the technical requirements above, you have some flexibility with the types of images you use. For example, you can include accessories that go with your main product, and these images can include text, models, colored backgrounds, and more.
Since every approved listing has to have these requirements in place, many of the main images look very similar. For example, these luggage sets are sold by different retailers, but the main images are very similar because of the guidelines above:

Keep in mind that images determine the first impression shoppers have of your brand. Before shoppers read product descriptions or even the reviews, they scroll through the images first. According to Shopify, “More than half of online shoppers think that product photos are more important than product information, reviews, and ratings.”
Once you’ve added high-quality images to your listings, you need them to be seen. The good news is Amazon listings act a lot like Google search results. Based on Amazon’s A9 algorithm, listings with the most traffic and clicks show up at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs). Sellers with products at the top of the list are more likely to get the most sales because these listings are seen by 95% of search traffic. Shoppers don’t tend to scroll too far past the first few results they see.
Fortunately, there are creative ways to stand out while sticking to Amazon’s strict image requirements. For example, in addition to a high-quality main image, you can include:

Up to eight additional product images per listing
Short explainer videos
Images of product specifications

The following product is one of the top listings for this particular brand of baby monitors. The listing includes all three of the creative methods above, which helps the product get lots of exposure:
The main product image appears first in the gallery, followed by five additional images:

Below the images are three videos that explain how to use the product and its features and showcase the product in action:

One of the images in the gallery is a product specification comparison chart between the brand and a competitive product. This snapshot saves shoppers time from having to click between multiple product listings since the information they need is in one place:

Next, let’s take a closer look at what else you can do to make your Amazon product photography stand out from the rest.
Amazon product photography best practices
In addition to the technical requirements of uploading listings, there are additional best practices to adhere to as well.
Simplify the main image
The main image is the first thing shoppers see during their search. Make it clear what you’re selling by highlighting just the product — not the accessories it comes with or anything else that will distract from what you’re trying to sell.
For example, the main image for this product shows shoppers exactly what they’re going to get:

The image, on the other hand, while visually appealing, doesn’t give shoppers a full scope of what they’re buying at first glance. It’s best to use this as a secondary image in the gallery:

Show your product in use
Whether you’re selling clothes or kitchen equipment, show your audience how your product works. Since customers don’t have the option to try on the clothes or test other products in-store, use your images to show shoppers how to use your product. For example, one of the secondary images in the product gallery below shows how to use one of the most important product features:

Show multiple angles of products
Unlike brick-and-mortar stores where shoppers can touch and feel products before they buy, this experience isn’t available online. Shoppers only have your product description and images to base their buying decisions on. Since most of these decisions rely on images, include variations of the product from different angles to help shoppers envision turning it around in their hands to examine it.
This listing for a portable speaker includes four images from different angles.When shoppers zoom in on each image, they can see key features and decide if the product’s the right fit for their needs:

Show product features and details
Tech products offer lots of opportunities to experiment with images. Since shoppers are looking for specific details, images that showcase features tell shoppers what they need to know. For example, like the image of the modem below, include images that show where ports and outlets are located on the product. You can also include a summarized snapshot of text explaining product specs and features. Shoppers can then decide if the product meets their needs:
Show ports and other important product features:

Show an image of text outlining product specs:

Use an image retouching tool or service
Use a retouching tool like Adobe Photoshop or a professional service to:

Add shadows to give your images depth
Remove backgrounds
Smooth product edges

Taking this extra step will help you increase sales since the resulting images are more appealing to look at. Plus, you build brand awareness so that shoppers remember you for your imagery. You want your product images to evoke positive emotions and trigger shoppers to buy. It’s worth the investment into a tool or service to give your Amazon product photography an extra edge over the competition.
Encourage social sharing
Almost all of the social media platforms available rely heavily on visual content. Quality images encourage shoppers to share products beyond Amazon. For example, shoppers looking for a birthday present might save one of your images on a Pinterest board for future reference. This increases your product’s visibility to potential customers because anyone following this board will see them.
Another option is to highlight the social sharing button in your product listings:

As shoppers share their finds on social media, they help drive traffic back to your product pages and increase your chances of being seen and also making a sale. The more appealing your images look, the better your chances of shoppers sharing your products over the competitions’ with their network of friends and family.
Hire an Amazon product photographer
If you’re a brand just starting out on the Amazon marketplace, you can manage your Amazon product photography on your own. This option is low cost, and all you need is good lighting and a smartphone. The latest smartphone models have advanced features — like a 12-megapixel camera, autofocus, and LED flash — that help images look more professional.
However, taking high-quality pictures also requires some staging know-how and composition. If you have a larger marketing budget, use it to hire a professional photographer. To help you with your search, Amazon offers photography services.

Here’s how the program works:

Review service estimates for pros in your area. All pros are backed by Amazon’s Business Services Guarantee, so you can feel confident about the level of service and quality you’ll get.
Mail your products to the photographer. Once you agree on the scope of work and the service details, send them the products you’d like photographed. Amazon-approved photographers are well aware of the image requirements guidelines and adhere to them while injecting some creativity.
Receive and review images. At the end of the photography session, the photographer shares all the images they took. You choose which ones you’ll use in the marketplace.
Receive returned products. Photographers will ship your products back to you so that they can be added into inventory and sold. Amazon charges your credit card on file.

The benefit of hiring a professional photographer is the reduced pressure on you to manage image quality. Plus, in addition to the vetting process each photographer has to go through, they have to offer Amazon sellers the same prices they offer on their business website — you don’t have to worry about price hikes. This, in addition to a free estimate, makes it easier for you to plan and budget your Amazon product photography.
Optimizing images for ecommerce
Gone are the days when the only option for shoppers was to head to a brick-and-mortar location to buy something. With the growth and popularity of ecommerce, it’s easier than ever for people to get what they need. However, there’s a lot of competition — especially on marketplaces.
To increase traffic to your product page and to grow your sales, use images to replicate the in-person shopping experience. Try the different approaches outlined above to find which ones work best for your products and audience. Over time, you’ll notice a shift in traffic and sales.

Compact Sport Sedan: Volkswagen Jetta GLI

Accent trim and a honeycomb grille set the GLI apart from standard Jetta models.

The Volkswagen Jetta requires little introduction, a compact model with 40 years of history on tap. This vehicle is based on the brand’s modular platform, which includes such disparate models as the subcompact Golf hatchback and the midsize Atlas crossover utility vehicle.
The seventh-generation model rolled out in 2018 and is the largest Jetta yet. Indeed, with a wheelbase now measuring 105.6 inches, it is nearly a foot longer than the original. Thus, in an earlier era of product downsizing, the Jetta gradually reversed course, gaining size and weight along the way.
2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Overview
For 2019, Volkswagen rolled out a Jetta GLI 2.0T 35th Anniversary Edition. The five-passenger GLI is the top-trim Jetta and comes with three sub-trim designations this year: S ($25,995), 35th Anniversary Edition ($26,995), and Autobahn ($29,195). A turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is exclusive to this front-wheel-drive sedan. It comes with a 6-speed manual gearbox, otherwise, shoppers can upgrade to a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission for $800.
As for packages, none are offered. Each sub-trim includes various content upgrades and appearance changes. Individual options include such accessories as a cargo box attachment ($699), magnetic pop-in sunshade ($260), and side window deflectors ($135).
My test model was the 35th Anniversary Edition. Volkswagen hasn’t said how many copies it’ll produce. Thus, it seems likely if you want one, you can place your order and you’ll likely get one.

Anniversary Enhancements
Choose the 35th Anniversary Edition and you’ll find a number of enhancements, which are a relative bargain for this model’s $1,000 price premium over the GLI S.
One of the most significant add-ons is the standard DCC adaptive damping system, which supplies an improved balance between handling and ride comfort. Where non-DCC models come in four drive modes: normal, sport, eco, and custom, the DCC adds a fifth: comfort. With DCC, the system manages the suspension’s rebound and compression rates individually, for improved dynamics.
Most of the changes for the anniversary model are appearance upgrades, including “GLI 35” badging and tagging, inside and out. Indeed, you’ll find GLI 35 markings on the interior décor, seat tags, floormats, and the sill kickplates. As for the exterior, the changes include unique dark grey 18-inch wheels featuring a red stripe around the outer rim. All models have red-painted calipers on the front brakes.

The Sixth-Generation Volkswagen Jetta GLI
While the Jetta celebrates its seventh generation, the GLI first appeared in this model range’s second generation. Thus, the Jetta GLI is now in its sixth generation.
The GLI sits 0.6 inches lower than the standard model, giving this sedan a more planted look. A lower front spoiler and a larger air intake set the GLI apart from other Jetta trims. LED lighting treatments are also standard and include front LED projector headlights, LED daytime running lights, side mirror-mounted turn signals, and LED taillights.
Special side skirts add visual appeal to the profile. From the rear, a sporty bumper, the LED taillights, a diffuser, and dual chrome exhaust tips supply additional visible enhancements. All told, the GLI delivers a sporty countenance.

Inside, the cabin features a driver-focused cockpit. Two large analog dials mark the instrument panel with a digital driver’s information center separating the two. The center stack tilts toward the driver, which is a welcome layout for reducing distraction. The layered dashboard gives the GLI a premium look, with the accompanying materials supporting it. Alloy pedals, a flat-bottom steering wheel, sport seats, and oversized door pockets are other notable characteristics.
We found the front seats comfortable, with ample support from the shoulders and down to our hips and legs. The rear seat offers generous space, at least by compact car standards. We think most people will prefer to utilize that area for two adults, but three can fit in a pinch.
As for trunk space, it measures 14.1 cubic feet, down from the previous 15.7 cubic feet. It is still within range of other small sedans, but the approximate 10-percent loss in volume cannot be ignored.

Safety and Technology
New car buyers expect a package of safety features that go beyond airbags, a rearview camera, and traction and stability control. Volkswagen includes a post-collision system that’s unique to the Jetta, one that ensures the GLI comes to a stop after a crash.
You’ll also find standard forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking. Blind spot monitory and rear traffic alert are also included.
On the tech front, Volkswagen supplies standard Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto smartphone compatibility. Most models have a 6.5-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, one USB port, and an SD card. Upgrade to the Autobahn and you’ll find an 8-inch touchscreen display, satellite and HD radio, a CD player, and two USB ports. The Autobahn also adds a digital instrument panel and an eight-speaker Beats audio system.
On the Road
The Volkswagen Jetta may be as close to a driver’s car as you’ll find in this segment. Notably, the segment is also changing as some manufacturers make an exit in favor of crossovers. Gone are the Dodge Dart and Ford Focus. Moreover, the Chevrolet Cruze will also soon go away.
Although the segment pie is shrinking, buyers will find competing models from Asian manufacturers. Among the strongest competitors to the Jetta GLI is the all-wheel-drive Subaru WRX. Volkswagen also identifies the Honda Civic Si and the Hyundai Elantra Sport as rivals, which are front-wheel drive like the Jetta.

As for the Jetta, the GLI model is its most powerful. Indeed, the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine makes 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. That torque output is wonderful and especially welcome when passing. On curvy roads, the GLI stays poised, without the diving and porpoising experienced by some models.
The GLI’s steering feel is decent, which means it could be better. It isn’t especially engaging, but the chassis nearly equals the spryness of its top competitors. As for ride comfort, we’re impressed by how well it feels, even as it skirts over bumps. At least some credit belongs to the longer wheelbase, which does a laudable job of spreading feedback across the frame.
Perhaps the brightest mark of the GLI is the standard 6-speed manual gearbox. Kudos to Volkswagen for keeping this transmission around, even as nearly every competitor drops them or offers a five-speed in base models only. We’ve always been impressed by Volkswagen’s manuals with their clean and effortless shifting and smooth clutch uptake. Its workings aren’t on the level of a sports car, but it certainly doesn’t supply the inspire less feel of some units. If manuals ever do bite the dust, we can imagine Volkswagen will be the last to leave the segment.
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It is easy for us to recommend the GLI over other Jetta models, as the top-trim supplies the look, advanced powertrain, and driving capabilities we like. The 35th-anniversary edition represents a nominal upgrade over the base trim, while the Autobahn delivers an Audi-like characteristic in its digital dashboard. So, our recommendation is to choose the GLI, then consider the look and amenities you want to dress your sedan.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 2.0T 35th Anniversary Edition

Sticker price from $26,995 (plus $895 destination)Price as tested: $27,890Seats 5 occupantsEngine: 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 gas228 horsepower @ 5,000 RPM258 foot-pounds of torque @ 1,700 RPM6-speed manual or 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmissionWheelbase: 105.6 inchesLength: 185.2 inchesWidth: 70.8 inchesHeight: 56.8 inchesPassenger volume: 94.7 cubic feetStorage volume: 14.1 cubic feetTowing capacity: NREPA: 25/32/28 mpg city/highway/combinedRegular gasolineFuel tank: 13.2 gallonsCurb weight: From 3,217 to 3,274 poundsIIHS safety rating: Good; Marginal/Poor headlightsNew vehicle warranty: 6 years/72,000 milesVehicle assembly: Puebla, Mexico

This article was originally published by Auto Trends Magazine.

How Millennials are Changing Traditional Businesses in the Digital Age

The word “millennial” is practically synonymous to different terms that describe spoiled brats.
Entitled? Privileged? Self-centered? Lazy? You name it.
But did you know that there’s more to millennials than meets the eye?
Whether you like it or not, they’re making a (positive) impact on traditional businesses in the digital age.
In this post, you’ll learn how millennials are making it happen!
You will see how their approach is breaking down traditional businesses as we know it and putting their digital stamp to them.
The Curious Case of Millennials

1981 and 1996. These years, along with the years in between, are when millennials were born.
Because they’re the media’s favorite, they are branded with a lineup of names. Gen Y, echo boomers… you pick.
Unfortunately, though, the media won’t crown these millennials as “the most behaved” anytime soon. And based on how some famous millennials act, you can’t help but agree.
On the flip side, solely basing what you think of them on the media’s perspective seems unfair. If you won’t generalize millennials, it’s not hard to see there’s greatness in them, too!
Mark Zuckerberg, Elizabeth Holmes, and Eduardo Saverin? A common denominator between them is that they are insanely rich and successful. That and they are also millennials!
Beyond these three names, of course, there are more! And you know what? They are being criticized for the same qualities that make them awesome!
So if you insist on looking at matters fairly, you will see that millennials aren’t just a generation of stubborn children. This generation is just misunderstood.
With Just a Click of a Button
Take, for example, the retail industry. If millennials left it alone, do you think it would’ve revolutionized to its current state?
Back then, you had to take a shower and dress up. Then get outside of your house to buy a couple of items at a grocery store.
Now, all you need to do is simply take out your mobile phone. Then visit a nearby grocery store’s website, add items to your cart, send payment, and you’re good to go. The stuff you bought from that store will be delivered to your home!
And this game-changing experience isn’t limited to groceries. The same privilege goes to you when you want to buy fast food, clothes, books, electronics, and more.
Basically, almost everything you want is all just a click away! The same privilege goes to you when you want to buy fast food, clothes, books, electronics, and more. Basically, almost everything you want is all just a click away!
One of the standouts in this department is the beauty brand with a $1.4 million revenue on Amazon, InstaNatural.
With so many beauty product lines to count, InstaNatural separates itself by creating skin products from natural resources instead of chemicals.
The result is an effective and safe line of beauty products for all types of skin!

So it’s inarguable that a big part of InstaNatural’s success is the demand for its product. But if the company capitalized solely on it and refused to take the wheel, it might not have gotten far.
Luckily, the company is a forward-thinker. It knows better than to just ride shotgun and let situations be in the driver’s seat. It didn’t sleep or stay idle.
Particularly, it used the power of keywords and optimization to drive traffic and raise conversions! And thanks to its aggressive product development and marketing strategy, it got to shake hands with success.
To smoothen things out, you should know the founder of InstaNatural is AJ Patel. And would you mind guessing from which generation he falls under? That’s right: he’s a millennial!
Taking Your Life Online
Another unique quality of millennials is their knack for idealism. Once they set their mind into something, they’re unlikely to back down until they see it to completion
Dreaming big can be scary. And when your dream ends up in pieces, it’s traumatic. But is there any other way to kickstart a grand adventure?
No, there’s not. And millennials are bold enough to take risks. Sure, these risks could end up shattering their spirits. But these same risks can also open the door for them to a very promising life.
When these millennials tapped into the Internet of Things (IoT), they took the industry by storm. Now, there are magical things all around. AI-powered cleaners, digital doorbells, and more are part of existence.

If you think life is already moving too fast for you with the latest mobile phones and technology coming out, you’d be surprised by the possibilities in store for you!
One of those possibilities is Ellie, a digital pillbox that organizes your medicines according to type and not time.
Founded by 25-year old Regina Vatterott, Ellie is the perfect companion for people who keep forgetting to take their pills and find themselves taking the incorrect one at the wrong time.
Every time you need your medicine, the pillbox will sound an alarm and shows from the LED cover the medicine you must take.
You’d think that a tool so simple would have existed back then. But only the founder and co-founder Abe Matamoros were able to turn a possibility into reality!
As part of the IoT industry, innovations such as this one allows people to improve their lives with the help of technology. But Ellie is just a drop of a pin in the haystack. There’s more surface for the IoT industry to scratch, and the millennials are spearheading the charge.
Critter-Friendly
And speaking of these millennials’ penchant for making internet use better, did you know that you can use an app to help you care for pets?
Apart from the industries of retail and internet, the pet industry also enjoyed a renaissance thanks to millennials!
Millennials, after all, are not afraid to go the unconventional route. They’re willing to approach matters from a different angle.
For example, they choose to settle into marriage and family life later than their parents. It makes them different and they don’t mind.
They also know that adopting babies is not everyone’s cup of tea. If other people prefer to adopt pets instead, they have their backs And that is why this industry’s CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) is an impressive 14%!
They even created a market for the friends of the furry ones! It’s called BabelBark and its a one-stop feed for all things related to your pet.

Fully launched in 2018, it made waves by encouraging the growth rate of connected pets and pet services with over 200,000 already connected. It’s such a hit that it was able to raise $8.6 million so far and is available for every veterinarian clinic, pet service and pet parent in North America.
It’s the digital platform that provides value, especially to these three communities:

New pet parents get peace of mind regarding their pet’s well-being. It’s the only platform that allows people to find the best pet service providers in your area, save your favorites, and book appointments. Do you have an appointment with the groomer? How about a heartworm medication due at 8:00 AM tomorrow? Did you lose or pet or do you need emergency support? BabelBark has got you covered.
Pet businesses are in with the best software tools. This platform can help people track and manage the needs of pet parents with ease! You can store medical records, vaccination reminders, and medication list of your pet patients. You can also track nutrition and weight using a medical journal.
Veterinary hospitals get the resources they need to trusted advisors. This platform can connect them with all service-providers that will keep pets in top shape!

Conclusion
So say what you want about millennials. But you can’t hide the fact that they’re shaping the world. And they’re doing it to make it a much better place.
If you want to voice out your opinions about how ill-behaved they are, go ahead. Because they’re focused on making great things happen.
And there’s no stopping their penchant for innovation!

The Top-Shelf 2019 BMW X7

The 2019 BMW X7’s waterfall grille is both striking and a bit sinister.This model now tops the marque’s SUV range.

The 2019 BMW X7 is an all-new model, the latest sport utility vehicle from this German luxury brand. It is also the largest SUV this manufacturer has ever offered, a proper three-row model with room for seven. The X7 leads in features, comfort, and quality. its engine choices are robust, but fully loaded models will cost you as much as $120,000.
2019 BMW X7 Overview
BMW markets the 2019 X7 in two configurations: xDrive40i and xDrive50i. Both models are all-wheel drive and come with inline-six and V8 engines, respectively.
You’ll build your X7 based on the corresponding trim. An xDrive40i Luxury begins at $73,900, while an xDrive40i M Sport starts out at $78,250. The xDrive50i Luxury begins at $92,600, while an xDrive50i M Sport starts out at $96,150. Consider both the canvas you’ll utilize with when you begin your build. The first choice is essentially the standard trim. The second choice adds M elements, including a sport rear differential, improved grip tires, and design embellishments.
Once you choose your canvas, BMW takes you through an entire design regimen, including color, wheels, upholstery, interior trims, packages, and individual options. Take note that some of the upgrades are included with the corresponding M Sport canvas. Other upgrades, including black extended merino leather seats ($2,450) require a second upgrade to multi-contour seats ($750).

Adding any of the available packages simply customizes your build and drives up the price. And amazingly so, especially if you are not careful.
For example, choose the xDrive40i Luxury and you’ll find the following packages: Cold Weather Package ($1,200), Dynamic Handling Package ($3,850), Driving Assistance Professional Package ($1,700), Luxury Seating Package ($1,600), Off-Road Package ($1,650), Parking Assistance Package ($700), and a Premium Package ($3,000). The last package brings in a 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system. A further upgrade within the package is the Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System ($3,400), a 1,500-watt system with 20 speakers.
We won’t go into individual package features as space doesn’t permit. But we’ll mention some of the upgrades as we look at various features moving forward.
A Matter of Style
Much has been written about the X7’s front fascia, in particular, its oversized twin-kidney grille. At first glance, they seem larger than what this vehicle should feature, therefore the focus on the front end becomes the conversation.
Yes, the grille is big, but it isn’t as overwhelming as it seems, at least not in person. After a week of driving the X7, I concluded the grille is only slightly larger than what I prefer — at 90-percent scale, the look might be better. I realize talking about grille size won’t end the debate, but perhaps it will ease the concern some have for the look.
Among the standout exterior features of the X7 are its long hood, proportionally lengthy profile and large greenhouse. It is as large as a model in this segment comes and with its high roofline, elegant character lines, rounded corners, and beautiful lighting elements. Happily, BMW didn’t stray from the success it enjoys with its other SUVs — it is simply a pleasant upgrade from the X5.

Inside, the cabin simply dazzles. Everywhere you look there are beautiful materials present — exquisite leathers, real wood, and metal trim. If plastic is present, I didn’t see it. Or it is so well disguised that it is virtually indistinguishable from the other materials.
Most of us applaud BMW for finally giving us an SUV with three rows. The throne-like front seats are without comparison, but the second- and third-row seats are also quite good. We were impressed by the pillow padded headrests of the available second-row captain’s chairs (which replaces the standard bench seat), and was an unexpected bonus. What’s especially interesting about third-row access here, is that once you activate the power feature in the second-row seat, the first-row seat also moves forward. As such, access to the third row is easy as the seats move forward and out of the way.
As for the third row, we found the 50-50 split fold-down bench seat comfortable, with sufficient padding and support. Adults may not clamor to get back there, but there is enough room for two six-footers. We think families will be naturally drawn to this SUV. The larger space will certainly be welcomed by those who prize the room.
The dashboard brings in the “wow” factor to this model. Besides being beautifully crafted with visible stitching and gentle layering, the almost seamless connection between the instrument panel and the center display is fetching. Lots of chrome surround and connecting wood trim impart elegance and sophistication. The quilted leather seats in my test model dressed in Tartufo Extended Merino Leather were all-day comfortable and exquisitely designed. Further, the front seats added ventilation and massaging to the standard heat controls.

Safety and Technology
We won’t see crash test ratings for a while yet as the X7 is too new. However, we expect the top ratings garnered by the X5 to apply here.
In any case, BMW equips the X7 with LED headlights, parking sensors, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and blind-spot monitors. You can also opt for such extras as night vision, automatic emergency braking, lane-change assist, a surround-view camera system, and a head-up display.
On the tech front, BMW offers a 10-speaker audio system, HD Radio, satellite radio, and a one-year Apple CarPlay trial. Once the Apple trial ends, you’ll pay $80 annually to extend it. You’ll also find USB ports.
All models come with dual 12.3-inch screens. The one set within the instrument cluster is configurable and supplies driving data. The second one is a touchscreen display for the infotainment system. The system is also voice-activated, something we inadvertently discovered when I spoke to a passenger about the vehicle, saying “a BMW…” as it interpreted my speech as “Hey, BMW,” which is one way to activate it.

You’ll also find available gesture control, which allows you to accept incoming calls, reject calls, adjust volume, and activate the surround view system. There are five easy gestures to learn, each with the ability to decipher your intentions in front of a detection field above the center console.
As mentioned, you can upgrade to either a 12-speaker Harman Kardon or a 20-speaker Bowers & Wilkins audio system. Our test model had the Bowers arrangement along with the rear seat entertainment system.
On the Road
BMW offers robust power or even stronger power yet with its two engine choices. The automaker says the 0-60 mph time with the 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine is 5.8 seconds and just 5.2 seconds with the 4.4-liter V8. The standard engine utilizes a twin-scroll turbocharger, while the V8 has a pair of turbochargers. Both engines work with an 8-speed automatic transmission to send power to the wheels.
My test xDrive50i had the V8 and although it was quite powerful, it seemed isolated from the SUV. Credit BMW for placing an emphasis on quiet as well as ride comfort, although if you want to utilize the power shifters or switch to sport mode, you can. The standard two-axle air suspension system is amazing as it automatically self-levels. It also electronically adjusts, which is ideal for improved access and egress.

Models equipped with the available locking differential effectively split torque evenly between the axles. The design also helps the X7 pull out of corners with ease. You won’t think for a moment that you’re driving a sports car, but you’ll sense the SUV is more planted too. Steering is direct and handling imbues confidence.
There wasn’t one nanosecond where this big SUV felt any loss of power. Although most of our trips involved no more than two people aboard, we believe this SUV would have no trouble with a full payload and a trailer to take you there. Its pulling power isn’t anywhere near the top echelon pickup trucks, but it matches what similar SUVs provide.
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It is funny how some people get exercised about BMW pricing, especially the high cost of packages and other add-ons. But these individuals usually aren’t in the market for a luxury model. I’m not either as my personal affordability doesn’t allow such. That said, I simply don’t find it difficult to recommend a model based on what I would choose if such a vehicle was within my budget.
The standard xDrive40i should satisfy the majority of shoppers. But if performance and range-topping luxury are your things, then seriously consider the xDrive50i. My sample build here started with the M Sport and adds Cold Weather, Driving Assisting Professional, and the Premium Package. If towing is a priority, then upgrading to the 7,500-pound hitch adds $550. And if long trips are in your future, then the Rear Seat Entertainment Professional group ($2,200) is important.
At this price point, you’re paying $87,895 for a well-equipped 2019 X7, which is within range of a Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class, although costlier than the Audi Q7, Land Rover Discovery, and the Volvo XC90. Yes, you can pay upwards of $120,000 to acquire one, putting this handsome and highly capable model within Range Rover territory.

2019 BMW X7 Specifications

Sticker price from $73,900 (plus a $995 destination fee)
Price as tested: $117,945
Seats 7
Engine No. 1: 3.0-liter turbo gas I6
335 horsepower @ 5,500 – 6,500 RPM
330 foot-pounds of torque @ 1,500 – 5,200 RPM
8-speed automatic transmission
Engine No. 2: 4.4-liter turbo gas V8
456 horsepower @ 5,250 – 6,000 RPM
479 foot-pounds of torque @ 1,500 – 4,750 RPM
8-speed automatic transmission
Wheelbase: 122.2 inches
Length: 203.3 inches
Width: 78.7 inches
Height: 71.1 inches
Passenger volume: NR
Storage volume: 48.6/90.4 cubic feet
Maximum towing capacity: 5,950 or 7,500 pounds, depending on the hitch
EPA: 20/25/22 (xDrive40i); 15/21/17 (xDrive50i) city/highway/combined mpg
Premium gasoline
Fuel tank: 21.9 gallons
Curb weight: From 5,370 to 5,617 pounds
IIHS safety rating: Pending
Limited vehicle warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles
Powertrain warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles
Corrosion warranty: 12 years/unlimited miles
Vehicle assembly: Spartanburg, South Carolina

This article was originally published by Auto Trends Magazine.

Performance Potential: 2019 Mazda3 AWD Hatchback

All-wheel drive comes to Mazda’s compact hatchback and sedan.

The Mazda3 hatchback adds available all-wheel drive, perhaps setting the framework for Mazdaspeed to return.
Mazda is a small player in a world of large car manufacturers, but its presence outstrips its size. The company is best known for mainstreaming the Wankel rotary engine and for giving the world the delicious MX-5 Miata roadster. We miss the enhanced Mazdaspeed line of performance models, although rumors persist that one or more models will return.
And that return may be based on the Mazda3 with its available all-wheel-drive system. Yes, all-wheel drive has come to Mazda’s compact model, joining the WRX and Impreza, which offer it as standard equipment and the Volkswagen Golf, where it is available. As for the Ford Focus, that model with its all-wheel-drive RS is no longer available in the U.S.
Sounds like a perfect opportunity for Mazda to jump in!
2019 Mazda Mazda3 Overview
You can purchase the Mazda3 as either a sedan or a hatchback. Both models share the same platform and wheelbase length, but the sedan is several inches longer overall. We’ll look at the hatchback primarily as that’s the model presented to us for review.
Mazda prices the 2019 Mazda3 hatchback from $23,600, which is $2,600 more than the sedan. Opting for all-wheel drive is a $1,400 upgrade available across the model line.

You’ll find one trim plus two packages with the 2019 Mazda3. Models with the Preferred Package (power side mirrors, 12-speaker Bose audio system. satellite radio, 8-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support, and heated front seats) cost $25,200.
The Premium Package-equipped hatchback costs $27,500 and adds such features as LED headlights and taillights, adaptive front lights, 18-inch alloy wheels, a power sliding moonroof, and radar cruise control on models equipped with the manual transmission. Yes, it is with this package only you can opt for a manual gearbox. Add $920 for the destination charge.
Highlights of the 2019 Mazda3
The following are the most noteworthy facts about the Mazda3:
1. Cutting edge styling all of its own.
Mazda uses the term “KODO” to describe its styling direction. This means “soul of motion,” which describes in part every model’s fluidic design. Here, you’ll find a gaping grille, raised flanks, a rising beltline, ample creases and body sculpting, and pulled in corners. On the hatchback, the look is all the more expressive as the rear quarter is high and short.
All models come with LED lights — headlights, combination lights, and daytime running lights. With the Premium Package, Mazda adds LED signature lighting front and back. Dual-folding side mirrors and a roofline spoiler are also included. Upgrades include designer wheels and a shark fin antenna. Overall, the look is sporty.

2. An interior on par with some premium models.
Just as the exterior has its styling credentials, the interior does likewise. In fact, Mazda pulled out all the stops when designing the cabin, amplified by the stacked and sculptured layout of the dashboard. The look is premium and rivals what we’ve seen on some costlier models, including the Audi A3.
The contrasting layered look on our fully loaded model was especially noteworthy. As shown, Mazda meticulously crafted every surface for maximum visual appeal. There’s plenty of storage compartments and pockets at the ready, and very little plastic. Again, the sophisticated design belies this model’s mainstream appeal. With the available leather seats, the look is truly luxurious.
3. Improved technologies for the taking.
One of the gripes we’ve had about Mazda is the small display screens in many of its models. The Mazda3 now features an 8.8-inch screen that’s wide and clear. On the other hand, it isn’t a touchscreen display and it does require using a Multifunction Commander control to manage. That’s unfortunate as the learning curve is long.
But we do like the standard Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto smartphone integration. You’ll also find HD Radio, Internet radio integration, connected apps, and USB ports. The Preferred Package brings in a lovely sounding 12-speaker Bose audio system and satellite radio. An “active driving display” or head-up display is included with the Premium Package.

4. Ample storage room for short and long trips.
Mazda published storage measurement with the rear seat in place, measuring a respectable 20.1 cubic feet. What they didn’t reveal was how much space is available with the rear seat folded. We estimate about 40 cubic feet, which supplies even room to bring a week’s worth of gear for two with you on your next vacation.
5. Performance that has us wanting more.
We won’t mislead you by saying the Mazda3 is a performance maven. It is not. Instead, it offers decent off-the-mark acceleration and passing power.
Mazda could have gone with a smaller engine, deteriorating the power level (186 hp) with it, but happily, they did not. And yet, we think a turbocharged four-cylinder engine would suit this model perfectly, along the lines of Mazdaspeed.
Rumors that Mazdaspeed might return (last produced in 2013) should gladden the hearts of enthusiasts. It would give the brand the bona fides its needs as well as fill the product gaps left with Mitsubishi and Ford no longer competing. We’d change the suspension system though to conform to what drivers expect, even if it means a loss in storage space.

6. Crisp steering and adroit handling.
We give Mazda credit for this hatchback’s crisp stewing and competent handling, the latter ideal for pulling out of corners with ease. Still, the torsion-beam rear suspension could have been exchanged for a multi-link arrangement for improved handling. On the other hand, the torsion-beam arrangement sits lower and therefore doesn’t intrude on the storage compartment.
7. Efficiency we appreciate.
So-so performance notwithstanding, we were quite impressed by how efficient the Mazda3 is. We knew that 30 mpg was within reach, even with the added weight of the all-wheel drive.
To our surprise, the Mazda3 averaged closer to 35 mpg for the week we had it. Impressive? You bet! A quick survey of competing models shows lower numbers. Then again, the tradeoff is a significant power edge over the Mazda.
Auto Trends Recommends
Yes, you can buy the Mazda3 with front-wheel drive. In fact, we recommend this option for most buyers. The all-wheel-drive system is an interesting component, useful for people who live where wintry climate prevails. There is a handling advantage, especially when cornering, but it isn’t as tossable as the Focus RS or Golf R.
The package upgrades are certainly worth considering. You’ll come away with a vehicle that’s stylish, well equipped, and offers good value. Your out-the-door price comes in just above $29,000 and that’s before discounts. In effect, the Mazda3 splits the difference between mainstream and luxury models, delivering a premium package for a competitive price.

2019 Mazda3 Hatchback Specifications

Mazda
2019 Mazda3

Segment
Compact Car

Base Sticker Price
$24,520 ( includes $920 destination charge)

Price as tested
$29,820

Standard Engine
2.5-liter inline-four

Horsepower
186 @ 6,000 RPMs

Torque (lb.-ft.)
186 @ 4,000 RPMs

Transmission(s)
Six-speed manual or automatic

Seating
5

Curb Weight (pounds)
3,022 to 3,255

Wheelbase (inches)
107.3

Length (inches)
175.6

Width (inches)
70.7

Height (inches)
56.7

Headroom (f,r…inches)
38.0; 37.2

Legroom (f,r…inches)
42.3; 35.1

Shoulder room (f,r…inches)
55.7; 53.4

Hip room (f,r…inches)
54.6; 50.9

Storage (cubic feet)
20.1

Gross vehicle weight (pounds)
NR

Towing (pounds)
NR

Payload (pounds)
NR

Fuel
Regular

Fuel Tank (gallons)
13.2 (FWD), 12.7 (AWD)

EPA Fuel MPG (city/highway)
26/35/30 (FWD); 24/32/27 (AWD) city/highway/combined

Manufacturing Plant
Hiroshima, Japan

This article was originally published by Auto Trends Magazine.

Premium Compact CUV: Mazda CX-5

Mazda offers the 2019 CX-5 in five trims. This compact model sits between the smaller CX-3 and the three-row CX-9. Buyers have a choice of a naturally aspired inline-four-cylinder engine or a turbo, the latter reserved for the two top trims.

Consumers remain big fans of crossover utility vehicles, including compact models such as the Mazda CX-5. The CX-5 is Mazda’s most popular model, easily outselling the second-place Mazda3 compact sedan/hatchback by at least a 2-to-1 margin. Further, more than two-thirds of Mazda’s utility vehicle sales are of the CX-5. That’s amazing as this vehicle only rolled out in 2012, replacing the previous Tribute.
2019 Mazda CX-5 Overview
Mazda offers the 2019 CX-5 in Sport ($24,350), Touring ($26,615), Grand Touring ($30,045), Grand Touring Reserve ($34,870), and Signature ($36,890) trims. The first three trims offer standard front-wheel drive and available all-wheel drive. The two top trims come with standard all-wheel drive and a turbocharged engine. All models have a four-cylinder engine paired with an automatic transmission.
The Sport, Grand Touring Reserve, and Signature trims do not offer package upgrades. On the Touring trim, you’ll find a Touring Preferred Equipment Package ($1,375), which supplies such features as a power liftgate with programmable height adjustment, a power-sliding moonroof, an automatic-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink, and a 10-speaker Bose audio system.

Move up to the Grand Touring trim and this model supplies an available GT Premium Package ($1,625). Here, you’ll find automatic power-folding side mirrors, an active driving display with traffic sign recognition, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, and a windshield wiper deicer.
As for my test model, Mazda delivered a CX-5 Signature edition. It already came loaded, but Mazda added a few options, including a retractable cargo cover, illuminated door sill plates, and a machine-gray exterior paint upgrade. The final cost for said test model came in at $39,030. That’s quite high, but there are other cost-effective choices available.
Mazda is just one of more than a dozen manufacturers offering compact utility vehicles. Competing models include the Nissan Rogue and Rogue Sport, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Chevrolet Equinox, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tucson, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport and Eclipse Cross, Kia Sportage, Volkswagen Tiguan, Subaru Forester, Jeep Compass, and the GMC Terrain.
A Matter of Style
Across the entire SUV spectrum, manufacturers are delivering more stylish models than ever before. This is a good thing as consumers continue to flee cars for crossovers — today’s SUVs are styling leaders and may someday become tomorrow’s collectibles.
Mazda has successfully done what few other models can claim. This automaker has managed to take styling elements from its cars and apply them to its crossovers. Yes, there are some styling distinctions based on vehicle height, roofline, and liftgate, but the uniformity is there. Credit Mazda’s KODO or “soul of motion” design philosophy with achieving this. For instance, the gaping grille, stylish headlights, and abundant creases and calculated cutouts of car models such as the Mazda6 are shared with the CX-5.

Inside, the cabin has an upscale vibe, reminiscent to me of far costlier models, such as the Volvo XC40. The attention to detail is obvious with the layered dash, contrasting trim, and the placement of the display screen on top of that dash.
The front seats are a clear winner as they offer all-day comfort, ample support, and look great too. On paper, the rear seats hold three, but are ideal for two, especially with the middle seat folded. The back seat isn’t as roomy as the front, but it offers more space than some competing models. Fold down the rear seat and you’ll enjoy nearly 60 cubic feet of storage space.
Safety & Technology
Mazda equips every 2019 CX-5 with automatic emergency braking. And that’s a very good thing. Its the city version, so it kicks in at low speeds. From the Sport trim on up, the full-speed version is either standard or available. You’ll also find blind-spot monitoring, active lane control, and adaptive cruise control on some trims.
The 2019 CX-5 has the distinction of garnering the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) Top Safety Pick+ award. This model achieved the institute’s highest honor, particularly models equipped LED projector headlamps, which are also curved adapted and supply high-beam assist.

A 7-inch display sits centered on the dashboard directly above the stack. It works with a dial controller, not unlike what BMW offers. That said, its touchscreen layout isn’t as user-friendly as some competing models, including Jeep and Chevrolet.
The base audio package isn’t much as it offers just four speakers. But, you’ll also find Bluetooth, HD Radio, and Mazda’s suite of apps. Two USB ports and an auxiliary audio input jack round out the options.
When fully equipped, the CX-5 supplies 10 speakers, Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto smartphone integration, satellite radio, and two additional USB ports.
On the Road
Adding a turbocharger to an already capable four-cylinder engine makes the CX-5 a performance standout in the segment. In fact, only the Ford Escape rivals the CX-5’s potency. Still, with 250 horsepower (227 hp with regular grade) and 310 foot-pounds of torque at the ready, the Mazda is the winner here.
With all that power on tap, Mazda makes all-wheel drive standard for the two covered trims offering this power edge. I can’t imagine driving without it as the system is necessary to handle all that power.
The turbo spools steadily when called upon, yet there is some lag detected. Once fully engaged, the CX-5 powers forward with authority. Tire squeal may accompany your launch from a full stop.

We’re a bit surprised that Mazda kept with the six-speed automatic it has used for years, even as competitors choose eight forward cogs or more. Nevertheless, the transmission shifts through gears with confidence. Activate Sport mode and those gear changes are held a bit longer.
Mazda equips the CX-5 with a fully independent suspension — struts are up front, while links rule the rear. This SUV’s electric power steering system is a good one, keeping this vehicle composed and delivering ample support when pulling out of corners. The ride is comfortable and the overall feel of this vehicle rivals some premium models.
Auto Trends Recommends
Oh, how tempting it is to recommend either of the two top trims with the turbo engine! The power quotient is a difference maker for this model, but we think the cost is hard for most consumers to justify.
That’s why we can recommend either the Touring or Grand Touring trims. The Touring model with the available equipment package may be all you need. Add the available all-wheel-drive option and your final cost comes in at $30,435. You can negotiate a lower price too, dropping your out-the-door expense below $30K. That’s within range of what similarly equipped competing models cost.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Specifications

Mazda
2019 CX-5

Segment
Compact SUV

Base Sticker Price
$24,350 ( plus $1,045 destination charge)

Price as tested
$39,030

Standard Engine
2.5-liter inline-four

Horsepower
187 @ 6,000 RPMs

Torque (lb.-ft.)
186 @ 4,000 RPMs

Transmission
Six-speed automatic

Seating
5

Curb Weight (pounds)
3,541 to 3,679

Wheelbase (inches)
106.2

Length (inches)
179.1

Width (inches)
72.5

Height (inches)
65.4

Head room (f,r…inches)
39.7; 39.0

Leg room (f,r…inches)
41.0, 39.6

Shoulder room (f,r…inches)
57.1; 54.8

Hip room (f,r…inches)
55.2, 55.3

Storage (cubic feet)
30.9; 59.6

Gross vehicle weight (pounds)
NR

Towing (pounds)
2,000

Payload (pounds)
NR

Fuel
Regular

Fuel Tank (gallons)
14.8, 15.3

EPA Fuel MPG (city/highway)
25/31 (FWD); 24/30 (AWD)

Manufacturing Plant
Hiroshima, Japan

This article was originally published by Auto Trends Magazine.

The Greener Side of Chicago Startups

Chicago is no stranger to being green and focusing on sustainability. As far back as 1909, city planner Daniel Hudson Burnham created a plan focusing on urban growth and greenbelt around the metro area. Now there is more than 5.5M square feet of green or living roof coverage, with a 5-to-1 ratio for electively green vs city required green roofing. Housed within many of these green buildings are also Chicago startups that specifically focus on green activities and technology. From turning carbon waste into opportunities to advancing mobile batteries lifespan, the green startup community in Chicago is continuously growing.
This celebration of the Chicago ecosystem is brought to you by @properties, the leading Chicago real estate brokerage serving both the city of Chicago and North Shore through dynamic marketing and innovation. Follow the full content series here!
Chicago’s SiNode Systems
We all love our smartphones, but let’s face it, a lot of the time batteries can’t even survive a full day of regular use on a single charge. On top of that, many batteries take hours to charge and their lifespan don’t survive your two-year contract. SiNode Systems is changing all of this with their batteries which are said to have a longer life and charge more quickly.
According to their site, they “utilizes a composite of silicon and graphene in a layered structure, which was developed, optimized, and patented by our team working in collaboration with researchers at Northwestern University and Argonne National Laboratory.”
Founded in 2012, SiNode Systems has raised $1M across two rounds. They are based out of Northwestern University.
LanzaTech
Headquartered in the suburbs of Chicago, LanzaTech is helping turn waste from carbon into a green business.
“At the heart of the LanzaTech process is our patented, wholly-owned microbes that convert carbon rich wastes and residues produced by industries such as steel manufacturing, oil refining and chemical production, as well as gases generated by gasification of forestry and agricultural residues, municipal waste into valuable fuel and chemical products through a process of gas fermentation.”
Founded in 2005, LanzaTech has raised $186.3M across four rounds. They were originally founded in New Zealand, but later expanded and moved their headquarters to Chicago.
Green Per Square Foot
As businesses grow, so does their need for more office space. Green Per Square Foot (PSF) is helping by creating a simple platform that let’s any company interested in going green find cost savings, contractors, and materials to make it all happen.
“We help customers go beyond energy audits and data analysis to actually get projects done. From global REITs to Fortune 500 companies to local businesses, we help companies save between 15-30% on energy efficiency retrofits, renewable energy installations, energy purchasing, waste hauling contracts at properties of all types and sizes throughout North America. We’ve also certified dozens of buildings for LEED, Energy Star, and IREM Certification.”
Founded in 2010, Green PSF has completed 15M square feet of green building projects.
FunderHut
Want something great such as a park to be built in your neighborhood? FounderHut is a Kickstarter twist with a community focused crowdfunding focus, and was developed in Chicago. Founded by Dan Salganik and Eugene Salganik, the pair allows people within your community to create educational programs, green events, and supports those looking to volunteer around the world.
“FunderHut is a community-oriented crowdfunding platform that helps communities, small businesses, nonprofits, and individuals fundraise online. Through the support of others, ambitious project creators are able to turn their goals into reality.”
FunderHut was founded in 2010 in Chicago.
Verde
Similar in goal to Green PSF, another Chicago startup is helping small businesses replace their lights with energy efficient LEDs. Best of all, they have a subscription service that spans three years, so if any light goes out during that time, it gets replaced for free (covered by the subscription fee).
“This subscription model was found after I interviewed hundreds of restaurant owners about their lighting needs. We found why businesses have yet to upgrade to LED lighting, and have addressed all of those concerns around high costs, dimming of the lights, quality of the lights, and bulbs burning out early,” stated Verde Founder Jamie Johnson.
Verde is based out of 1871, a digital startup incubator in Chicago. They began as an energy efficiency startup by building the Verde API, an iPad app, and the Stopwatch meter.