Last week, BMW flackmeister Dave Buchko banned The Truth About Cars from access to BMW and MINI press vehicles. Mr. Buchko wanted to be clear: the company was not responding to TTAC's criticisms of its products. The decision represented "a general concern about the tone and tenor of the site." More specifically, BMW objected to my characterization of the Subaru Tribeca's grill treatment as a flying vagina and our "inappropriately harsh" review of the Lexus IS350. So, BMW doesn't mind us calling the new M5's shifter the world's worst gearbox, but we can't mention female anatomy or wail on their opponent. Are you getting this?
I'm disappointed. I was looking forward to launching a retaliatory campaign based on our right to call it like we see it. You know: 'BMW can't handle The Truth!' But how do you fight a company that cuts you off from its press fleet because its corporate leaders object to the word vagina, and the fact that we preferred their products to their competitors'? Following Mr. Buchko into the rabbit hole, I tried to negotiate a solution to this bizarre situation. During our most recent phone call, I told Mr. Buchko we wouldn't use the words "vagina, penis or testicles" in any future posts and [almost] promised to shower Lexus with love the next time 'round.
No deal. The best Mr. Buchko could offer: BMW would "monitor the site" and "get back to us." I rejected the non-offer and, well, vagina. While I do not for one moment suggest that BMW has any obligation to provide The Truth About Cars (or anyone else) with press cars, these guys are both arrogant and insane. That fact was pretty obvious before the ban– when Mr. Buchko gave me a vigorous tongue-lashing for suggesting that iDrive was the worst thing to ever happen to a BMW (this was pre-M5). But now, by banning us over word choice and a Lexus review, BMW has conclusively proved that they don't understand PR, the new media or their customers.
Hold that thought. What's wrong with the word vagina? It's not one of the seven words you can't say on TV; it's a perfectly acceptable term for a female's primary sexual organs. And what's wrong with comparing the grill treatment of the Subaru B9 Tribeca to a flying vagina? Ever since Sigmund Freud's "Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie" met Jaguar's E-Type, journalists have called sports cars phallic symbols. Is the BMW organization so repressed and patriarchal that it can't tolerate the mere mention of female genitalia? The fact that Buchko couldn't bring himself to say the word 'vagina' indictates the full extent of the roundel's psycho-sexual problems.
C'mon guys, the vagina is ground zero for every human that's ever walked planet Earth. It's a place of beauty and pleasure for billions of people. [FYI: Hawaiian legend contains a story about a flying vagina or 'kohe lele."] I reckon the Subaru B9 Tribeca should fly its vagina with pride. And anyway, you'd think that BMW has more important things to do than obsess– for ten months– about a sexual reference on a relatively obscure website. Oh wait; TTAC published the Lexus IS350 review during this interregnum (on December '05). And what was our unpardonable sin there? Dunno. The Lexus review applied the same level of critical examination to the IS350 that we'd previously and subsequently applied to BMW's graciously-loaned press cars: the M5, 325ix Sports Wagon, 325i, 750i, M3CS, 645i Coupe, 645ci Convertible and 530i.
I find it inconceivable that a German car manufacturer would risk public disapproval to punish a website for using a "bad word" and protect their arch rivals. [Note: Toyota didn't object to the IS350 review, and continues to provide TTAC with press cars.] In fact, if you want a textbook example of how not to run a PR department, this is it. BMW is now on record as the company that freaks-out at the word "vagina"– inviting both ridicule and indignation from their highly-educated core clientele. The ban also reveals BMW as wimpy competitors, or paternalistic saps. Does anyone seriously think Toyota would return this unsolicited favor?
This thing is three kinds of stupid. In a free country, BMW can't stop a website from publishing the word "vagina," criticizing whomever it pleases and finding other ways to get behind the wheel of one of their products. This we will do. And rest assured that we will not review these cars any more harshly than we did before the ban. The Truth About Cars will not compromise its basic principles for anyone, ever. Meanwhile, I'd like to ask you a simple question: do you feel comfortable doing business with a company that behaves this way? Please send your answer in an email to <a xhref='mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org'>email@example.com</a>. CC us here, and we'll publish the most entertaining and informative examples.