By on December 13, 2006

papayaraspbstack22.jpgI recently attended a product launch for a domestic automaker’s new vehicle. I soon found myself in the usual spot. Above me: the world’s most soothing shower nozzle. Below me: a four-star restaurant serving up the most delectable of Japanese fusion cuisine. While I’m not averse to junketeering’s sybaritic attractions, one question kept ringing in my mind: when? When will Ford realize that it’s time for the pleasure to stop?

I was in The City by the Bay, attending the official press launch for Ford’s new Edge. The event was the industry standard combination of first class travel, picturesque settings, box fresh press cars, fine food and an open bar. While inside the belly of the media beast, I made a car connection with a number of veteran junketeers. Business as usual lads? Yup. OK, one of my peers quipped that this was the first Ford sponsored trip that didn’t involve a stint on the automaker’s private jet. Well fair enough; you wouldn't want to deny Mark Fields the chance to see his family every weekend would you?

Don't get me wrong: I love pampering as much as the next underpaid writer. I’ve been fortunate enough to lay my head on some high thread count pillow cases in my time, dreaming of mirror smooth roads. But it struck me odd that Ford figures the show must go on.

To say that America’s fourth largest automaker is having some financial difficulties is akin to saying that OJ has an image problem. Ford’s dire straits are a product of product and mismanagement and corporate insulation and, well, you know the rest. The Way Fordward has taken its toll on almost every facet of their operation, from plant closures affecting tens of thousands workers, to white collar flight at the highest levels. So why hasn’t the supremely ridiculous exercise in excess known as the press launch been ousted from Ford’s advertising budget?

Do the math. Ford brought three “waves” of journalists into the Bay Area over a four-day period. During that time, Ford had to foot the bill for airfare (some of which was overseas), lodging (well over $400 a night), three to four meals, alcohol, swag, displays, the salaries of all the employees involved, etc. A million might not even cover it. Mutliply that by all the launches– MKX, MKZ, GT500, new Navigator, etc.– and you're talking about some serious wedge.

Ford has lost $7b over the course of 2006. They’ve given themselves three years to bounce back to the point where they can BEGIN to pay off the principal portion of their debt. They need a new, innovative small car a lot more than I need a new, innovative 42” plasma screen in my hotel room. They need to revamp their ancient Lincoln Town Car to broaden it’s appeal more than I need a first class ticket from, um, somewhere to broaden my horizons. Sure, it’s nice, but a ritzy press launch isn’t going to sway my opinion one-way or the other. Or is it? Aye, there’s the steak rub.

As this website has pointed out many times, there is an unspoken agreement between automobile manufacturers and the motoring press: you eat, drink and sleep the rock star lifestyle; make nice with our products in your publications and we’ll invite you back again. If Ford failed to provide the usual journalistic trough, they’d be breaking their end of the bargain.

There’s another potential downside. If Ford pulled the plug on their outrageously expensive press junketeering, journalists would begin to believe that FoMoCo really is in serious trouble. It’s one thing to read or even write the writing on the wall, and quite another to pick up your own check. At that point, the gestalt would change, and Ford’s rep could flounder.

Of course, Ford’s ad budget is the big ass stick behind the gently sautéed carrots. Lose the junkets and the muzzle might loosen, but not fall off. In any case, it’s time for Ford to make Bold Moves that actually LOOK like bold moves. Selling Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston would make a nice start. Killing the endless portions of papya cubed with raspberries would also send a clear message that business as usual is dead. Otherwise, Ford’s still fiddling while Rome burns.  

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81 Comments on “Ford Death Watch 20: Press Junkets Must Die!...”


  • avatar
    JJ

    Those raspberries sure look good… 

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    Gotta juice those “reviews”, what better to do it with pre-written prose, back massages, etc. Automotive journalism has a long way to go, and let’s not talk about the reviewers who can’t drive a stick.

    On a similar non-objective note, supposedly some years ago, pharmaceutical salesmen would hook up doctors with, uh, dates. It’s not as lewd nowadays, but they do have the most attractive women show up trying to shill stuff they have little clue about:

    http://www.slate.com/id/2155355/

  • avatar
    Ar-Pharazon

    While I agree with your main point — that high priced boondoggles for the press are wasteful — you also point out the two reasons why they won’t go:

    1) If they did stop at Ford, it would be like chum in the water for all the ‘deathwatch’ naysayers . . . another sign of the apocalypse. Don’t deny that in this area you’d likely be part of that group.
    2) Sadly, they’d probably lose goodwill of many ‘journalists’ and face harsher-than-normal reviews of the vehicle. I will concede that this site would not likely fall into that category . . .

    Nice dig about the corporate jet to FLA, though . . .

    Do you think they’ll invite you to their media showing of their ‘Showroom of the Future’?

  • avatar

    I imagine that a lot of reviews would change… unfortunately the automotive press sometimes seems to be a bit reticent to criticize a car, one of the reasons I follow your website. I can remember many times when a successor model came out, that all the criticism of the previous model would be allowed, and sometimes they would even write things like “As we said before, this car’s interior sucks” and I would sit there with the original review and not see anything like that.

    So, yes, the junkets will probably continue.

  • avatar

    Ar-Pharazon: TTAC was invited to Ford's Showroom of the Future event– provided our writer signed a non-disclosure agreement. We declined to attend under those conditions.

  • avatar
    Glenn A.

    It’s absolute fact that if the PR flak bennies are taken away, the company in question gets virtually no positive press. I once read that in 1966, a mere 3 years after huge sales successes and “Motor Trend’s Car of the Year”, American Motors was so cash poor, they held their 1966 new car press showing in a big tend on a Wisconsin farm field. I don’t think any of the press guys got a thing other than some sandwiches and some information (but then again, it was a carry-over year with absolutely nothing new in the cars anyway). Let’s face it – the most “exciting” car they had – was the AMC Marlin*. The biggest “news” that year was that the AMC brand would sometimes more-or-less kinda replace or supplement the Rambler brand, kinda sorta. Nothing like firmness in decision-making, huh?

    Apparently, honesty from execs was also the form of the day. One exec was extolling how the upholstery of the top-line Ambassador car was the equal of the Cadillac, and stopped mid-sentence to say “uh, what’s that I smell?!”

    Well, of course, it was bull (and cow) sh!t.

    AMC survived another 21 years as a (somewhat) independent entity. AMC: 1954-1987. R.I.P.

    * and they say there is no reincarnation – perhaps there is, for cars. Look at the fastback Chrysler Crossfire from a 3/4 rear angle. Now look at a Marlin. Yeah…

  • avatar
    HEATHROI

    Where do you guys get off guzzling and scafing down the best food and drink the automaker can lay on(not to mention all those ‘therapeutic massages’) then slight the vehicle on question.

    Really honesty is all well and good but it doesn’t make for good reading in your He Says/She Says column.

  • avatar
    Dr. JP

    One more reason junkets won’t go: $300,000 is a rounding error for Ford. If they got rid of it, instead of losing $7b, they lost $6,999,700,000.

    The problems here are so massive there aren’t enough of these little things to make a difference. Kind of like the federal budget: to balance it, you don’t need to cut the budget of departments, you need to cut departments.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    ah wreched excess… sounds like the party version of a new lincoln SUV! Party on!

  • avatar
    Sid Vicious

    Ford has money for everything – and I mean everything – except product development.

  • avatar
    nweaver

    I like what Motorcycle.com has started doing on the press junkets for motorcycle launches: including a sidebar reviewing the junket scotch at the bar.

    Overall, I think junkets are necessary unfortunatly, unless there was unilatteral disarmament, and the cost really sin’t that much: lets assume 100 major junkets a year at $300K/junket to run. Ohh, that would only save $30M/year. Which isn’t quite a rounding error, but if that caused enough bad press, it wouldn’t be worth ti.

  • avatar
    ash78

    When someone pays an analyst’s way to meet the company, it’s generally considered a conflict of interest. The analyst’s firm is supposed to cover airfare and hotel, then only accept a modest amount of wining and dining. If the word gets out that you did otherwise, you might lose you job, and you almost definitely will lose credibility among your peers. In the case of a CFA certification, you might lose it for life (like a lawyer being disbarred).

    How this still goes on in the auto biz is amazing to me.

  • avatar

    Here’s a review () by Jeremy Clarkson which gives some amusing insight into car industry PR. Sounds great.

  • avatar
    Alex Rashev

    Well, if you recall, British Airways cut its losses by… Improving service quality. Junkets don’t really cost that much, it’s the cheapest advertisement you can make. If anything, Ford should spend even more on them :)

    On the other hand, a less plush, but more informative event coupled with a launch of some ground-breaking product would be a great way to come off the needle. Signal changes and cut costs at the same time.

  • avatar

    Of course the press junkets are going to continue – the auto companies (both healthy and not) cannot afford to risk not sucking up to the press. After all, you may turn out the perfect car, say Camry or 3-series, but if you can’t get the media guy to say so because he’s feeling slighted at the way he was treated at the launch, you’ve sudden got one heck of an obstacle in your marketing program.

    Just for the fun: Let’s visualize a situation where BMW actually decides that the cars CAN stand by themselves with no overt attempt at promotion, etc. For a new model roll-out they do the absolute bare minimum that can be considered polite: Coffee and a danish, drive the cars around a track, no paid rooms, meals, transportation, etc., thank you for coming now go home and write your article.

    And what kind of reviews will you get? Given human nature and personal self-expectation (whether justified or not), there will still be praise for the whatever-series has just been introduced, but it’ll be a bit fainter than in previous years. Keep doing those kind of rollouts year after year, and that praise will get fainter and fainter. After all, all those journalists have rough jobs, and certainly deserve to be treated better than that (don’t laugh, all of us can find some form of daily-above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty in our own jobs, no matter how much we have to stretch) .

    Yes, WE all claim that we’d like to have more objective press rollouts with less bling, glitz and unnecessary pampering. But the auto companies can’t afford to take the risk of that kind of honesty – not if you make a 3-series, and especially not if you make a Crossfire.

  • avatar
    William C Montgomery

    Counter Point: From a business standpoint, Ford would be grossly negligent if it stopped hosting such events and doing their damnedest to elicit the best reviews they can for their cars and to show their products in the best possible light. It is the journalist’s responsibility to maintain objectivity and not be seduced by the bright lights and glitter (or avoid them as RF has done).

    Ford’s problems are in the board room, at the senior levels of management, and, as Mr. Johnson pointed out, albatross Jag/Land Rover/Aston brands. The junkets are worth every penny to getting a product launched well, even if they are tastelessly excessive and hoity-toity. Cutting them would hardly finance the development of a desperately needed economy car.

  • avatar

    I’m with Mr. Montgomery.

    There’s a difference between being thrifty and being cheap. Spending a several grand on journalists is OK. There are much bigger financial problems to address.

    And just like you said Mr. Johnson, if Ford did cut out the journalist pampering, it would only serve to fuel already rampant speculation of Ford’s imminent demise.

  • avatar

    And also guys, bear in mind that advertising dollars speak just as loudly. If Motor Trend were to stop kissing Toyota’s ass, they’d pull their ads faster than Keith Richards snorting a line of coke. So it’s sort of a catch 22. If the magazines start actually giving their honest opinions, the advertising dollars go away and the magazine goes the way of the Eagle brand. If they keep kissing ass, we have to come online to get real opinions(namely here) on the vehicles we care about.

    Personally, I’d love to see a TTAC print mag, but you’d get no automotive companies to advertise in it. I’d even contribute for free, just to help the cause.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    I’d make sure to praise whichever company boldly refrains from the junket lifestyle. I’ve been on one, and I seriously doubt the ROI is worth it. But I know it won’t happen, too many people think its a tit-for-tat.

    Maybe if the press didn’t have junkets for the past 15-ish years, Ford would still have the #1 selling car in America and all the financial benefits with it.

    Think about it. :-)

  • avatar
    draggin

    I totally agree with you JJ, except for this:
    “I recently attended a recent product launch”

    Um, Isn’t that phrase straight from the Department of Redundancy Department?

    sorry’

  • avatar

    Sajeev….do you think that the journalists of the world could pool together and tell the automakers “The hell with it, stop giving us free crap and concentrate on giving your products this press junket money. Then we’ll write honest opinions so you improve your products you pathetic meatsacks.”

    I don’t see it happening.

    But it’d be nice.

  • avatar
    motowner

    Kudos to TTAC for refusing to sign the NDA for the Showroom of the Future!

    What can you report from talking to others who did attend? By now, it’s a pretty good sized group: employees, dealers, analysts, fellow members of the press.

    What’s the REAL story on Ford’s product lineup?

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    I was at this particular Junket.

    Those hotel rooms were more than $400 a night.

    Much more.

    I particularly liked the central control unit next to the bed that could raise and lower the blinds.

    As far as not signing the NDA goes, that was easy. If we can’t talk about it, why bother?

  • avatar
    jazbo123

    As is alluded to above, in the large multinational that I work for in the US, I would be immediately terminated for participating in this type of event.

    As far as not signing the NDA goes, that was easy. If we can’t talk about it, why bother?

    Thanks Jonny, I was about to ask that same question.

  • avatar

    “I’m shocked, SHOCKED, that gambling is going on here!”

    Looking for moral/ethical direction among the press corp is akin to looking for moral/ethical direction from politicians. =

    –chuck

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    i would really like to hate these too.

  • avatar
    RX8guy

    My only question to Jehovah Johnson, is how did you get invited to this fuhpah? Since you write for ‘The Truth about Cars’, and with Ford Death Watch, and other truthful editorials, I would think you would be the last person, along with Farago, to get invited to a Press Junket.

  • avatar
    jjdaddyo

    “Jehovah Johnson” sounds like a nom de plume for the Notorious Jonny Lieberman

  • avatar

    Jehovah Johnson is a gnome de guerre. I can tell you that none of the writers who use their real name on TTAC also use Mr. Johnson's name. I can also tell you that more than one writer uses this by-line.

  • avatar
    buzzliteyear

    The over-the-top treatment of the automotive press at these events may actually be counterproductive to the automakers efforts.

    Consider that the ‘journalist’ is flown first-class, housed in a 38-star hotel, fed endless piles of cubed papaya with raspberries by world-class chefs and pampered in every imagingable way. Then he/she gets to go out and review a……Ford Edge. It seems to me that the 5-star treatment would make the vehicle look worse by comparison, unless it’s a mega-buck Mercedes/BMW/Aston Martin/etc. That would seem to a recipe for unfavorable reviews.

    Instead, the automakers should have their press junkets in dangerous urban and/or 3rd-world environments. Then, instead of journalists writing something like “The fake wood dash trim was unconvincing”, the published review might mention “The vehicle started reliably and had enough performance to get us away from the firefight between two local militia groups”.

    As for cutting Ford’s marketing budget, I have to agree with the naysayers above. Several years ago, the California state budget deficit was enormous (a large reason the Governator was elected). Several politicians rattled off proposals to cut things like the Almond Marketing Board (made-up example) to save $5 mil, when the state could have eliminated the University of California budget, the prison system, and *all* primary school funding and still not balanced the budget. Ford’s problems are bigger than $400-per-night hotel rooms.

  • avatar
    haya_ku

    Or maybe it’s just good business. Say it costs $5000-$15000 a head for junkets depending on whether they are domestic or everseas.

    What’s a full-page in the NY Times worth? What’s a page in Car and Drivel worth?

    If $15,000 grand could get me a hundred thousand bucks in media exposure…let alone exposure that people PAY to read I’d be doin’ it too.

    What Ford should do is kick their ad agency in the ass…have you seen those new Lincoln ads!

  • avatar
    rodster205

    I know this is hardly an original idea, but an actual publication to go ‘TTAC’ would take the market. Of course they would lose advertising for a while but think about what it did for C&D for decades when they put the new GM crap-o-the-day in a junkyard on the cover. I held my C&D sub for far too long just hoping they would return to their former glory. I finally tossed 10 years (86-96) of C&D when I moved a year or two ago. Now I might buy 1 a year off the newsstand.

    Here’s another not-new idea: Since you won’t be going to junkets, test cars off the dealer lots. And not only the loaded ones but all trim levels. As a side benefit half the magazine wouldn’t be wasted on the latest Ferrari or Lambo which I probably will be lucky to ever SEE, much less own.

    RF, when will TTAC be going ‘old-school’ and actually printing a copy? Start with a ‘newsletter’ format and build up from there. I don’t buy subscriptions to websites but I would buy a sub to a publication. Keep some content here of course, and past issues, and put the really good stuff in the printed version before putting on the net.

    I know a subscription TTAC was debated a while back but I think an actual publication would draw a different response as far as potential subscribers go.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    And I can tell you that I went to this junket, ate all the delicious food I could shove down my gullet, drank lots and lots of free booze and let Ford pickup my room service tab.

    Did I mention we had breakfast in the Museum of Modern Art and got a cruise past Alcatraz?

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Rodster,

    We go to junkets.

  • avatar

    Rodster just proved my point. People will pay for it if they can physically hold it, smell it, etc. There’s no way I would pay for a subsription online(I love you guys, but not that much) but a print mag, I’d almost definitely pay for.

  • avatar
    TheTruthHurts

    Junkets are scandalous. As a journalist who likes to think I have some integrity, I have personally witnessed (with horror) the following on junkets over the years:

    1. A journalist saying (in all seriousness) that he was going to give a car a bad review because his hotel room’s view was of the skyline, not the ocean.
    2. A small-time car magazine publisher asking how many ads the manufacturer would buy if he got his reporter to write a good review.
    3. A car manufacturer refusing entrance to a press event because they didn’t like what the journalist wrote about a previous vehicle. They told the magazine that anyone _except_ said journalist could attend, so the mag sent that journalist as an eff-you. The manufacturer backed down.
    4. A freelance journalist saying that he had to write good things about a particularly craptastic product so he could get invited on a crucial vehicle intro by the same manufacturer later in the year.
    5. Hospitality girls. No, not perky PR helpers. Hospitality girls. Also known as escorts. And journalists partaking.
    6. Varying degrees of graft given to journalists as “parting gifts.” Most items are in the tschotschke-token range, but some are well into the four-figure range.

    Basically, from what I have seen, the worse the product, the more lavish the press preview.

    Some manufacturers, I will credit, have dialed way back on the shenanigans, going so far as to hold a legitimate product introduction at their corporate HQ with coffee, donuts, executive presentations and a few hours on the test track. No hotel room, maybe a box lunch. See ya.

    All that said, car intros are far less scandalous than those for a movie or record premiere. All you need at either of those is a theatre or a sound studio. Yet those are frequently held in exotic locales that have nothing to do with the movie or recording. If a manufacturer really wants you to test a car’s limit capabilities at a racetrack, it should do so. Whether the track is in California, Germany, or Malaysia is just a matter of degree.

  • avatar
    WaaaaHoooo

    Yes, all the journalists there know the money could be better spent elsewhere at Ford ….. but I bet not one of them took the principled stand and asked to be boarded at Motel 6 and have a couple McMeals delivered to the room each day. Just to make a point.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Where are these Hospitality girls and how do I sign up?

  • avatar
    dean

    I was going to express my sympathy to JJ for the name his parent’s gave him. I guess I don’t need to now.

    I’m trying to figure out, though, if “gnome” was an intentional mispelling or not!

    As for the junketeering: unless the auto companies of the world unite to eliminate them, they won’t go away. As long as someone is doing them, the others will feel the necessity of following suit.

    That’s why North Korea is so insular. As long as the people can be kept from seeing that the grass is greener on the other side of the DMZ, they won’t know that anything better exists. If nobody had any junkets, then the journos wouldn’t know any better, and wouldn’t hold it against abstainers.

  • avatar
    Ashy Larry

    The Cory said:

    Personally, I’d love to see a TTAC print mag, but you’d get no automotive companies to advertise in it. I’d even contribute for free, just to help the cause.

    No need. The world of print car mags is dying, if not already dead. They just don’t know it. Internet publishing is cheaper, easier, more immediate and newsworthy. Print mags print the news a month or two after the news breaks, long after I’ve read it here or on AutoBlog or Jalopnik or AutoWeek or The Car Lounge or The Winding Road or any other of a few dozen quality sites out there. Car mags are becoming bathroom reading instead of items that people can’t wait to get every month.

  • avatar

    I was just wondering if this (juicing the press) is typical across the entire industry? If so, then there really isn’t a legitimate basis to target Ford or any other manufacture.

    Another somewhat related point is that the Internet has served to bring impartial, unremunerated, unprofessional, consumer car reviews into the public domain. Like in many matters of consumer awareness (blogs, forums, Amazon-like ratings etc); this can only be positive IMHO. Product reviewed from the people who buy them; not solely journalists and industry insiders whose very exposure to the manufacturers tempts some of them to cross the line to self interest. Information that is tainted is not information at all, but at best useless, and at worse – propoganda.

    Now let it be known that I have nothing against expert car reviews or reviewers; only that truly objective ones are increasingly hard to find (one reason I was attracted to TTAC). Cars are rarely as good or bad as most journalists tag them I find; and it would be truly refreshing to read a review that actually attempts to view the vehicle from the consumer’s viewpoint (not the weekend racer, enviro-nut, anti-big3, etc.). Example: No, minivans are not fast, fun to drive, tuned for sport handling, etc. but none of these are the reasons folks buy them (to haul kids and stuff; to get in and out of them with the least amount of fuss; to have a larger vehicle that drives like a car).

    I am also getting tired of reviewers reviewing vehicles across segments (both price point and category segments) as if this serves anyone – most folks in my estimation rarely shop across segments so it serves little purpose in recommending a RAV4 in a Chevy Suburban review, for example. Whenever I see this flags go up – meaning an agenda of some kind is potentially at work here.

    Sorry for jumping out of topic somewhat – I guess in sum I agree with the editorial; just not sure how prevalent this is industry-wide.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    Ashy Larry:

    I like magazines. They are nice to read, you dont need a computer, you can sit in a nice chair.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    Jonny Lieberman:
    December 13th, 2006 at 1:39 pm
    And I can tell you that I went to this junket, ate all the delicious food I could shove down my gullet, drank lots and lots of free booze and let Ford pickup my room service tab.

    as I would have. Mazel Tov

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Jehovah’s idea only gets us part of the way there. Let’s eliminate all of these boondoggle press launches. And booth babes at auto shows — how do silicon and mascara add to the intrinsic value of a vehicle? In fact, kill the auto shows altogether– another needless expense.

    And advertising: ads don’t increase sales, they only steal sales from competitors. If no one advertises, we all gain from lower expenses. Eliminate ALL marketing expenditures.

    You want to buy a car? Go to a drab room in the mall and fill out an order form. Your vehicle will be delivered directly to your home in 6-8 weeks, C.O.D.

    While we’re at it, let’s kill the auto press in general. Strap ‘em up, the lot of them. Well, except Jonny; we like him.

    And Monty, and Frank, and Robert of course. Sajeev maybe, and Shoey.

  • avatar

    I read somewhere recently (I think it was The Economist) that Ford spends more on R&D than GM, Toyota, and all other auto manufacturers.

    Weighing what’s going in and what’s coming out, I’d say there’s a bit of an imbalance and quite a bit of fat to be trimmed at Ford R&D. Maybe Ford is providing champagne and girls to their engineers and scientists too?

    Seriously though, an article about Ford’s spending on R&D would be a good one.

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    Where are these Hospitality girls and how do I sign up?

    For obvious reasons, they were at the Chevy Malibu launch. Gotta counter that sea of grey somehow.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    Hospitality girls? Is it too late to change my name to Jehovah Johnson???

    That is nuts. But for the record I would have flown up to Detroit for Ford’s secert gathering, but that’s the rabid car fan in me talking…its almost pointless for a journo to go there.

  • avatar
    TheTruthHurts

    From CarNut: Another somewhat related point is that the Internet has served to bring impartial, unremunerated, unprofessional, consumer car reviews into the public domain.

    In my experience, it’s been the Internet guys who have been on the extremes of the payola. Either they are completely guerilla, getting reviews from Joe Camryowner or taking a stealthy review by going to a new car lot for a 10-minute test drive. Or they are so desperate for capital that they go the junkets and basically whore themselves out in exchange for good reviews or “Best Performance Sedan” ratings that automakers can use in their own advertising as allegedly impartial third-party raves. Before you talk about the democracy of the Internets, remember that it too requires money to work. Or do you think all these Web site guys work for free?

  • avatar
    rainmarin

    I too would pay for a subscription-based TTAC that I could hold in my hands. RF, does three people validate the business model? Also, I second what Jerseydevil says about a nice chair….lugging the laptop into the can would cause some strange looks from the wife/kids.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    I think I have me a new research project.

  • avatar
    BostonTeaParty

    Weighing what’s going in and what’s coming out, I’d say there’s a bit of an imbalance and quite a bit of fat to be trimmed at Ford R&D. Maybe Ford is providing champagne and girls to their engineers and scientists too?

    Thrifty; Most of Ford’s R&D budget goes on salary i guess, from what i saw of the big wigs and the Lincoln experiment, attracting top names to give average products.

  • avatar
    rodster205

    Jonny: Yes, I know YOU go to junkets. I have read your ‘non-report’ on Jalopnik. So insightful, worth exactly what I paid for it.

    RF indicated he did not go to the Ford show because of the agreement. My (intended) point what that a publication (or website) that refused to go to them and therefore wrote honest reports would be a seller. Which is exactly why I and others come to TTAC every day.

    Ashy Larry: Good point about bathroom reading. That explains all the Ferr/Lambo stories. It’s the closest thing to a magazine with scantily clad women the wife will allow in the house.

  • avatar
    motowner

    So…no verdict on the Showroom of the Future?

    CNBC’s Lebeau gave it the ‘thumbs down.’

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Rodster — I’m the one who turned down the Ford invitation to their “Showroom of the Future.” And, as a result of the boozin’ at the junket I’ve become pretty close with a Ford PR guy, it was a personal invite as in, “Jonny, we would really like you specifically to see the direction Ford is heading.”

    It was a free trip and (from what I hear) a good time, but I balked because I will never be held legally responsible for telling the truth about cars.

  • avatar
    Brian E

    Maybe Ford is providing champagne and girls to their engineers and scientists too?

    Damn, I’m working for the wrong company then.

    The problem with R&D spending is that engineers can spend your money on anything. It’s up to the folks who know the business to direct that research into things which will really provide the return on investment needed. Since that ROI won’t come for 10 years or more, the folks who are directing the R&D need to be visionaries.

    Big companies kill visionaries. I’m sure many of us enjoy playing armchair management to the domestic auto industry, and I have no doubt that some could do the job better – at least at first. Five years of politics, infighting, back-stabbing, inertia, and sheer lack of passion would kill that in all but the most hardy. One day you will come into work enthused about the possibility for developing a new platform that will save the company millions, and the next you’re struggling just to keep your empire large enough to work on that vision. You think the CEO’s on your side at first, but then he comes to you and says: “Listen, I know what you’re trying to do. But the profits aren’t coming in and the shareholders are demanding cuts. So here’s what we’re going to do…”

    By the end of that conversation you feel emasculated. So what do you do? You’ve got a mortgage and two kids. You’ve still got your job. Maybe you even still like what it is you do. It’s a fool’s hope to think your competitor is any better: after all, you’re still spending more on R&D than your competitor. And if you do jump ship you’ve got to work yourself into that leadership role all over again.

    Do you blame the CEO? Sure. That’s his job. Could you do better? Think about that honestly before you answer. I for one would burn out under the weight of trying to change the impossible. That’s probably why the folks who end up in those positions don’t try to do that.

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    Sometimes, these junkets can be very valuable. One that comes readily to mind, was a Mercedes-Benz junket in October 2001 – a sobering time for all on that trip – where the main place to sample the vehicles was Virginia International Raceway. (As has been mentioned, manufacturers who want you to sample their vehicles on a track, aren’t wasting their money or your time.) In addition to the cars, there was the G-500 SUV; and we were allowed to take that on a off-road track where the three locking differentials really came in handy (as there was an incline that my guess was about 65 degrees, at the top).
    There’s also a benefit in meeting with other auto journalists and getting their input and views, over dinner or lunch, on the vehicles being evaluated. I have made some good freindships, as the result of being fortunate (or blessed, depending on your point of view about dieties) enough to attend a fair amount of these ride-and-drives, over 30 years of writing about cars, trucks and motorcycles.
    Thing is, just getting to the airport is sometimes such a pain, it benefits me, as well as saves the manufacturers money, if they can stage the event in the city where I live, or at the race track about 40 miles southeast (which many of them have done). None of this kind of thing washes with journalism-school traditions, but this is where the integrity of the individual journos and their employers comes into play. Yes, I too have heard deals being cut. But ultimately, a journo has to figure he or she works for the readers, the consumers and not the manufacturers. Those auto makers who don’t understand that, are indeed wasting their money and time.

  • avatar
    Joe Chiaramonte

    When the 2.5 start shoving stock certificates in the glove boxes of every new car, we’ll have come full circle.

    To neighbors/friends/anyone with an ear:

    “I LOVE my new Cobalt/Focus/PT and you should get one too!” {So I’ll have some hope for my kid’s college fund.}

  • avatar
    Ar-Pharazon

    I would think that you would have wanted to go to the Showroom/Future just out of curiosity, if nothing else. That’s like an investigative journalist refusing to listen to ‘off the record’ comments because they couldn’t publish them . . . isn’t background worth something?

    Probably the worst thing you could do is to form your opinions based on the tales told by employees or dealers who attended. You’d get nothing but bias in one direction or the other, I think.

  • avatar
    Pezzo_di_Merda

    “Jehovah Johnson is a gnome de guerre. I can tell you that none of the writers who use their real name on TTAC also use Mr. Johnson’s name. I can also tell you that more than one writer uses this by-line.”

    Which one of you guys is Michael Moore?

  • avatar
    CSJohnston

    That sounds like one angry gnome.

    CJ

  • avatar

    Ar-Pharazon: There's no pleasing some people. Actually, I mean you. You know very well that there's a huge difference between agreeing to be a silent partner in Ford's carefully calculated PR offensive and speaking "off the record" with a genuine news source. Stop nitpicking. PS Pun intended. 

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    Shoot, I’ve never had a sweet young thing sent to my room. Maybe I’m not nice enough?
    I’m going on a Ford trip to San Antonio next month, I’ll be sure to leave my door unlocked…
    I don’t get paid NEARLY enough to write good things (if I don’t mean it) about something, just for the sake of a few nice meals. I don’t give a damn who takes out an ad in our paper… and I don’t drink.
    My favourite junket this year, was the Audi S8, S6 & S4 launch held at Mosport, which happens to be 25 minutes from my home. We ate boxed lunches under a big tent, there was no booze available. It pissed down rain all day which meant that several journalists took off early thus leaving extra laps for those who waited in the rain for hot laps with Alan McNish & Dindo Capello. One young journalist and I, who are both foolish and naive enough to be in this simply because we’re total car nuts… decided we weren’t leaving til we drove everything. Their entire lineup of 2007 products. It was great, one of the top Audi dudes personally brought us the keys to a couple of S8s that had already been put up for the day.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Lesley,

    Can you really call it a junket if there’s no booze?

  • avatar
    CSJohnston

    To All Underpaid Writers,

    Enjoy. Life’s too short!

    If Ford goes out of business because of too many magnums and hors d’ouevres then at least everyone will have had an excellent time!

    And to add to Jonny’s query, when does the junket become a boondoggle?

  • avatar

    Never heard of multiple writers sharing a byline. By mutual consent?

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    Lesley, your post and comments about Mosport reminds me of one of my favorite ride-and-drives, only about 45 miles southeast of where I live, back in the fall of 1989. The company staging the event was Audi and the car was the Audi 90; with its antilock brakes being a featured component. The place was what is now called Pacific Raceways, yet then was Seattle International Raceway (a misnomer for years, since it sets just outside the city of Kent WA). We journos drove the cars as fast as we could on the 2.5 miles circuit and the key deal was hitting the antilock brakes full on, at one point, and experiencing them. It was admittedly my first time using antilock brakes, and when the car shuddered, I was shouted at "don't let up! don't let up!" Thing was, it poured that day, as much like a literal shower as you could get; so it was perfect for the drill. And a key thing, was one could bring a friend, whether he was a journo or not. I brought a pal who was more into Mustangs and he had a great time – better than I. The reason he had a better time, was that a celebrity, on hand to make all of us remember the day, was Bobbie Unser Jr. (I got his autography of a company of Victory Lane magazine, that I happened to have with me; and still have.) My pal went out, on that rain-slickened track, with Bobbie Unser Jr. at the wheel. How did it go and how did he drive? My friend just said, "Like what you'd expect Bobbie Unser would be like." Now this being at the tail end of the Eighties, Audi was still struggling. Joe Bishop, a gruff old PR pro set up interviews at a downtown hotel, a few days later with an equally gruff ex-Marine named Richard Mugg (how's that for a name out of detective novel?) who was head of Audi USA, back then. "Audi's coming back," he told us, as he castigated "60 Minutes" for never formally apologizing for almost ruining Audi in the American market. I remember thinking, "I don't think they can do it, even though the car seems good." Well, I was sure wrong about that, eh?

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    They truly are good cars… although I drove a cabriolet that was so garishly jarring in its colour choices it would’ve given a queer eye the vapors. Navy paint, red wood and banana & grey leather do NOT “go”.
    Lapping with Dindo Capello in the pouring rain, in an S4 with the traction off… oy! Brilliance, unbelievable.

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    Correction to typographical error in most recent post; meant to write that I got Bobby Unser Jr.’s autograph on a copy of Victory Lane magazine, not the mangled sentence I wrote, about a third of the way from the end.

  • avatar

    oops.

  • avatar

    twice.

  • avatar
    haya_ku

    People really have to stop referring to automotive writers as journalists.

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    Because you say so!

  • avatar
    SD987S

    For benefit of the thread reader, “gnome de guerre” refers to a mythical race of tiny humanoids armed with machetes and other implements of death.

    Nom de guerre and it’s more literal and frequently used cousin Nom de Plume is a “pen name”.

  • avatar
    Ar-Pharazon

    Hmmm . . . . I don’t mean to nitpick, or be hard to please. I guess I’m just curious or confused???

    I don’t see how going and having a look-see then not writing about it is “agreeing to be a silent partner in Ford’s carefully calculated PR offensive”. Not a rhetorical statement . . . I really don’t understand what you mean. From my simplistic viewpoint, I just saw two options: 1) go, and don’t write about what you see; or 2) don’t go, and don’t write about what you don’t see. For nothing other than curiosity, I’d choose 1).

    Are you saying that by going you’re somehow restricted from saying something unrelated to the specifics of what you saw that you would otherwise be able to say? If that’s the case then I see your point, but not being a journalist I don’t really understand details like that.

    I didn’t catch the pun, either. I must have taken a double dose of stupid pills today.

  • avatar
    TheTruthHurts

    Haya-Ku: People really have to stop referring to automotive writers as journalists.

    Good point. One must first ask a penetrating question to be a journalist, and the question cannot be, “So, um, where’s the scotch?” In that aspect, 80 percent of the people on press intros fail this test. They get the CD-ROM, go back to their office, cut-and-paste the copy, change a couple words so as to seem like original work, and file the story. Truly a sad state of affairs.

  • avatar
    Ar-Pharazon

    Is Jehovah Johnson any relation to Alan Smithee?

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    ash78:
    December 13th, 2006 at 9:55 am
    When someone pays an analyst’s way to meet the company, it’s generally considered a conflict of interest. The analyst’s firm is supposed to cover airfare and hotel, then only accept a modest amount of wining and dining. If the word gets out that you did otherwise, you might lose you job, and you almost definitely will lose credibility among your peers. In the case of a CFA certification, you might lose it for life (like a lawyer being disbarred).

    How this still goes on in the auto biz is amazing to me.

    This is an excellent point! In this day and age of Sarbanes-Oxley, my company would be hoisted in shame.

    I was even barred from accepting a free half-day technical course that I had won from a RANDOM DRAWING at a conference. And this would have been a REAL technical course from a real technical education firm, not a glorified advertisement hawking a product.

    I wasn’t even allowed to donate the prize or the prize value to charity. So how do the auto companies get away with it?

    By the way, those don’t look like rasberries. They look like strawberries to me. Yummy.

  • avatar
    rtz

    Think about the amount of money the OEM’s spend on TV and print advertising. I have a better idea then the paper ads that I turn the page on and the ads on TV that I fast forward past using my DVR.

    Direct product marketing. Identify key groups, influential and beneficial people. Even people who currently drive one of your competitors cars and give them one of yours instead!

    If so and so drove one of your cars, how would you benefit?

    An aside:

    In 1994, I was 16 years old. My parents were big Mustang fans in the 1960′s. I was therefore able to acquire a ~100,000 mile ’87 5.0 for $3500. I still have that car today.

    So back then, I was working at a store. Everyone else drove junk(in my mind) and I drove my clean and fast machine. And they saw that it was fast and clean and that I never had any problems with it and never talked bad about it. A girl that worked there ended up buying a early `90′s 4 banger stang. I was surprised. I knew nothing about it until later.

    As time went on, some other girl I knew also got a 4 banger stang.

    I was indirectly and unintentionally influential on one of my friends dad. Being friends with his son, I guess he would occasionally hear me bag on and berate chevy’s and what I didn’t like about them or what I thought was wrong about them and how hard imports were to work on and what I didn’t like about them. You’d be very surprised on the amount of new or leased Ford’s he’s driven over the years now.

    So TV and print ads costs x amount of dollars? What do some vehicles cost at your price? Now how could you get these vehicles into the hands of the people you want driving them? If you can’t sell them, give them away?

    Maybe the Ford Fusion is a good car? The problem is it has no rep and people just don’t know and everyone is taking a wait and see approach.

    Here’s another idea to better spend your advertising money. Read the reviews your vehicles get. Then make mid year changes to them and correct everything that was wrong with them in the reviews!!

    Ford Focus is just a boring car and has been ever since it was new. It’s sales can’t get better with it being essentially the exact same car today as it was back when it was released!

    You want faster Mustang performance? Start shedding weight off it. For every 100lbs, it reduces the 1/4 mile time by 1/10′th! 500lbs off for a 1/2 second quicker vehicle?

    Want some ideas? Study the 1979 Mustang and how it weighed so little compared to every year that followed!

    Do you still make fleet vehicles that run off either propane or natural gas? Make some converted internal combustion vehicles that run on hydrogen. Every major city can get and has access to hydrogen. Not at a “gas station” but it is available. Look up “air gas” and “Air Liquide”.

    How will the fleet buyer get their hydrogen. Don’t worry about it! Just provide the vehicles and they will get the hydrogen! You’ve got to make something happen and take intuitive if you want anything to change and get better!

    If Ford would make and sell a converted gasoline vehicle that ran off hydrogen; I could get hydrogen for it Monday morning.

    Getting hydrogen in either liquid or gas form is not the problem. Getting a vehicle from an OEM that runs off hydrogen is!

    I might just have to make the stang run off some hydrogen to show that it can be done…

    http://www.switch2hydrogen.com/

  • avatar
    capdeblu

    This article explains in plain english why my next and next car will be a Toyota.

  • avatar
    greenb1ood

    capdeblu:
    December 18th, 2006 at 1:39 pm
    This article explains in plain english why my next and next car will be a Toyota.

    I missed the part in the article and subsequent posts where Toyota does not invite press on similar junkets.

    Did I miss something?

  • avatar
    CrunchyCookie

    They do. I just attended the Tundra unveiling at some random ranch at Solvang, CA (and all I got was this lousy Black & Decker auto-leveling laser!)


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