By on July 20, 2009

As Robert posted below, TTAC is redoubling its efforts to get timely road tests by reaching out to the very manufacturers we lay into on a daily basis. But why, you might ask, would these giant firms feed the mouth that bites them?

The simple answer is that auto writers provide one single commodity to the manufacturers: credibility. With the rise of blogs and social media, consumers are seeking and finding the most credible sources for reviews without the industry’s traditional advertorial filter. This outsourcing of PR duties to reliably sycophantic writers and publications may prevent a certain number of negative reviews, but it also robs positive reviews of their power.

GM’s so-called “perception gap” illustrates this syndrome perfectly. The General regularly cites rave mainstream reviews as evidence of the superiority of certain models, while noting that these accolades have made little impact on the buying public. Instead of merely complaining about this phenomenon, isn’t GM even remotely curious as to why this happens? The obvious answer is that auto writers must earn the trust of their readers in order for the manufacturers to earn the trust of consumers.

Outlets which reject collusion or cozy relations with automakers may seem angry or biased in contrast with the puffy prose of old-line auto journalists, but at least they still offer the credibility that the manufacturers were seeking in the first place. As competitive as the market for cars is, isn’t it time for automakers to accept that courting real credibility inevitably carries risk?

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15 Comments on “Daily Podcast: Weeklong Testing...”


  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Most newspapers and automobile oriented magazines, television shows and Internet sites long ago sold their integrity to the automakers. Their advertorials cannot be trusted to provide the unvarnished truth that buyers need to avoid wasting money on a car the industry knows is so problem plagued duking it out with the dealer for warranty work will be a regular occurrence.

  • avatar
    Jeff in Canada

    On TTAC getting vehicles directly from the Manufacturers sooner;
    Hasn’t TTAC always tried to differentiate itself as being a source which gets vehicles from dealers? Or more importantly, the cars themselves are factory assembled, dealer prepped, and a truer representation of what the regular customer would take delivery of?

    I feel it’s more important for TTAC to maintain this standard than be able to post a review a few weeks (months?) earlier than the other review sources.

    I personally take any “edmunds First Drive” with a grain of salt because it’s almost always a ‘white-glove’ prepped, top-spec model, not a true representation of what I could buy down at the dealership.

  • avatar
    paulie

    But it seems to me that sooo many writers command a followship that is undeserving.
    Perhaps not so much the online reviewers like TTAC, but my god!, the paper reviews are rediculous.
    Certain writers like Jim Mateja fron the Chicago Trib are data slim, but at least get criticle.
    Others gag me.
    Just total color pieces and cheerleading for local car dealerships.

  • avatar
    Edward Niedermeyer

    Gardiner Westbound: Advertorial… of course. Thanks.

    Jeff In Canada: Agreed. In my mind, the ideal would be a week in a tester and at least one dealership test drive for contrast. Or, as in the case of the Prius, two different drivers. Sadly, these things aren’t always possible.

  • avatar
    ajla

    The Regal was never really a member of the porthole’d Buicks. It has always been a part of the Monte Carlo/Grand Prix/Cutlass Supreme mid-priced personal luxury quartet.

    Other than the brief run of the Reatta, it has also been the sportiest member of the Buick brand since around ’78. That reputation probably gave it the lowest average buyer age in the lineup.

    GM doesn’t have it in them to not offer a sporty mid-sizer, and I’m guessing that’s where the new Regal is going to be aimed.

    I’d bet its main competitors will be well-optioned examples of the Mazda6 and Altima, with a hotter version going after the Fusion Ecoboost. Of course those three cars are not built be Lexus, and have nothing to do with luxury, but that’s never stopped GM before.

    In my mind, the thing the Regal does have going for it is that it’s one of the few GM nameplates whose history is filled with memorable V6s instead of V8s. With Ford and the German brands convincing everyone that a 350hp turbo V6 can save the world, it allows GM to follow suit without pissing off the purists by not offering a V8.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Maybe you could partner with Consumer Reports?

    After all, they have the test track, equipment and fleet breadth and you have the wit and literary depth they lack. Maybe the two of you could make an arrangement whereby you proxy sales of the their material and you get access to their test fleet?

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    I’d bet its main competitors will be well-optioned examples of the Mazda6 and Altima, with a hotter version going after the Fusion Ecoboost. Of course those three cars are not built be Lexus, and have nothing to do with luxury, but that’s never stopped GM before.

    My god, does that have “fail” written all over it. Ford, Mazda and Nissan have enough trouble selling based on driving fun, so much so that they’re all back off it and chasing the mainstream.

    No one, no matter how much the circle-jerk that is GM product wishes to the contrary, will consider a Buick as sporty.

    In my mind, the thing the Regal does have going for it is that it’s one of the few GM nameplates whose history is filled with memorable V6s instead of V8s.

    Yes, and that reputation is either for “Solid and thoroughly unexciting” or “eats chunks of intake manifold”.

    If GM was serious about making a smallish, fun to drive Buick, dusting the “Regal” nameplate off from it’s white-pant’ed Floridian retirement is perhaps even less smart than Ford’s resurrecting Taurus. I’d had hopes of “Invicta”, which sounds cool. Grand National might have worked if for no other reason than it has redneck appeal; heck, Skylark might have not been entirely idiotic.

    Even keeping “Insignia” would have been good, and would have saved them a few pennies on badging. But Regal? Are they insane? Do they want the car to sell only to octagenarians and rental companies?

    A trained chimpanzee could do better marketing.

  • avatar
    Jonathan Gregory

    Spending several days with a vehicle definitely trumps even an extended (hour long) test drive. It gives you a chance to settle into the vehicle, get to know its daily nuances, and form a better opinion that isn’t knee-jerk.

    I’m guessing TTAC won’t have to worry about getting cream-puff cars from the manufacturer (to start). They’ll probably give the leftovers from the buff books fleet; after C/D has a chance to flatspot the tires, R/T cooks the brakes, MT launches it airborne over a railroad crossing twelve times for the right cover shot, and Automobile wedges six cones under the muffler. They’ll be in proper, broken-in condition.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    A trained chimpanzee could do better marketing.

    Or an untrained chimp… or how about that chimp at the zoo that throws its own feces at zoo visitors.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    One needs to only look at the one star review at the recent prius to see why a manufacturer would be hesitant to say they need the credibility of the blogosphere to sell their cars.

    What guidelines does this site plan to use to prevent a car review from turning into that writer’s personal soapbox? What standards will be in place to ensure sports cars are not tested like econoboxes?

    Until these questions are addressed, carmakers will continue to overlook you as an outlet of credibity.

  • avatar
    ajla

    @psarhjinian:

    The Regal T-Type was basically a Grand National that offered colors other than black and had a smaller hood bulge, so that lends the name some performance credibility. Unfortunately for GM, only auto enthusiasts remember that model.
    ___

    Grand National might have worked if for no other reason than it has redneck appeal

    If GM does position the Regal as “the sporty mid-sizer of GM”, I’d be shocked if Maximum Bob didn’t make a Buick Grand National out of it within two years after its release.
    ___

    Don’t get me wrong on my comments here, I do not think that this is a good idea, I’m just trying to hypothesize GM’s reasoning.

  • avatar
    werewolf34

    I think in this hostile market for new cars, any chance that TTAC generates incremental sales would be a good thing. And it’s not like the car co’s aren’t sitting on huge inventories.

    I say get the cars. Let me know if you need a 2nd opinion on the Porsche testers.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    “One needs to only look at the one star review at the recent prius …. ”

    Only if you are playing tic-tac-toe does it work out that way. Look at it like a chess game and everything changes.

    Readers who would never consider buying a Prius would read the one star review and go “Hell Yea!”. Which doesn’t matter, because they never would have considered a Prius anyway. But, readers who in fact are in the target market the Prius is after are likely to read the review and go “Oh yeah, that writer is an idiot, I’ll show him!”.

    There seem to be precious few really smart chess players in the automotive marketing game. Many seem to care more about their careers and playing bush league office politics than they do about actually growing brands over the long haul.

  • avatar
    Ronman

    a week long test should definitely be the standard. even with experience there are things that you cant pick up in a day, the imperfections start dawning on you as the car matures in your hands.

    I also second the fact that TTAC should maintain driving dealership cars, but when given the chance of a manufacturer sponsored launch there is no harm in reviewing a first take. even with the prepped press cars, you can pick up a few fundamental faults, and the driving by experience is not all that different, because then the manufacturers would be marketing different cars than what they are selling.

    you would have to excuse some imperfections, after all they are humans behind them

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    With the 800+ miles of driving I usually do during the week, I’d be happy to put a newer steed to good use.

    TTAC should get weekly testers. It’s very hard to get a really clear picture of a vehicle from a dealer test drive. A longer period of time, possibly with even more than one tester (at least three of us writers now live in shooting distance with each other) would add a lot more perspective to the reviews.


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