By on August 31, 2011


Please excuse the self-congratulation, but little breakthroughs like this are a big deal for a site like TTAC. The American Journalism Review has a fantastic piece by Frank Greve on the murky and corrupted world of professional car reviewing, which is well encapsulated in the piece’s subtitle

The world of car reviewing is replete with expensive perks and fantasy vehicles. Consumer advocates need not apply.

And after running through the litany of corruptions endemic in the system, Greve concludes:

Web sites like Jalopnik and The Truth About Cars deliver more independent, aggressive and timely coverage for car enthusiasts than traditional car magazines like Motor Trend.

With all due respect to MT (which is but one of many), that sounds like the truth to me. As does Greve’s description of how press cars are allotted (by the likelihood of a positive review). And for one of his examples of the system at its worst, Greve describe an incident involving TTAC’s own Jack Baruth and the aftermath of his no-holds-barred review of the Porsche Panamera.

After describing the fawning reviews for the Porsche Panamera produced by sites like Autobytel and New Car Test Drive, the AJR piece continues

One freelance reviewer sang off key, however: Jack Baruth, a racer of Porsche 911s, and “a known malcontent” by his own admission. Baruth crashed a Panamera event for reviewers at the Road America track near Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, and reached a damning-by-faint-praise conclusion. “More fun to drive than any other four-door sedan,” Baruth declared in a five-minute video for LeftLane News.com. But the Panamera “couldn’t be any less like a 911,” he added. Although Baruth, a Web reviewer popular for his audacity, had previously gotten along with Porsche publicists, he’s been a nonperson with the automaker ever since.

Fong says there was nothing personal about Baruth’s exile. “One of the key questions we ask is whether a reviewer writes for a demographic that can afford a Porsche,” he says.

Baruth draws a different lesson from the experience: “Carmakers can make you noncompetitive,” he says.

Well, Mr Fong, as someone with access to TTAC’s Google Ad Planner data, let me be the first to inform you that 50% of TTAC’s readership makes $75,000 or more per year (congrats, folks!). 20% make $100k or more. So what do you say Mr Fong, do we get to review new Porsches now… or are you still as afraid of editorial independence as the AJR makes you out to be? And before you answer, remember this: with every piece like this, the walls of OEM control over editorial independence crumble a little more… and the sooner they fall down, the better.

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101 Comments on “American Journalism Review Condemns Car Review Standards, Applauds TTAC...”


  • avatar
    jplew138

    And as Jack has found out the hard way, the truth shall set you free…for all the wrong reasons.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      “The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.”

      -Gloria Steinem

    • 0 avatar

      As editor of New Car Test Drive, I take issue with Edward Niedermeyer’s description of our review of the Porsche Panamera as “fawning.” You could argue we glowed. But we did not fawn. I may fawn over a vintage race car, but I do not fawn over new cars, especially big luxury cars.

      That said, we liked the Panamera. I came to the Panamera not wanting to like it, but I ended up liking it. I attended the Porsche press preview at Road America and, after driving three versions of the Panamera, came away impressed. These cars are fast and easier to drive fast than most race cars I’ve driven. I found the interior roomy and comfortable. Overall, I think the Panamera is an interesting alternative to an S-Class or A8. Our review reflects these positive impressions.

      But we did not fawn. Here are some of the words we used in our review to describe the 2011 Panamera: “bulbous,” “ungainly,” “awkward,” “ugly-duckling.”

      Those are not fawning words.

      Frank Greve’s American Journalism Review piece did not mention those words in his description of our Panamera review. Greve thinks our reviews are long and bland. He is entitled to that opinion.

      But it was terribly unfair for Greve to suggest our reviews be labeled as advertising. They most certainly are not.

      In fact, there are no blurry lines here at New Car Test Drive. We don’t owe car companies or car dealers or anyone else any favors. We know credibility can only be sold once. Once sold, credibility can never be recovered. Our credibility is not for sale.

      As the editor of New Car Test Drive, I assign all the reviews to our correspondents, edit all the reviews and post them online. My duties end there. I am not at all involved in the marketing of our reviews and don’t even understand that end of the business. My editorial base is 3,000 miles from our publisher. Our publisher never meddles with our editorial work, never asks us to go easy on anyone, never tries to steer our editorial product in any way whatsoever. Never. I have complete control over our editorial content. Likewise, our correspondents are veteran automotive journalists who are completely independent of any advertisers or other outside influences.

      Greve cannot accept that.

      As proof we are in the tank for the car companies, Greve pointed to our review of the Porsche Panamera.

      http://www.newcartestdrive.com/review-intro.cfm?Vehicle=2011_Porsche_Panamera&ReviewID=4913

      Greve’s beef is that our review echoed the phrase “zero compromise” used in Porsche’s marketing campaign. We plead guilty to using the phrase “no compromise” in the review, but that’s hardly proof we are cow-towing to Porsche. At worst, it’s editorial laziness. More likely, it was editorial playfulness. But the important thing here is that what we said was truly our opinion. We said the Panamera does not compromise interior roominess to obtain its stellar performance. It doesn’t. It has as much rear-seat roominess and cargo space as the other big luxury cars in its class, including the Mercedes S-Class and Audi A8. I was surprised by that.

      The Panamera does sacrifice styling for interior roominess, and we addressed that in our review. I think the car is ugly from the rear three-quarter view. But park it next to the other luxury cars in this class (BMW 7 Series, Mercedes S-Class, Audi A8, etc.), and the Panamera has a lot of presence. Given those choices, I’d take the Panamera, thank you very much. If you want someone to notice and talk about your luxury car, the Porsche is the best choice. If you want a no-hassle appliance, then it may not be.

      Others may have a different opinion about the Panamera. That’s fine. We think having a lot of different voices out there is good for the consumer. But just because someone doesn’t agree with our opinion doesn’t mean we are corrupt. Our first loyalty is to our consumers who are shopping for a new car, our readers, not automakers or car dealers or advertisers.

      Exhibit 2 that we are in the tank for the car companies is Greve’s contention that we were not sufficiently critical of the styling of the 2009 Saab 9-3. Do I even need to respond to that? Perhaps we should have written more about the styling of the 9-3, but Saabs have never been about styling. Everyone but Greve knows this. He thinks the Hyundai Elantra is a better-looking car. He is entitled to his opinion. But that doesn’t mean, therefore, we are corrupt.

      Greve never says where this alleged influence over our copy is coming from. Maybe it’s swag, as one of your readers opined. If I recall, Porsche gave us a copy of a book on the Panamera. When no one was looking, I slipped mine back on the stack so I wouldn’t have to carry it on the plane. It was heavy. Or maybe you think I’d sell out for yet another nylon rip-stop briefcase with a car logo on it? Nearly every gift I’ve ever received from a press trip ends up at Goodwill.

      Press cars and press trips have been mentioned, so let me try to quickly address those.

      Greve takes a dim view of borrowing cars from manufacturers to test. What are we supposed to do? I’m eager to hear alternatives. Our job is to evaluate all the new cars and report what we find. Are we supposed to evaluate cars without driving them? Here at New Car Test Drive, we think test driving the car is kind of important. We drive them, study them, look them over very carefully. Does Greve think we should buy hundreds of cars a year, ship them around the country to our correspondents, then sell them? He doesn’t say what we are supposed to do, only that what we are doing is wrong. We can’t afford to buy our test cars. Even if we could, it would be difficult logistically given we need to complete our first look before the car even goes on sale. And even if we could overcome the timing hurdle, I think buying cars would be a poor use of resources that would be better spent on comparison testing and photography.

      Frankly, I don’t buy the bit about manufacturers not loaning cars to journalists who write negative reviews. As a PR strategy, that is a guaranteed failure. Past history has shown that it’s usually a PR disaster to react to a negative review by pulling cars, blacklisting, or pulling advertising. Then the story becomes about that. Typically, the manufacturer suffers a week or two of negative stories, and the PR guy caves under the pressure. Usually press cars are denied because the journalist doesn’t have an audience or because he abuses press cars. (Porsche is actually a bad example for this discussion because it’s a small company with a small budget stretched across lots of models. I rarely get Porsches.)

      But let’s say you don’t agree with me. How would pulling press cars or denying us from press trips work from a practical standpoint? Let’s look at that.

      If a manufacturer’s PR guy denied a press car that I had intended to review, I could simply have one of our correspondents obtain the car and write the review. But let’s say he wanted to fix us, and he denied the car to four of our correspondents. I’d have at least four more people I could assign. (And they write for multiple outlets, so he’d be screwing himself on several fronts.) But let’s say he barred all of our correspondents. Trust me, I could find someone. We would get the story. We’d check out another journalist’s car, we’d go to a dealership. Assuming all that failed, we would still have cars from three dozen other automakers to review. Aren’t our PR guy’s bosses going to start asking why reviews of their product aren’t getting published?

      That dog don’t hunt. We are not worried about losing press fleet privileges.

      Maybe Greve thinks we are afraid we will be denied a lavish flight in coach to a lavish press preview. We attend press previews for the access to cars. If we were about getting wined and dined, then how does Greve explain the fact that we skip any invitation, no matter how entertaining, that doesn’t offer an opportunity to check out a new car? Explain that one for me. But let’s say you don’t believe me and you still think we’re worried about getting blacklisted from press trips. Again, we have a sufficient number of correspondents going to these things that blacklisting one or several of us would not prevent us from having a correspondent at the preview. They can’t blacklist us all. But let’s say they could. In that case, we would simply wait and get a press car when available and write the review without the benefit of a product briefing. In the past, we have, in fact, missed a number of press launches for one reason or another. It delays publication but it’s not that big of a deal. Life goes on.

      So please tell me where this alleged influence is coming from. In fact, it does not exist. We are not influenced by outside pressure of any kind. To suggest we are is wrong and unfair.

      Unlike Frank Greve, I believe in the marketplace of ideas. There is no one correct way, there is no one correct Web site or magazine. A diversity of media is good for the consumer. We all have our niche, and consumers benefit from a variety of views about any car.

      New Car Test Drive is not intended to be literature. We try to evaluate cars and in a straightforward style report our impressions to consumers in the market for a new car. If we fail to do that, then criticize us. But there are reasons we do things they way we do them. Most of our readers are car shoppers interested in buying the subject car or a car in that class. So we don’t rant against a big luxury car because it’s a big luxury or rant against an SUV because it’s an SUV. We view the vehicle in the context of its class. Sports cars are not trucks, trucks are not sports cars. Nor do we insult people for wanting a certain type of car. We assume someone wants a vehicle in that class and price range and we critique it from that standpoint. Our reviews are not intended to entertain.
      That may not appeal to everyone, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

      - Mitch McCullough, editor-in-chief, New Car Test Drive

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Yeah Porsche, cause you know the only factual review of your car would have been to sing it’s praises to the highest heavens. (rolls eyes)

  • avatar
    A Caving Ape

    Oh, man, I’m really dragging the average down! Sorry guys.

    • 0 avatar
      SV

      Seriously. As a college student my income is actually quite negative!

    • 0 avatar
      ciddyguy

      Mine’s not all that fabulous either. :-(

    • 0 avatar
      Atomicblue

      Yippee, I’m an average income TTAC reader! But a Porsche is still not on my radar.

    • 0 avatar
      Tinker

      I’m retired, living on Social Security. Not quite up to a Porsche, anymore.
      Never much liked them.

      But the quote says nothing about averages. You either do or do not make $75,000/yr. You may make $2 Million or just barely make $75k, but there is no averaging. An average (arithmetic mean) is one of the least useful numbers for this purpose.

      The mode (the income of most readers) is a lot more useful. If your income is high enough you may make enough that a Porsche is entirely too “low class” for you.

  • avatar
    niky

    Three cheers for the Flying Vagina Squad! Truth in Motoring, even when it hurts.

    I guess it’s a fair bet Jack won’t be getting that 458 for review, either?

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    Well, Mr Fong. To paraphrase Woody Allen: “Your whole fallacy is wrong”. Lets face it, 90% of all Porsche reviews are fluff to raise brand awareness and make cheap copy. It has nothing to do with demographic buying power, because most people are not rich enough to have Porsche money to spare above their usual expenses anyway. Reviewing cars like Porsches is basically porn, it’s the icing on the cake to lure people into reading the rest of the stuff that is published. It’s escapism in its truest sense. Besides, even if Porsche owning Jack Baruth only wrote for his Porsche owning friends, it would mean that your statement is basically false. It has nothing to do with buying power, but everything to do with not taking corporate spin up the ass.

    • 0 avatar
      jplew138

      @Ingvar:

      Also remember, most people aren’t rich enough to pay for the inevitable repairs when something on their prized Porsche breaks, either.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      Considering how much they cost, a person would have to make well over $75k to actually be able to ‘afford’ a Porsche.

      • 0 avatar

        It does not compete with other cars….it competes with airplanes, boats and vacation homes, some of which are better investments. This battle is fought in the parking lots of a few select country clubs and bears no relation to the guy in nomex and a stripped 944 looking for one tenth less.

    • 0 avatar
      Buzz Killington

      “Hi, remember me? I was in here yesterday. You wouldn’t let me review your car. Your employer wants to sell cars, right? Big mistake. Huge.”

  • avatar
    Hildy Johnson

    So what is this about? Of course any sane marketing person would try to maximize the likelihood of a positive review.

    So in this sense, the Porsche person is right – it is not personal – he is just doing his job and following protocol.

    You speak your mind – you pay the price. This has always been so and will never change. The difference is only in the price – are you hard done by and deprived of driving Porsches around for free, or do you get off lightly and merely put your head under the Guillotine?

    • 0 avatar
      Ingvar

      There’s a difference between “maximising the likelihood of a positive review” and an outright embargo on anyone that even looks sideways. If a car is reviewed, there has to be some sort of fairness and balance. Otherwise, reviewers are nothing but whores putting out to the highest bidder. Even more so if the tons of perks they receive are not disclosed.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      So in this sense, the Porsche person is right – it is not personal – he is just doing his job and following protocol.

      You’re right. But I doubt that many of those who read car reviews understand that there is a perks system behind the content.

      Also, these specialty subjects such as car and travel writing exist primarily to sell advertising. The editors don’t intend the articles to be investigative pieces, but just to serve as the glue that holds the ads together. Between the editors and the writers, there isn’t that much desire to rock the boat.

    • 0 avatar
      twonius

      Aren’t they Porsche’s cars to do with as they wish anyway.

      Until readers start holding the writers of junket bought fluff pieces accountable should we expect anything different from porsche?

  • avatar
    Austin Greene

    Well as one of the 20% I must say more Baruth and less bul$hit.

    With thanks to TTAC I learned about the IMS hand grenade in the Boxster’s boxer and adjusted my automobile purchase accordingly.

    • 0 avatar
      MattPete

      My hunch is that I’m in the top 5%, and I come to TTAC first for all of my car reviews. Also, I learned long ago that Motor Trend is a shill-rag that is not to be trusted.

  • avatar
    Detroit-X

    Fong’s probably been beat too many times on the street, driving someone else’s Porsche.

    Mr. Fong wants reviews with the typical Porsche Fog. He’s afraid that Porsche will not stack up to today’s vastly improved “lesser” vehicles. He and Porsche fear the TTAC truth-in-reporting style. Oh, how thin, fragile, and fearful they really are, aren’t they?

  • avatar
    WRohrl

    Hey, it’s their ball, if they don’t like the way you play, they can take it home with them. I can’t really blame Porsche, it’s not like they NEED the press to sell their cars (or at least they didn’t used to need to). Anyone is free to BUY the car and then review it to their heart’s content but then again nobody says that Porsche is compelled to actually sell you a car either if it came to that.

    I’m not condoning crap car testing from the major magazines etc., but really, if anyone thinks that someone would give you something for free and then really expect you to HONESTLY review it in a national (or international) forum that can have huge financial implications for the reviewed item, they are delusional.

    Remember when CAR went so far as to put a picture of a lemon with a VW logo on the cover in about 1990? Quite a backlash towards them from VW for quite awhile but kudos to them for their apparent honesty in regard to their crappy long-term test car. As with anything else that is tested, the only TRULY INDEPENDENT trustworthy test is one where the reviewed article was purchased anonymously from among many identical others on a shelf or in a lot. Obviously unrealistic for most outlets. Long-term, should TTAC garner a significantly larger measurable following than at present, this is an issue that will recur and become the problem, i.e. do TTAC no longer review cars or do they only review the ones that they acquire through other means than directly from the manufacturer. How are you even sure that what is driven at a manufacturer event is really truly representative of what the public can buy off a lot? Karesh’s reviews where he reviews a car off a local dealer’s lot have more credibility than anything reviewed during a ride-and-drive event.

    It’s easy for someone to honestly review a car, it is difficult to impossible to sustain an enterprise with that as its main mission when one is fully dependent on the largesse of the manufacturers. Some of the German magazines buy their long-term cars. At the end of the test, they take the cars apart and lay the parts out and report on the findings in regard to wear etc. Pretty hard for a manufacturer to find fault with that approach, it becomes very onbjective at that point. Not something I have ever seen in an American media outlet.

    • 0 avatar
      outback_ute

      Wheels magazine in Australia put a lemon on wheels on the cover for their 1979 COTY issue, as they didn’t consider any car worthy. The big new release for the year was the Ford Falcon XD and something they could easily have given the award to in absence of any other standout release – Ford responded by taking out an ad in the magazine featuring lemons every manufacturers badge affixed and the line “sometimes being a lemon is not a bitter experience” or something along those lines. They also withheld the COTY award in 1991 or so from memory. A gutsy move really.

      I agree with your take on the ‘random’ test car. Refer to Chris Harris’ commentary on Ferrari press cars, there was also a case years ago here where a Holden Commodore SS was significantly faster than the hotted-up HSV version with higher power rating and virtually the same weight, drivetrain etc. A bit hard to explain away.

  • avatar
    sushytom

    Hire some more malcontents. It seems to be working.

  • avatar

    But the Panamera “couldn’t be any less like a 911,” he added.

    Haw.

    Can’t believe they mentioned JPNK.

  • avatar
    340-4

    I don’t even bother reading any reviews of expensive, foreign, fantasy vehicles anymore. No point.

    Same with OMG another BMW review or ZOMG this Porsche shaved 4 seconds off of its Hamburgluring time.

    Don’t. Care.

    Which, admittedly, is tied to ‘can’t have right now’, ‘probably will never be able to have unless it’s used and then I can’t afford to keep it maintained’ and ‘will never get a chance to drive one.’

    Not to say that I’d fawn all over a buff book plumped with beige reviews of equally beige cars. But honestly.

    I remember Motor Trend in the 80′s, full of domestic reviews. The pipe-smell and tweed of Road & Track and those odd little European cars from the 60′s to the 70′s. The clever snarkiness of C&D. There was substance. There was journalism. They had personality.

    It’s hard to suffer through a recent tome; look, another eight-page ad for rubber floor mats! Will they ever make enough hideous aftermarket rims inspired by vintage food-processor blades? Keep that car away from my cabbage! And who is this average-looking brunette who’s pushing her libido-drops?

    Less hip metaphors, more meat. TTAC comes with a bib. Enough said.

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    Truth be told…as this is what we try to do here…

    I am in the higher income percentage, but NOT the higher auto IQ.
    I hang around TTAC because the one thing I always did in business (and still do in my personal life) is surround myself with those better, more gifted and smarter than myself.
    People that make me laugh, keep me entertained and make me feel good.

    It is so here. I hang out on TTAC like a kid brother around bigger brother and his cool friends. I am in awe of the words written by the reviewers here.
    I mean, look at Jack. He is like the outlaw at college that never goes to class but get A’s and all the girls! His ability, as are so many here, to write with unbelievable historical references ONLY the well read can pull out!!!

    All this AND funny as well!
    I could list all of you that are so rich in these gifts, but everybody here knows.

    I would pay money to sit at a bar and listen to all of you folks.
    And there are not many I would say that about.

    I bow low to ya all.

    • 0 avatar

      Well said, TT. I share the same sentiment, even to those I vehemently disagree with. This quote sums it up well, courtesy of the old Aaron Sorkin show “Sports Night” –

      “It’s taken me a lot of years, but I’ve come around to this: If you’re dumb, surround yourself with smart people. If you’re smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you.”

      • 0 avatar
        sastexan

        Sports Night was the best written show on television. Ever. I forgot that quote, but it is absolutely appropriate here.

        TTAC helps feed my OCD on all things auto.

        And in the end, we read to fantasize about our own lives – live vicariously through the stories told. The stories here are real – which helps support the fantasy and make it even more realistic to ourselves. And we all feel a part of it.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      +1. I love to learn here, and am happy when I can contribute something I think may be entertaining and/or useful.

    • 0 avatar
      DrivnEZ

      TT I feel the same way, but I can’t say it as well as you do.

      Ed, Congratulations for your “truth-be-told non-compliant” award.

      Dez

  • avatar

    I’d love to sell out. Trouble is: nobody’s buying.

    And I take AIRMILES.

  • avatar
    Doc

    Congrats Ed! Nice to get some recognition for a job well done.

  • avatar
    mike978

    How does the Google ad system tell you the income distribution of TTAC readers? I don`t recall being asked my income or is it inferred from the ads I click? Just curious.

    • 0 avatar

      Mysteries of the universe. I try not to think too hard about it.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      IP address, matched to Census and other demographic data

      • 0 avatar
        Japanese Buick

        If that’s their method, it’s not very good. When I get shown location based ads, they usually think I’m in a city over 50 miles away. I guess that’s where my ISP’s firewall/proxy is.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        That makes me laugh. I’m in the 20th poorest county in the U.S. but my job provides me with good income (which it should as it requires a master’s degree and navigating some difficult “political” (in the career sense) waters.) Guess I’m one of the one’s “skewing” the data.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        “IP address, matched to Census and other demographic data”

        That doesn’t sound right. My IP address is in Chantilly, VA, and I get local ads for that area, but I live 90 miles north of downtown El Paso, TX, in the high desert of South Central New Mexico.

        And if a person uses an anonymizer to access the web, or routs their access through a university computer (.edu) the IP address would reflect the location where access enters the internet backbone only, because redirection to the end user is handled by the routing computer at that location. Just like the feds do it to remain anonymous when they ping your PC for inquiries.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        My IP address is in Chantilly, VA, and I get local ads for that area, but I live 90 miles north of downtown El Paso, TX

        That actually proves my point. The ad targeting is based upon the location of your IP, which may or may not be where you specifically are. Congratulations, you’ve fooled them.

        Some users have IP addresses that are located nowhere close to where they are. But most people do have IP addresses that bear some resemblance to where they are located. If your individual IP doesn’t, then you are an exception to the rule.

        The data mining is tied to the rules, not to the exceptions, even though everyone knows that it isn’t 100% accurate. It’s close enough.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        It is not my intention to fool anyone. It is just the luck of the draw.

        When I used an anonymizer out of OKC my IP address changed every time I logged on through my local ISP. One time my IP address read Leverkusen, Germany, and all my browser text and ads came back in German. Got my attention.

        If the data miners think that I live in Chantilly, who am I to argue with them? But on the flip side of that coin, how about all the people who are mis-identified as living in some Barrio in Los Angeles, when they really live in Bel Air? Or vice versa. Close enough?

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        The IP addresses are accurate enough to support their purposes.

        100% accuracy is not required. Nothing is 100% accurate, and everyone knows it. On the whole, there aren’t enough exceptions, and the exceptions aren’t substantial enough, in order to dissuade the marketers from using it.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        LOL! That must be why I’m inundated with targeted ads for investment opportunities, resort vacations and sea cruises.

      • 0 avatar
        ClutchCarGo

        “How does the Google ad system tell you the income distribution of TTAC readers?”

        Ve haff vays of knowing…

  • avatar
    Russycle

    One can’t help wonder that if the Detroit 3 weren’t so averse to criticism, and the media so willing(albeit understandably) to accommodate them, maybe they wouldn’t have seen their market share slide from 90% to less than 50.

    Leave it to Porsche to need a hanky after having their product called “more fun to drive than any other four door sedan”. Have you no shame, Baruth?

  • avatar
    Nostrathomas

    Anyone know Mr. Fongs email? This Porsche owner would love to give that blowhard a bit of a reality check.

  • avatar
    daviel

    As one of the 50%, I’m with Baruth.

  • avatar

    Fong says there was nothing personal about Baruth’s exile. “One of the key questions we ask is whether a reviewer writes for a demographic that can afford a Porsche,” he sayssniffs.

    I have a question for Gary Fong, product experience manager for Porsche Cars North America Inc.

    Mr. Fong, do you know how to use an internet search engine? If you did you would have found out that Mr. Baruth has already owned (ergo afforded) at least a couple of your company’s cars. Since your firm has ties to Volkswagen, you might want to also do a search on [Baruth Phaeton] while you’re at it.

    I’ll save you some time and let Jack relate it himself:

    Four years ago, I stood in “Die Glaserne Manufaktur,” Volkswagen’s stupendous “glass factory” in Dresden, and shook the hand of the plant manager. He squinted at me and said in clipped, correct English, “You are the man who owns two Phaetons in America. And… you are the man who takes them to the racetracks.”

    “Correct on both counts,” I replied.

    Now, Mr. Fong, Porsche has a long and distinguished racing history and it certainly uses that heritage in the marketing of its street cars. Porsche obviously feels that people who take their cars to “the racetracks” is part of its demographic. One would think that such a demographic would be interested in the opinion of someone who is not just a fellow Porsche owner, as you now know Baruth is, but one who is also an experienced track driver (and instructor, by the way). After all, Porsche does sell special “track” editions of your cars. Or are those just marked up and decontented ways of extracting more money out of poseurs?

    • 0 avatar
      Hildy Johnson

      Please reread

      http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/ttac-breaks-embargo-with-exclusive-911-gt3-rs-4-0-first-drive/

      (quote: ‘…Porsche has literally urinated on the dying corpses of the competition as it drives over their families like Ferdinand’s own “King Tiger” tank …’)

      and tell us again with a straight face that Porsche can expect fair and impartial reviews from Mr. B.

      Mr. Fong would be an idiot to bet his job on this remote possibility.

      • 0 avatar

        That was pretty obviously a piece of satire, doubtless inspired by Jack’s experience with Mr Fong. As Editor-in-Chief of this site, I take the integrity of our reviews very seriously. If Porsche (or any automaker) has questions or concerns about our coverage, my inbox is always available. This site has a history of publishing rebuttals to our work, so that avenue is always a possibility in extreme cases.

      • 0 avatar
        Hildy Johnson

        “As Editor-in-Chief of this site, I take the integrity of our reviews very seriously.”

        I don’t doubt that. However, at this point I understand Mr. Fong’s decision to not take any chances.

      • 0 avatar

        And he has the same opportunity to say so that you do. In this piece at least he doesn’t make that argument.

      • 0 avatar
        Ingvar

        “However, at this point I understand Mr. Fong’s decision to not take any chances.”

        So, when cars are reviewed on the makers dime, do you mean that:

        1. That fact should not be disclosed?
        2. Positive reviews are mandatory?
        3. Satire is in no way allowed under any circumstances?

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        So, when cars are reviewed on the makers dime, do you mean that…

        I think that the point being made here is that Mr. Fong made a prudent business decision on behalf of his employer.

        Mr. Fong’s role at the company is not to advance the cause of free speech, but to promote his company’s products. As consumers of media, it’s our job to analyze the nature of what we see and read, and to understand how these things get turned into published and broadcast material.

        As it turns out, a lot of automotive “journalism” is just a blend of porn and PR. It is widely seen as a marketing tool and as a way to put eyeballs to advertising, not as a means of bringing freedom, justice and the American/ German/ Japanese/ Korean (and soon to be Chinese) way to the oppressed car buyers of the world.

      • 0 avatar
        Hildy Johnson

        “And he has the same opportunity to say so that you do. In this piece at least he doesn’t make that argument.”

        His employer, and by extension he himself, has nothing to gain from publicly tussling with journalists and thereby drawing attention to the action behind the scenes.

      • 0 avatar
        Philosophil

        Well said, Pch101.

      • 0 avatar
        tedward

        pch101

        “I think that the point being made here is that Mr. Fong made a prudent business decision on behalf of his employer.”

        Yeah, but now that we’re having this discussion online it turns out that he made a poor decision. I think he probably made the call which he thought would make it seem as if he was being conservatively business conscious. The fact that he was wrong is what I’ll judge the quality of his work by. It wasn’t prudent, and it surely isn’t turning out to be in his employer’s best interest.

        To be fair this guy is probably some sort of enthusiast carrying out what he believes is standard company policy. I don’t know this at all, but I have to suspect its the case. Hopefully this push back allows others in his position to have a more open policy with the auto press in the future, but that only happens if we make the consequences harsh.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Congratulations TTAC! Ed and crew, you guys are doing a splendid job.

    Although I do fit some of the income demographic, I’m more of a “cruising” enthusiast and not so much a driving “enthusiast”, hence my love for mostly larger cars, but I love the industry and reading about it, and after reading accounts like the above subject, well, that just makes my reason for signing up here over a year ago a good thing. I have learned a lot and continue to learn. The comments and commenters sometimes crack me up, as well as the avatars!

    Yes, this is the right place to be for new car reviews and the auto industry as a whole.

    Well done!

  • avatar
    GoFaster58

    I quit trusting Motor Trend and Consumer Reports years ago.

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      Those two sources couldn’t be more different. MT is an ad revenue driven bought out rag and CR is completely independent and reasonably unbiased. CR accepts no ad dollars and buys all of the products it tests from stores or dealers.

    • 0 avatar
      Madroc

      In college in the late ’90s, I used to grab old magazine binders off the library shelf and flip through them for fun. One day I was perusing a MT from the early ’80s and saw an article about an exciting new product from GM that would compete with the 3 Series. That car was the Cadillac Cimarron. I have not read Motortrend anywhere but a waiting room since.

      Online user reviews also skew positive due both to confirmation bias (I made a smart purchase!) and the simple fact that most people buy a car after looking at several and picking the best one. But read enough of them and you can get a good sense about what’s good or bad relative to the competition. You can also get realistic pricing information online if you know where to look. Then you just have to drive them and make your own decision. Car mags are pure pr0n and PR. Crowdsourcing has made them obsolete for any other purpose.

  • avatar
    vww12

    He he.

    Ability to buy a Porsche?

    Fong, you ought to look at my car garage. Healthy funds there not spent on Porsches, and with that attitude, unlikely that any of the pretentious Stuttgart stuff is going to be joining any time soon.

  • avatar

    Congrats guys!

  • avatar
    probert

    Congrats to TTAC. I also like how several people will review the same car.

    Consumer reports circumvents all this by buying cars incognito on their own dime. They also accept no advertising. Where there’s a will there’s a way.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    While I am not wanting, nor having the ability to buy a Porsche, I have an interest in cars in a more pedestrian way, though one that provides a load of FUN. I had that once with my 1983 Honda Civic I drove from ’92-98 and put some 70K miles on it in roughly 6 years of trouble free miles outside of the usual maintenance like new CV boots, tires, exhaust, brakes, the usual wear items outside of the oil and plugs/filter changes every 5000 miles or so.

    That was the best $1500 I’ve spent outside of the $3000 I spent on the ’92 Ford Ranger truck I currently drive and I’ve put around 45K miles on that thing in 5.5 years with only 2 breakdowns total, both having to do with the master and slave cylinders for the clutch and I paid $3K for it in 2006.

    Congrats on this acknowledgement and while I don’t fit the $75K annual income you say most of the B&B make, I still enjoy reading about cars and the industry and I most enjoy articles on how the car has shaped our lives, such as those from Muralee Martin.

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    The last time I looked at the American Journalism Review it was unduly tame, at least compared to the Columbia Journalism Review. So I will now pay more attention to it.

    The article was decent, but I question putting TTAC in the same league at Jalopnik regarding journalistic “independence.” To say that suggests a pretty low bar.

    Even TTAC has its limits. If I were a p.r. hack for an automaker or trade association I’d be pretty happy with TTAC’s basic attitude toward regulatory, environmental and labor issues.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      ttac is a lot more cautious in its declarations and opinions so as not to offend anyone.

      But ttac needs to be commended for the article on the Panamera. Although I fall into the demographic that could be interested in buying a Porsche and can afford to do so, I have no inkling to ever buy a Porsche. It’s a toy. Not my style or type of ride.

    • 0 avatar
      L'avventura

      I’ve made the same observation. Being put in the same sentence with Jalopnik, or any other Gawker site, is not really high-praise journalistically. Gawker seem to pleasure unashamedly in the ‘News of the World’ school of journalism.

      In fact, I would call Jalopnik everything wrong with automotive journalism these days. Yes, they certainly are more independent than the traditional print magazines, but they’ve mutated into something entirely worse.

      As far as TTAC, there is at least a sincere attempt to support their opinions with real logic, and an actual constructive comments section where disagreements to those opinions can be vetted. Jalopnik is mere tabloid trolling; ‘clicks for cash’ with a comments section filled with vain attempts at being witty.

      I don’t agree with TTAC on many occasions but never have I gotten the impression that TTAC’s opinions are merely stated for Denton-pleasing shock-value. There is at minimal a genuine conviction in their opinions and a real attempt to start some level of intellectual discourse.

      While I personally don’t have very much regard for that American Journalism review, I would say that TTAC is easily the pinnacle of automotive blogs in terms of insightful articles as well as the diversity and civility of its readership.

    • 0 avatar

      If I were a p.r. hack for an automaker or trade association I’d be pretty happy with TTAC’s basic attitude toward regulatory, environmental and labor issues.

      It’s all those free CAFE cups, jaunts to Louisiana beach parties, and “It’s good to be the King” DVDs. Even TTAC needs to show its gratitude somehow.

      • 0 avatar
        Dr Lemming

        Clever redirect, but that’s not where I was going. I suspect that TTAC’s basic approach to covering regulatory, environmental and labor issues is primarily steeped in the rather hard-core libertarian leanings of founder Robert Farago.

        Beyond that, journalism IS a fundamentally political field. All journalists and the outlets they work with must at times ask themselves if a controversial story they are about to publish may undercut the access they need to continue doing their jobs. It’s an entirely reasonable debate that has both ethical and business considerations.

        Once upon a time TTAC was small enough that it didn’t matter all that much whether some p.r. flack got mad at you. As you’ve grown I assume that issues of access have become a more pressing internal debate. This is to be expected. It is also something to watch, because as you know this can be a very slippery slope.

      • 0 avatar

        Dr Lemming, you bring up a good point. Slippery slopes are everywhere, and given the issues pointed out in the piece, it’s reasonable to assume that non-review coverage might be seen as way to counter-balance harshness in the reviews. In reality though, I think the opposite is largely the case. The feedback I’ve received from large OEMs has been almost universally positive when it comes to reviews and less so for our other content (to be clear, I count “positive feedback” as PR reps sighing and saying “we can’t really find anything to complain about”). I’d point to our CAFE coverage as just one way in which our non-review analysis bucks the industry’s “party line.”

        In some respects, just pointing to the perks and soft corruption is only part of the problem. The real issue is the output of the auto journalism community. Nearly every writer here at TTAC has been on a “junket” of some kind or received a press car… exposure to that side of this business is inevitable, especially when you work with a tiny budget. What matters is the ability to point to your writing and say “judge this on its own merits.” Whether with new car reviews, industry analysis, interviews or news coverage, I think the key is adding value for readers and providing something that withstands scrutiny and the test of time.

        The irony is that, with our much, much, much smaller budget than a lot of big car blogs, let alone the buff books, we should be more vulnerable to industry corruption. At the end of the day though, only two things really separate TTAC from the pack: 1, we take immense pride in our work, even to the point of occasionally fighting like cats and dogs behind the scenes and 2, by inviting our readers to be a crucial part of our content, we empower you to keep us honest.

        By holding us to a high standard, you, the readers, are the heros here. By visiting TTAC and commenting here, you are creating the demand for a higher level of content and integrity in auto journalism. Without your vocal demand, the sad truth is that there would be no reason to supply the content and coverage that we do. So stop slapping us on the back for a moment, and take some credit for yourselves! And never stop keeping us honest…

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Dr Lemming, Farago had his style. Edward and Bertel have theirs. Farago didn’t make any money on ttac. Edward and Bertel are trying to do better than break even.

        It’s all in how each presents the ‘truth’ to the reading public. Edward and Bertel are a lot more cautious in their editorials yet manage to tiptoe the fine line of facts trying not to offend any of their paying advertisers.

        The fact that so many people from so many different walks of life and industry faithfully read the articles on ttac illustrates that Edward and Bertel have cultivated a loyal following of their own, with their own style.

        I say that whatever Edward and Bertel are doing is working for them, and to keep up the good work. What we read here often is pure gold, and is helpful to many trying to manage their involvement in the US auto industry (from any number of perspectives – sales, marketing, advertising, R&D, labor, etc).

      • 0 avatar

        Speaking for myself, I couldn’t care less about offending advertisers. But I do care a lot about offending the sensibilities of intelligent readers.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Bertel doesn’t have any old connections in the VW empire that can put the screws to the Porsche NA media squad?

    • 0 avatar
      tedward

      I would bet every last cent that the Porsche America branches, if not int. corporate, are very aware of these threads. Here’s the pattern, if we start getting a measured # of in-post responses the NA people have decided to act on this all on their own. If we get radio silence followed by an overwhelming barrage of across the board Porsche PR chatter this series of articles has reached the mothership, where some very angry German is screaming at his NA counterparts, “WHY THE HELL IS THIS COMING ACROSS MY DESK!”

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    Some of us are here for the truth, some of us are here to listen to Baruth and some of us are here for the interesting debate. But remember, some of us are here for the Panther love.

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    I particularly enjoy Mike’s reviews. He doesn’t write with the flourish or humor of JB, but I appreciate his “just the facts, ma’am” approach, and pretty much no one else offers as good of an analysis on interior quality.

    For the average car buyer, I think one of Mike’s reviews combined with Brian from CNet’s analysis of the in car tech is enough to determine whether a car is worth a trip to the dealer or not. The big mags at this point are just tired and sad shadows of what they once were.

  • avatar
    dwight

    I read Motor Trend and Road and Track for the flashy, sexy car articles but I use this site to get the down and dirty real stuff. And I’m glad that TTAC doesn’t have 100 articles about, Porsche’s, Mercedes and BMWs. Except for the ones that show up in the curbside classics. Those are usually in my price range.

  • avatar
    autointelligence

    I doubt ” 50% of TTAC’s readership makes $75,000 or more per year (congrats, folks!). 20% make $100k or more.” impresses the people at Porsche much. This stat matches up more with Toyota than Porsche. I think the Porsche demo is more like $250k, so only 20% over $100k is a pretty low number.

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      Agreed. With the base price of the Panamera at $74k which can be optioned up to $134k, a $100k income qualifies for entry level Porsche. Just barely.

      But I think Fong was just side stepping the issue. The demographic didn’t matter as much as that he couldn’t outright say “it would be stupid for Porsche to subsidize bad publicity”.

  • avatar
    harshciygar

    Serious congrats TTAC, and keep it up.

  • avatar
    slance66

    Loved C&D back in the 80′s. I especially loved the P.J. O’Rourke pieces. His piece on driving the Ferrari used to film Vacation from New Jersey to L.A. is probably the best automotive article I’ve ever read. Oddly enough, Jack brinks a similar humor and sarcasm to play. Not quite P.J. as a writer, but a much better driver. Congrats all the same.

    By the way, I agree with autointelligence, except that even $250k is probably rather light for new Porsche ownership, unless you live somewhere with cheap housing or are spending far too much of your pay on cars.

  • avatar
    mcs

    “One of the key questions we ask is whether a reviewer writes for a demographic that can afford a Porsche,” he says.
    That’s flawed logic. You need to pay attention to future customers like college students as well.

  • avatar
    WheelMcCoy

    I went to leftlane news to see how hostile Jack was in his review. I couldn’t find it and was too lazy to dig further. But based on the excerpts above, Jack wasn’t very rude, just blunt. As some posts mentioned, Fong was just being prudent and doing his job. We’re not doing Jack any favors by inundating Fong with angry letters.

    If I were Fong, I would have spun it differently. Those old enough to remember the Trident gum commercials will recognize “4 out of 5 dentists recommend trident gum for patients who chew gum”. Well, Fong could have said “4 out of 5 testers can’t find compromises in the Porsche Panamera. The fifth one, well, he’s Baruth. Jack Baruth. And he races our machines to the extreme. He can sniff a bottle of motor oil and tell you what year it was bottled and where it was refined. Like James Bond, he drives fast cars and gets all the girls too. For the rest of us, there are no compromises.”

    Fong and Porsche, please give Jack another chance.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Hey, Mr. Fong. Top 5% here – paid AMT last year. Still think the Panamera is butt ugly and over priced. Take that bitches.

  • avatar
    Junebug

    First – Congrats TTAC, I agree that you guys are the real deal. And I’d like to point out that Top Gear did a piece on the over-blown Panamerica, what was JC’s comment? Something like “hideous”

    Oh, and maybe Motor Trend is getting better or the Ford check bounced, either way, their review of the new Explorer was priceless!

    • 0 avatar
      niky

      But JC spouts so much outrageous inanity on a regular basis that manufacturers and viewers have learned to pass it off as “entertainment”. When Clarkson slags off a car, it doesn’t hurt sales one bit… it just makes people even more interested in it.

      Bet you 99% of Crossfire buyers didn’t even know it existed until JC called it a dog taking a ****… Crossfire sales that year dipped only slightly compared to the year before… then absolutely tanked the next. If they’d let Top Gear take potshots at it every year, it might still be around today.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    So, as I understand it, when Mr. Fong wants your honest opinion, he’ll tell it to you….

    Nothing new here….move along. Just corporate reindeer games….

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Given the cost of even the cheapest Porsche, the cost of insuring them and the cost of keeping them running, I would say that $200K income, with no dependents, is pretty much the entry point for buying a new one. . . unless you live in some place where you can buy a modest house for the price of a Panamera.

    Porsche’s target market for cars like the Panamera is people with seven-figure annual income and eight-figure net worth. That said, the notion that Motor Trend hits that demographic to any significant degree is risible.

    I read Jack’s review and watched his video, and neither one had me reaching for the barf bucket. The essence of Jack’s review is that the Panamera is sort of a “camel” — a horse designed by a committee. It’s not really a righteous sports car a la 911; and there are better German luxo barges, if that’s what you want.

    I suppose Mr. Fong took offense because, indirectly, Jack pointed out the absurdity of the car. I mean seriously, folks, in the U.S. where are you going to get away with sustained speeds much over 80 mph and how likely is it that your 3 passengers are going to be enjoying the experience of accompanying your hooning? So owning that kind of car is insane . . . or really, it’s about impressing your buddies at the firm that, unlike the owners of the S-Klasse, or the A8 or the stretched 7-series, you’re young and spirited.

    Actually, you’re stupid. If you’re young and spirited — and have that kind of money — then buy a sports car for yourself to indulge your inner Fangio, because no one wants to be along for the ride when you’re doing it.

    Jack was coming dangerously close to puncturing the illusion which sells the cars. Can’t have that happening!

  • avatar
    HiFlite999

    The swag bag of perks given out to automotive “journalists” can’t help but influence reviews, as well as the fact much of their basic salary is paid for by pullable advertising. The JC vs Porsche spat is illustrative of what I think will eventually happen to German cars in general. The price premium for these cars is largely unjustifiable in any economic sense. In the past, they were bought by “engineering-enthusiasts”. While some are bought for similar reasons today, including many TTAC readers, most now are bought for their ego-emissions. That emitted image is rapidly turning from positive to strongly negative. “Arrogant Ass” would be one of the more polite images. Like the emperor without clothes however, the shift has been largely unnoticed by the more recent image-buyers. Even ignoring the rational reasons against buying German (cost, unreliability), and the fact I’ve had German cars for ~25 years of my auto-owning life, I will never own another based on the present general perception of the kind of people who drive one. Such antics described above on the part of Porsche only reinforce the correctness of my decision.

  • avatar
    msquare

    What I don’t understand is why Mr. Fong took such offense to Jack’s review. It’s not all that out of line with what everyone else has been saying about the Panamera since Porsche started entertaining the idea of a 4-door sedan with the 989 over 20 years ago.

    Porsche can apply its engineering expertise to just about anything and it will be well turned-out. The question has always been whether it’s a good idea. Jack already has first-hand experience via his VW Phaetons. Nice cars, but what’s the point?

    A good PR person would feed Jack lots of cars he likes and use the ones he pans as examples of his integrity. Wheel McCoy has it right.

  • avatar
    jeffzekas

    I came really close to buying a Porsche… but I kept hearing disturbing reports about expensive repairs and major mechanical failures… So, thank god for TTAC! Whilst all the other car magazines were praising the Porsche, there was this one blog giving contrary information… needless to say, after my son bought a Boxster (and disposed of it, four days later, due to a bad motor), I was cured of my Porsche interest… and yes, I make enough money to buy the sportscar “Engineered for magic”… But I am done falling for expensive, breakable cars… Do I want a fun vehicle? Yes. Pricy and unreliable? No. And yes, many years ago, I actually believed that the car magazines were unbiased and accurate… so, I assume some folks STILL believe in the “objectivity” of rags like Car & Driver and Road & Track!

  • avatar

    Jack made one inexcusable mistake. He said an A8 is better than a Panamera. I guess you had to be in that world for an extended period to understand the seriousness of the crime committed ….


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