I may be the only auto journalist who hates the Cadillac CTS-V Wagon. Funny, because I like station wagons. And I like the CTS-V. A lot.
At the CTS Coupe launch in June of 2010, a Cadillac exec told me that only 5 were needed to be built to break even, making it effectively a wonderful bribe for journalists. Say nice things about GM products (and hell, maybe even bash the competition) and you can have one of these for a week. Or a year.
I’ve only seen one privately owned CTS-V Wagon ever. By comparison, I’ve seen three separate Mercedes R63 AMG wagons, a vehicle that could only be ordered, not purchased off the lot. It wasn’t long before even menswear fashion bloggers were driving this thing for a week, delivered to their door with a tank of gas and insurance provided. The world kept on buying Camrys. CTS sales were marginal.
Taking a page out of Cadillac’s PR playbook is Mercedes-Benz. A friend of mine uploaded the above Facebook photo – a brown E63 station wagon. The E63 wagon is a special order car. You cannot just walk in and buy one off the lot. The one pictured above is obviously a press car, so somebody at Mercedes PR knew exactly what they were doing – AMG customers, as a rule order their wares only in silver, black or white. So why brown? Simple, car geeks love brown. Liking brown cars gives you a weird, hipster-like status. Precisely because brown cars are considered repulsive to society at large, those who pledge allegiance to brown cars must be true enthusiasts to love such an obscure hue.
Our first review of the $111,665 Teutonic Turd (really, that’s what it looks like) comes from the world’s foremost expert on high performance wagons. A cursory glance at the article suggests that the E63 wagon is awesome. I may be the only auto journalist to have never driven an AMG car at 10/10ths on an autocross course, but I do know that nightclub floozies from the Commonwealth of Independent States absolutely adore them.
While we at TTAC mock the idea of flying “social media influencers” on charter jets across the country, there’s actually a much cheaper way of bribing social maladroits to say nice things about your company – give them a press car that’s tailored to their geeky, self-satisfied sense of sophistication. Having manufacturers send ringers into the press fleet is nothing new, but tailoring press cars just to suit the tastes of a very small cadre of automotive autistics is something that hasn’t been seen before.
The broader issue here has nothing to do with ethics, or Motor Trend’s relevance, but the evolution of PR tactics in an age where someone with 1,000 Twitter followers (half of them bots for X-rated wbesites) can be considered someone of influence. Pandering to the automotive press used to mean sending call-girls up to their rooms on press trips. Now it means ordering a very narrow interest presser in the hopes that it pays dividends in future.
Is $111,665 really such a big sum to ensure some good press? Compared to the millions of dollars spent on advertising, marketing, PR and/or damage control when one of your execs is caught committing dipping into company funds for personal uses, or bribing 22 foreign governments it’s not such a big figure. Or maybe a drive in the E63 means that your products will get good press, your competitors will get slagged and all of that will help you capture some imaginary, arbitrary bragging rights?
I saw Dave Chapelle in 2007, right after his “breakdown”, and during the performance, he explained why he turned down Comedy Central’s $50,000,000 offer. Dave said that the execs wrote the check and then metaphorically “laid their dick across the table, over the money. To get the money, I’d have to grab their dick, lift it up, and take it.” We all know Dave didn’t take the money. But someone took the keys to the E63.