(Today’s guest post comes from Peter Dushenski. While most journalists love to brag about what kind of press cars they can get access to, Peter is here to share the story of how he got banned from from fleets. It’s one you won’t often hear. – DK)
“Also I must inform you that I will no longer be supplying you with Toyota or BMW vehicles.”
That was it.
That was the very last line in an e-mail I received last week from The Press Fleet Manager. No explanation followed. Not even a sign-off remark. No “Sincerely”, no “Regards”. No frivolity.
This was particularly unexpected because I’d merely e-mailed her to request a leave of absence from the fleet schedule while I vacationed in Israel with my fiancée next month. Unless she had connections with Better Place, I wasn’t expecting more of a response than “Ok, thanks.”
After a follow-up phone call, she informed me that BMW had found my Mini Countryman review “offensive”, that Toyota didn’t see how my Venza review catered to their intended demographic, and that I was an entitled young punk who didn’t realize how quickly I could be replaced. And just like that, I was banned from BMW and Toyota Canada’s press fleets.
So let’s take a look at what one car company found so irrelevant and the other so insulting.
Mini is known the world over for its unconventional ad campaigns. It’s this fun and tangential marketing that keeps their ergonomically inept city car fresh after a decade of relative stagnation. It turns out, however, that it’s only kosher if Mini is the one doing things differently.
My comparison of the Mini Countryman and Ford Focus last Fall was, from my perspective, an unqualified success. The feedback on my use of Ali G-aping hood slang was overwhelmingly positive. Readers seemed to enjoy reading my experimental style just as much as I enjoyed writing it. It’s worth noting that writing in this style is not only challenging but also surprisingly labour intensive. I lost track of the hours I spent writing and re-writing that article, fiddling with various tones and styles. I was quite proud of the result, particularly my analysis of the seating arrangement:
Startin’ wit’ da Countryman, we see dat it only seats 4 of yo peeps, which be meanin’ dat one of yo crew be walkin’. Dat some bullshit fo real! To add in salts to yo injuries, the seats be so flat dat da walls be jealous. Snap! Doze seats wrap around yo skinny ass like yo arms wrap around a Californ-I-A Redwood. It ain’t even close.
BMW Canada didn’t seem to care for my references to active transportation, homophonic sodium chloride, and American forestry. They found it offensive! BMW/Mini probably didn’t like losing the comparison test either. Maybe Porsche’s promotional policies, the ones Jack is always raving about, are gaining wider appeal?
The crazy thing is that I never even asked to drive BMW’s press cars in the first place. Like several manufacturers such as Audi, Volvo, and Subaru, BMW doesn’t have a regular press fleet for the Prairies. BMW normally reserves their Canadian press vehicles for privileged Torontonians like Derek and Vancouverites like Brenden. The fairly awful Mini Countryman was an anomaly and I still can’t figure out what it was doing in Edmonton, other than getting whooped by a Ford.
So finding out that I was cut from BMW’s nonexistent fleet was nothing less than redeeming. HQ almost certainly hadn’t realized that I was even driving the Countryman. That they took the time to read my review was an honour.
Then there’s the matter of Toyota’s press fleet. I’ve lost track, but I’ve reviewed either seven or eight Toyota products over the past 15 months, and it never seemed that Toyota was too concerned with my take one way or another. They could’ve taken exception with my review of the Scion xD, which remains the single worst new car I’ve ever driven, but they didn’t. Even when I called the xD the Worst Car Reviewed in 2011, they took the criticism like a champ, if they noticed at all. But as I mentioned earlier, according to The Press Fleet Manager, it was my Venza review that broke the camel’s back.
Right before I left for Berlin last August (I like traveling, ok?), I drove the 4-cylinder AWD Venza for a week. It was the automotive equivalent of a University lecture on the differentiation of B-lymphocytes into antibody-forming plasma cells. Trust me. After 10 days in the western part of the reunified capital, I was still struggling to make the Venza review anything other than methodically dull. Then, suddenly, while meditating in the impossibly cool lobby of the Karim Rashid-designed nhow hotel, I had the vision to write out the review by hand and scan the paper. I’m not one to question inspiration, so I went with it. I even went so far as to Crayola a concept for a more exciting Venza.
I’d done some hand-drawn blogging before, most notably with pencil crayons for this Peter Orosz-approved Martian GT3 piece, so this wasn’t uncharted territory for me. My chicken scratched critique of the Venza, however, was so off the mark from Toyota Canada’s expectations that they went into convulsions on the floor, vomiting beige until their abs could take no more. My reckless doodling was simply too fringe for Toyota’s predictable target customer. BMW felt the same way about my slangin’.
And they have a point: I wasn’t appealing to their target audience. But nor am I supposed to. Both companies already have full-fledged marketing departments to cater to the people who “should” buy their cars. It’s my job to tease out the people who shouldn’t.
If I were a marketing company directly charging Mini and Toyota for my work, the invoice would be into the five figures before I lifted a Crayon. Providing me with a few hundred dollars worth of seat time is a steal for them. My creative services are essentially being provided free-of-charge. I was taking creative risks, not just because I have the luxury and inclination, but because I have to.
Besides, taking risks is fun! With the Countryman and Venza reviews, you might say that these risks didn’t pay off. But I take lots of risks, and I don’t expect them all to pay off.
Owling the Raptor was a risk. Hand-writing a review was a risk. Drawing a picture was a risk. Writing in hood slang was a risk. Discussing philosophy on a car blog is the biggest risk I’m taking right now. Will it pay off? Based on the positive reception in the last two months, I’d say yes.
Sometimes my perspectives are pretty out there, but I’d argue that the perspectives that test us are even more important than the perspectives we already have. New ideas and a diversity of backgrounds are what make TTAC and the B&B unparalleled. I often find inspiration on these very pages, making this particular opportunity all the more cherished and my gratitude towards Derek all the greater for extending this opportunity.
Blogging isn’t my primary occupation; it’s my labour of love. As such, I have the luxury of taking risks and occasionally ruffling feathers. I don’t have to worry about pissing off advertisers the way writers at larger publications, both print and online, do. Really, losing press fleet access is the worst thing that can happen to me, and it’s far from life changing.
Even though I won’t get to bag a new FR-S, I’ll continue to share my worldly and uncommon perspectives for as long as I enjoy doing so. I take pleasure in exploring ideas and taking creative risks, and I hope that I can encourage you, the B&B, to do the same.
Some risks, it seems, pay off. Even when you’d swear they don’t.
Peter Dushenski is the risk taker behind CarEnvy.ca