Dear fellow Chrysler/Plymouth/Imperial/Dodge/DeSoto fans,
It appears that some of you are not happy with our man Derek’s review of the new Jeep Cherokee. I can understand that; like many of you, I wanted the Cherokee to be a solid if not superior product. Today, however, I saw that Allpar.com’s administrator has called for Chrysler to blacklist TTAC from future press vehicles. I thought I’d take a moment to discuss with you why an attitude like this is bad news for everyone, including the Mopar Nation or whatever the long-suffering group of Chrysler loyalists is being called at the moment.
If you’ll indulge me for a moment before we get to the meat of the discussion, however, I want to respond personally to allegations made on Allpar and elsewhere that we are “out to get” Chrysler, and the occasional allegation that I personally am “out to get” Chrysler. I bought a 1995 Neon new from the showroom floor. I factory-ordered a 2004 SRT-4. I bought and campaigned an original Neon Challenge ACR in NASA until I was put in the wall — and then my team and I built another Neon from a bare shell to logbook racer in twenty days. I’ve competed in Dodge and Plymouth automobiles from California, where we won ChumpCar in a Neon Coupe, to Ohio where my ACR was the only car to finish in the top five of both wet and dry NASA National Championship qualifying races. This f**king morning I bought a 2.4 DOHC engine to use for the 2014 NASA race season. I’ve seen more flags behind the windshield of a Mopar product than all but the most committed racers. I’ve voted for Chrysler with my own money again and again and will continue to do so.
Okay. End of rant. The objections brought up on forums regarding Derek’s review mostly fell into two categories, which I’ll cover separately below.
“These were pre-production automobiles. Why did Derek complain about the fit and finish on them?” On the surface, this sounds completely reasonable. If Derek was informed that the Cherokees he was being given to drive weren’t ready for prime time, so to speak, why not ignore the little stuff and focus on the important aspects of the vehicle? I’d suggest that he did focus on the important aspects of the vehicle. He and I discussed the problems he was seeing with the Cherokees multiple times. It wasn’t just fit and finish; it was a failure to ride, handle, and address NVH as well as the best competitors in the CUV field. Where the Jeep had “wins” — against the RAV4, for instance — he said as much. It wasn’t just a matter of mis-stitched steering wheels.
But what if it had been just a matter of mis-stitched steering wheels? Do you, the Allpar or Edmunds or whatever forum reader, want us to hide that from you? Do you want us to keep secrets from you about the fit and finish of vehicles we drive just because the pretty girl sitting next to us at dinner pats our arm and says “Oh, I know the steering wheels are all terrible, but I promise we’ll have them right in production”? Are you more comfortable if we just take the manufacturer’s word for this stuff? Or do you want us to report on what we saw truthfully and leave the determination about what the manufacturer might or might not do on the production line up to you?
Imagine, for example, that every Cherokee on the drive had a stalling problem. If we kept our mouths shut about that at Chrysler’s request, and then you bought a Cherokee and it had a stalling problem, wouldn’t you have suffered from our willingness to adjust our ethics to please the site administrator at Allpar.com? Is that guy going to come to your house and fix the stalling problem for you? “Oh, but,” some of you will say, “a mis-stitched steering wheel isn’t as important as a stalling problem.” Fair enough — but do you want to pay $37,000 and get something that isn’t up to par? I ordered my SRT-4 sight unseen, trusting that what I had read about the car was honest. Shouldn’t we extend the same courtesy to you? Should our loyalty be to you, or to the manufacturer?
“All the other early reviews of the Cherokee have been positive.” Undoubtedly. All the early reviews of anything nowadays are positive. There’s a certain amount of Freakonomics at work here. Derek will never meet 99.9% of Allpar readers, but he’ll be at dinner with the same Chrysler people at every press event. There’s a strong temptation to say nice things about the car, particularly if you can wind them back later in a comparison test. Many of the people who are currently lauding the Cherokee will call it a complete piece of junk as soon as the next Cherokee is ready. Some of the writers who are currently slamming the Patriot and Compass in their Cherokee reviews tripped all over themselves to say nice things about those same vehicles at the early launch events.
Let me look into the future for you. The new Mercedes-Benz E250 Bluetec just had its press event last week. It will receive positive reviews all the way around even though I’m already hearing grumblings about the car being underpowered garbage. Want to know why? Click here. Mr. Day had his resignation from MBUSA accepted with extreme prejudice recently, but in the words of the poet, one monkey don’t stop no show.
Two years from now, the E250 might get tossed to the back of a comparison test. Four years from now, it will be revealed to have been a bad car. If you want to know what the auto media really thinks of a car, you can read what they say when the next model comes out. Of course, new-car buyers do not find this to be helpful.
When the administrator of a major Mopar fan site calls for Derek’s voice to be silenced because he doesn’t like the review, what he is in effect saying is this: “I value the sales success of a Chrysler product over the individual experience of Chrysler owners.” He’s siding with the corporation, not the driver. I suppose that’s fine for some people. It doesn’t wash here. The English car magazines used to whitewash the failings of cars like the Rover Metro and Jaguar XJ6. Today the companies that made those products are in non-British hands. Because you cannot lie and whitewash your way to success in the automotive business. In the long run, the customer will find out. Every cheat, every slip, every cut corner, will eventually show. You cannot wallpaper a bad product forever. Eventually, the truth will come out and the manufacturers will fail. If you love Chrysler, then you’d better hope that they make a good car. That’s all that can save them.
TTAC will continue to give positive reviews of Chrysler products — when the product is good. When that is not the case, we will continue to alert our readers to problems. We do not apologize for that, we will not walk that back, we will not change. If that means that we are no longer invited to evaluate Chrysler products, we will rent Chrysler products. If that means that we don’t get to party with the cool kids, we can live with that. Our allegiance is to the reader. It was thus when TTAC was founded. It is thus now. Forever may it be.
#187 Plymouth Neon, NASA Performance Touring “E”