By on March 4, 2016

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When a self-described automotive journalist attempts a fuel economy record, you expect his attempt to be objective — or, at least, as objective as such an attempt can be.

However, when an automaker is willing to pay that automotive journalist thousands of dollars for the effort, with payment possibly dependent on achieving the desired record, objectivity falls by the wayside and, along with it, the credibility of someone believed to be a hero in high-fuel-efficiency circles.

Wayne Gerdes, if you aren’t familiar, owns a website called CleanMPG.com. It’s a forum dedicated to those squeezing every bit of fuel efficiency possible from their vehicles — also known as “hypermiling.”

Automotive journalist Gerdes set two records — in 2013 and 2015 — using Volkswagen TDI Clean Diesels. In doing so, the journalist lined his pockets with Volkswagen’s marketing cash.

Hypermiling is a noble pursuit that even I’ve indulged in once, attaining a dismal 39.2 miles per gallon in a first generation, V6-powered Ford Fusion AWD. In comparison, the veteran Gerdes — along with driving partner Bob Winger — clocked an incredible 77.99 mpg over 8,122 miles in a 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI.

From Volkswagen’s press release announcing the record in 2013:

Wayne Gerdes, founder of cleanmpg.com was the primary driver. Automotive journalist Gerdes has made a career out of hypermiling and has set mileage records in more than 100 vehicles, as well as achieving the record for lowest fuel consumption in the lower 48 U.S. states with a hybrid vehicle at 64.6 mpg. His co-driver was Bob Winger, an electronics engineer long involved in energy and conservation projects.

“We felt we had a good chance of beating the existing record with the Passat TDI,” Gerdes said, “but to smash it by averaging 77.99 mpg is really impressive and a testament to the potential of Volkswagen’s TDI Clean Diesel vehicles. Obviously, we employ some specialized techniques to achieve such figures, but there’s no reason why owners of TDI vehicles shouldn’t be able to achieve great mileage with a few simple pointers.”

Emphasis mine.

The release makes it sound like Gerdes, the founder of CleanMPG, is performing the attempt on his own accord, and is not contracted by Volkswagen to attempt the record. No disclosures are made regarding Gerdes working for Volkswagen to attempt the record.

Additionally, a disclosure on CleanMPG falls very short of the mark, simply mentioning that Volkswagen provided the vehicle for the attempt, but not informing readers that coverage of the attempt is de facto sponsored content. There is no mention of CleanMPG or Gerdes accepting payment for the record attempt.

From CleanMPG:

Sponsors

Volkswagen of America is supplying the 2013 Passat TDI. The US subsidiary was founded in 1955 and is headquartered in Herndon, Virginia. Its parent is Volkswagen AG headquartered in Wolfsburg, Germany. VWoA’s operations in the United States include research and development, parts and vehicle processing, parts distribution centers, sales, marketing and service offices, financial service centers, and its state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Gerdes also provided a mini-review of the Passat, which verges on manufacturer-provided copy, before he and his driving partner headed out on their 48-state record attempt. In that text are links to other Volkswagen reviews.

Again, from CleanMPG:

The Passat like most Volkswagens we have driven lately (Beetle Convertible and Jetta Hybrid come to mind) provides a smooth and comfortable ride with good road feel plus confidence inspiring handling up to and beyond its limits. It accomplishes this seemingly impossible mix of capabilities through independent McPherson struts up front that incorporate rigid lower control arms, coil springs, and an anti-roll bar. Out back, a highly tuned four-link independent layout with an anti-roll bar limits the harshness while providing an almost patented Volkswagen road holding capability.

Two years later, Gerdes and Volkswagen would team up again for another fuel economy attempt, this time in a Volkswagen Golf TDI that achieved 81.17 mpg during a 48-state tour. Again, Gerdes was publicized by Volkswagen as a journalist in its press release announcing the new record. At no time did Volkswagen or Gerdes disclose that he was being paid for the attempt.

However, as we learned today from Wayne Gerdes own admission in a private Facebook group of auto writers, Volkswagen did, in fact, pay Gerdes for at least one of those attempts, effectively tearing down the wall that exists between church and state; in this case, journalism and marketing. Gerdes stated he disclosed his payment up front in his own coverage.

“Yes I did [disclose the payment] right up front for completing the 48-State Guinness World Record. Does any race car driver disclose they are paid by such and such OEM?” Gerdes asked rhetorically.

TTAC asked Gerdes to provide a link to the supposed disclosure claimed, but Gerdes has been unwilling or unable to provide such a disclosure.

“Go ahead and find it. You can start by looking for a sponsor hashtag in tens of social media posts. I know you are to (sic) lazy to find anything of the sort,” he replied

Asked again where TTAC could specifically find the disclosure on his website, where Gerdes posted coverage of his record attempt, he replied, “… find it yourself you lazy hack.”

Gerdes, for his part, doesn’t believe he’s done anything wrong, and that he can be the spokesman of and also report on the merits and flaws of the same vehicle.

“I consider myself a professional driver that proves a vehicle’s capability and promotes those that exceed their capabilities beyond my own lofty expectations for the benefit of society.”

However, when TTAC asked Gerdes if he was an automotive journalist, his reply was quizzical.

“Sometimes I am and sometimes I am not,” he stated. “50 percent of my time I am an auto journalist.”

Volkswagen declined comment when reached.

Gerdes’ income from Volkswagen casts doubt over all involved in automotive journalism — not just Gerdes. To make a claim that you can wear two hats — journalist and marketer — goes against everything it means to be a journalist.

And yet, even with this extra income, it doesn’t sound like Mr. Gerdes is getting much further ahead than the rest of us.

“I made $5.00 yesterday for an 18-hour work day. Sometimes you just have to take the hit,” he stated.

Correction: This article was originally published with an inference that Mr. Gerdes was possibly paid by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles for a fuel economy drive with the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel. Our claim was based on a message posted to Facebook by Mr. Gerdes himself stating he’d been paid by other manufacturers and also reviewed vehicles from those manufacturers in an unbiased manner. The post included links to videos of the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel. However, Mr. Gerdes’ post has has since been edited and now states he was not paid by FCA. As such, the article has been edited to reflect this. We would like to extend our apologies to FCA for the error.

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83 Comments on “How Automotive Payola Works: A Case Study Starring Wayne Gerdes and Volkswagen...”


  • avatar
    ajla

    He also did some “Dual Fuel” challenge thing with Shell Nitro+ gasoline on a V6 Charger.

    I’m not sure if Shell paid him or what kind of disclosure he gave for that. I was interested in the test but I didn’t follow it too close because he came off like an infomercial host.

    He was part of the F-150 Ecoboost Challenge as well. Not sure of the situation there either.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    Wow.
    They did one of these tests with an Ecoboost F150 in 2011. I wonder if Ford paid him for that one?
    No mention of wages but does list sponsors.

    “Manufacturers and Reps

    We cannot begin to imagine performing an event of this magnitude without the support of some very special people including Ford’s Anne Marie Gattari, Global Quality and Design Manager and who just retired, Said Deep Ford North America and Global Product Communications Manager, Matt Leaver, U.S. Media Fleet Rep, Kristin Jankowski, Marketing Communications Manager at Johnson Outdoors and parent to Eureka! Tents and Joey Snyder, ScanGauge National PR Manager.

    From the manufacturer side, Ford for supplying the 2011 F-150 with the 3.5L EcoBoost (Ford Trucks – Fuel Economy Leadership from Engines to Alignment) and the 2011 Ford Fiesta SES Chase vehicle.

    Others include the following:
    Eureka! Accompanies CleanMPG Members on a Very Special Adventure

    New ScanGauge-e Leads CleanMPG EcoBoost Fuel Economy Challenge

    CleanMPG Previews the Extang Trifecta Tri-Fold Signature Series Tonneau Cover
    Eureka Draw – Enter To Win!

    To celebrate, Eureka! is giving away 5 gear prize packages in a random drawing to be held after noon EDST on Friday, May 6, 2011, so you have a chance to win the same Eureka! camping gear that CleanMPG is using on this drive! Simply complete the entry form below to be entered to win. One entry per person, please!

    Your entry constitutes that you have read and agree with the Official Rules. Shipping Addresses in the USA only, please! One entry per person.

    CleanMPG Contest – Guess our MPG and Win!

    Guess the final fuel economy for the F-150 to the nearest hundredth mpg (for example, 29.37mpg). The closest guess wins a new ScanGauge e. Reply to this thread with your guess to enter.”
    http://www.cleanmpg.com/community/index.php?threads/39079/

    I guess whoring yourself out to the car companies must be business as usual for most self titled auto journalists.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    There’s some irony in the motto from this sleazebag’s website:

    “Learn to raise fuel economy and lower emissions in whatever you drive”

    I’m curious, Wayno, how low were the emissions in the VW “clean” diesels you were paid to drive?

  • avatar
    Dom Miggar

    Hired. A paid shill. http://www.freep.com/story/money/cars/mark-phelan/2015/05/30/shell-gasoline-premium-nitro-octane-fuel-economy/28127105/

    In trust, not too different from journos who eat filet mignon.

    Nobody asked why he started this site. Basically he did it after 9/11 to stave off terrorists and deprive them of oil money by driving efficiently. Full blown quackery.

    • 0 avatar
      bloke

      Quackery? Stop my heart.

      Name a ME oil producer that DOESN’T sponsor terrorism, with the money that they get from the oil fields WE developed with technology WE invented.

      Obviously, stopping buying oil from the Saudi royal crime family will not do anything. Either:
      A) We need to block all oil exports from the ME. That could cause political problems with China, etc.
      B) Or we need to seize the oilfields. They belong to us after all. It would make a helluva lot more sense than trying to ‘bringing liberal democracy to people who fuck their cousins at a rate over 50%’…

      • 0 avatar
        redapple

        You are correct sir !

      • 0 avatar

        Most U.S. oil imports are from Canada and Mexico. We haven’t imported a lot of oil from the Middle East in quite some time. Also, the U.S. is becoming an exporter of oil itself. I believe the first shipment of oil exported from the U.S. after the law was changed to allow oil exports just left port.

        The oil fields in the Middle East don’t “belong to us”. Sure, U.S. companies had a big role in developing Saudi and other gulf oil resources, but I believe we followed the British.

        While the Saudis are trying, with some success, to flood the market so that American frackers can’t make a profit at the current barrel price, the Saudis also need the revenue. Should they turn off the spigot, there’s a “fracklog” of wells already predrilled in the U.S. just waiting for the price to go up.

        Developing North American oil resources (and helping truly friendly countries develop their own) will do more to put pressure on the Saudis than blustering about military adventurism.

        • 0 avatar
          SCE to AUX

          Ronnie – thank you for speaking up about such nonsensical statements.

          There must be a “Godwin’s Law” equivalent term which applies to discussions about cars, oil, the Middle East, terrorism, and US wars. It happens here all the time.

          • 0 avatar
            Piston Slap Yo Mama

            Ronnie is typically the voice of reason and restraint. With a little polish and a few missteps from his predecessor he’ll one day be the Editor-At-Large.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          bloke-
          The comment about “trying to bring Liberal Democracy” in itself is the ultimate sign of complete cluelessness in regard to USA foreign policy.

          The USA and Britain messed up Iran(was a democratic country at the time) by staging a coupe and installing the Shah of Iran to prevent the nationalization of Iranian oil. His totalitarian regime helped fuel the fires of Islamic Fundamentalism. The Shah was not Liberal or Democratic in any shape or form.

          Iraq was not a liberal democratic country and it was supported by the West because they were enemies of Iran.

          Two Iraqi wars later and they were mismanaged by the West Powers and Western Business in the region did not help the problem.

          There wasn’t enough done to rebuild Iraq at the civilian level which is a contributing factor to the rise of ISIS.

          Wanting to starve Saudi Arabia of oil revenue shows epic ignorance of the problems in the Middle East. If they run short of money the general population will start to suffer and that often starts people looking at political change.

          Saudi Arabia is as far from being a democratic state as it gets but they are a stable pro-American regime. They don’t want Daesh in their back yard any more than Israel or any Christian country.

          Daesh or any group like them tend to rise from suffering of the peoples. Charismatic leaders “sell” the belief that their way will free them. Groups like this feed on ignorance just like Trump’s campaign.

  • avatar
    ericb91

    As a one-time journalism student, the ethics of the press as a subject fascinates me. There is a fine line between reviewing a product and schlepping a product. All too often, “journalists” begin beaming about the product subjectively and being fair and balanced (to include my FAVORITE news sources’ tagline…) goes out the window.

    It’s a shame that Gerdes wasn’t forthright with his compensation. It’s cool that he can achieve what he has, but he’s at the point where he is boasting about the product more than about his skill as a hypermiler. An interesting debate. Thanks for posting this.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    When the items in question are expensive, then the goods need to be comped. A lot of travel writing and automotive journalism have much in common for that reason.

    Robert Farago started TTAC because he had blackballed by the industry, so he had nothing to lose by pointing out that this is a PR-driven business.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Yes, for the people complaining a few weeks ago that TTAC had lost its edge, this about as “classic” TTAC as it gets.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        At the same time, we should accept that a lot of automotive writing is simply car porn. It doesn’t need to be serious, it just has to look good and be entertaining.

        To the extent that there is an issue here, the most relevant point is whether Geddes’ mileage claims are accurate. And that would be true, irrespective of whether or not he was paid.

        From what I’ve seen of this guy, his style of hypermiling is dangerous enough to justify a ticket or six. He should be used as an example for how not to drive if you care at all about safety.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          I guess my issue is that auto writing is only “car porn” because that is our expectation of it due to things like this.

          If I go to Vivid’s website (very NSFW) I’m not going to find relationship or film-making advice because they know what they are. However, nearly every automotive publication has “car buying guides” and “Best of” awards and other items that certainly make it seem like they want to be considered an authoritative, legitimate resource.

          I’m not too familiar on his work with VW, but in my first comment I alluded to something this guy did about gasoline when I was looking for information on the Nitro+ fuel. He certainly wasn’t doing “car porn” in that capacity and if he was hired to basically do a long commercial for Shell then I think he should be upfront about it.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Cars are ultimately just consumer products, and we like them for visceral reasons. (They’re fast, attractive and we’d like to get inside of many of them, which reminds me of, er, something else.) The subject matter is mostly not that serious.

            Farago cultivated this niche as a sort of poor man’s Automotive News, but we should remember that these are cars, not Watergate. There isn’t a scandal around every corner, and there are times when a car is just a car.

            A lot of the guys who write about them want to fawn over cars because they like cars, not because they have to. Some people like to bellyache about everything, but many others actually like to take pleasure in things.

            Geddes has reasons to lie, but they’re mostly to preserve his 15 minutes of fame as a hypermiler, not for the sake of VW or another company. It behooves him to claim that he has hit high numbers because that’s what he’s all about — he wants to be the fuel whisperer, and he won’t be able to claim that if he doesn’t have numbers that give him bragging rights. If you’re worried about him having an angle, then that’s the one to watch for.

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          Well spoken Pch, tis why I dont get the tantrums people throw over cars.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      I have a deep suspicion that several contributors to today’s TTAC are de jure or de facto promoters of particular manufacturers’ vehicles, the degree to which they are being impossible to ascertain due to a lack of complete & full disclosure.

      Robert Farago would not approve.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        That was supposed to be prefaced with (site won’t let me edit):

        Kudos, Mark, for uncovering yet another automotive presstitute….

        …However, —

        • 0 avatar
          DeadWeight

          To further clarify, by”some contributors,” I’m speaking of a very few who have their own review platforms separate & distinct from TTAC, also, but that TTAC allows as contributing writers.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            Heh, heh, heh, DW. I can read between the lines. Good show, old chap.

            Another VW story about an automaker that isn’t even a player in America, and that has only a minute niche following in a market of >17-million SAAR.

            I appreciate your subtle humor.

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            On a sincere note, now that I know some more background, this is a legitimate peeling back of a certain curtain by Mark to reveal just some of what’s rotten in terms of the NON-DISCLOSED graft between manufacturers & “auto bloggers” and “independent owners of forums/websites.”

            Kudos, Mark.

      • 0 avatar

        DW, if you’re going to say something like that, you might as well drop the name.

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          Hes probably referring to Alex, and a few others.

          • 0 avatar
            Jack Baruth

            I think he means me.

            I’ve been openly attempting to get employee discount on a Viper ACR.

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            Definitely not Jack.

            C’mon Jack.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            DW,
            If you have a specific allegation, I think you should make it. Otherwise, you are just slagging Alex (or whomever) just because his reviews don’t confirm your biases. Not cool.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            He’s slagging Bark M. because he doesn’t say enough bad things about Ford.

          • 0 avatar

            If I have a relationship with Ford, I’m clearly doing it wrong. They keep making me pay for new cars every year.

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            It’s not Bark (Mark), either.

            Jack & Bark set me straight on Bark’s lack of conflict of interest, and I believe them.

            Bark does have *IMO* a raging boner for many things Ford, but so what, right? I have biases, also, and calling Bark out for what I perceive to be a bias isn’t hypocritical as I’m ripe for similar criticism.

            I don’t want to name anyone specifically because (i) it’s not as if I can prove direct pecuniary compensation, and (ii) TTAC is still better and more independent in terms of allowing for unfiltered and non-paid for reviews of vehicles than 97% of other automotive-oriented publications.

          • 0 avatar
            Kevin Jaeger

            So it’s Murilee getting payola from those junkyards, then.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I think I KNOW who he meant.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        just my 2 cents, but you appear to want a car blog where the writers never say anything good about any car on the market. That would be about as useless as a car blog which never says anything bad about any car on the market (except the Chrysler 200.)

        if you perceive something to be on the extreme end of a spectrum, that doesn’t mean you have to immediately jump to the opposite extreme.

        • 0 avatar
          DeadWeight

          I loathe the 200, just so you know.

          I can’t stand the interior and do not like Fiat-based products, generally speaking.

          I do like the 300S, Durango, JGC & RAM 3.0 ecodiesel.

  • avatar

    Meanwhile, the independent car writers from major magazines follow the usual rules.
    Long Lead – slathering coverage, best car eva ? These are prototypes..oh, and we are in some insanely exotic place, preferably warm during a cold winter.
    First Test – Wow ! this and that, great power, good handling
    Comparison Test – Places first or second. Class leader
    Follow Up test – stuff changed, minor cosmetics
    Comparison test – places at the end. old.. tired…
    New Verison – discuss how they fixed all the well known (but totally un mentioned) problems, shifter, suspension, exploding catalyst.
    Used cars don’t exist
    There are no issues with current production
    If we discuss anything not new, it will be classic.

    Lather, rinse, repeat. Don’t ever break embargo.

    Get Ads. Get rich. Sleep in.

  • avatar
    thejohnnycanuck

    Hypermiling, the very word makes me wish cars had photon torpedoes and Sulu was riding shotgun.

    Then again I’ve never been overly concerned with fuel mileage. To the best of my knowledge someone’s average mpg has yet to be displayed on their tombstone.

  • avatar
    tedward

    I find it hard to get too outraged about this. Look, the guy has an expensive hobby job that requires access to the most expensive portable consumer good. Follow along hyper-miling (I’m assuming that’s what is going on here) requires logistics spending up front that the non existent hyper-miling community will definitely not be paying for in ad revenue. He’s not a journalist, but he’s not the devil. He’s just a guy getting paid for his nerdy passion.

    Pch is right about the guys angle though, if anything he’d be incentivized to inflate his numbers for his own benefit. If that was ever revealed every car company who’s given him a dime would come screaming back at him in a heartbeat.

    I think it really doesn’t bother me bc your quoted text describing a standard suspension layout literally read as ad copy. Anyone who read that and didn’t immediately know the score is a waste of carbon.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      Anyone being given/paid anything of value by a manufacturer should, by any ethical standard worth having, disclose in full the nature, extent and specific value of that thing/those things given/paid to them.

      • 0 avatar
        tedward

        Dw

        You’re not wrong. I’m just kind of wondering if anyone who read his stuff didn’t realize the conflict based on his writing in brochure platitudes. It’s like a small newspapers auto review section or something.

        • 0 avatar
          TonyJZX

          I agree with Ted. In the scheme of things this isnt that egrarious,

          The guy has a VW shirt on, he has a Golf with VW Corporate graphics on it. At the very least VW should be paying for the fuel, his time and whatever gratuities.

          He’s not far off from Mike Rowe and the Ford F150. I get he should be more forthcoming but he did this twice already. If he’s not admitting it, then you should use common sense.

          Why would you drive thousands of miles for free?

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        @DeadWeight – agreed.
        When ever I go to an education session about a new drug and the presenter (unless they ARE the drug rep) always discloses their relationship to company. In most cases they just happen to be an expert getting airfare, food and lodging to present the information.

      • 0 avatar

        I saw story somewhere about an italian manufacturer, who provided fur coats for the writer’s travel companions, in case things got cold. The test was in a tropical location….

        In my limited exposure, I know of a garage in the Meadowlands, where the toys are kept by a company that takes care of the wash, fill tank, make sure it is perfect before being delivered to the writer’s door. You can’t compare owning anything, or even having a normal company car provided, with getting it delivered to you full every week, with perfect everything.

    • 0 avatar
      baconator

      Your last paragraph is spot-on.

      The thing is, would this blogger have gotten any fewer hits if he had just described this upfront as “a collaboration” with VW and had some third party verify the mileage? If you’re really a “professional driver” being paid to do a driving stunt, then have Guiness or USAC or SAE or something involved, just like they do for the top speed / distance records.

      Frankly, I’m surprised that a blog about hypermiling gets enough traffic to warrant any of VW’s marketing dollars at all.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    “It accomplishes this seemingly impossible mix of capabilities . . .”

    Ugh. Decent suspension design is seemingly impossible? That’s the last line I’ll read from that guy.

  • avatar
    wmba

    One of the places I worked at as a summer student years ago was a serious car guy. Had a full size Chrysler, 413 cubes. Boasted on and on about it until he drove his co-workers crazy. Power, mileage,handling, you name it.

    His job most days meant he had to drive out to the railroad lab in a company owned van. So his pals took to putting in a gallon of gas in the Chrysler every noon hour while he was away.

    Sure enough, the following week didn’t he start boasting about the fan-tastic mileage he was getting. Couldn’t understand why everyone fell about laughing. Such a serious man. A week after that, it was really getting funny.

    Then they stopped adding the gas. No comment from the guy, he just went quiet. Three weeks after that, someone asked him how the mileage was going. Silence. A few days later, they told him and he was mightily pis*ed off. Could not see the funny side of it at all.

    My question: who was that VW guy servicing the Golf every noon hour and night while the crew ate? You know that fellow with the big supply of windshield washer bottles? Bugs do splatter in warm weather. A Golf TDI getting 82 mpg? VW cheat devices? Nah, surely not.

  • avatar
    FThorn

    Don’t believe anything anyone tells you. Observe and test yourself.

    • 0 avatar
      qfrog

      We can’t all be Thunderfoot all the time. Do you actually believe that the general population is capable of designing a test procedure that will yield repeatable, accurate and precise results in a timely manner?

      Besides, the general population is willing to go along with some pretty extraordinary claims if it makes them feel good about something, anything really from consumer goods to big picture questions that theoretical physicists spend their lives on.

  • avatar
    1998redwagon

    i read about both of these events when they were accomplished. it was clear from the way the cars were decked out with advertisements that vw was involved heavily. the fonts and the font color were straight off the vw website. neither article indicated that the drivers were paid for their services but if you thought about it at the time that would have been obvious. some of the best hypermillers in the world would do this and not get paid? would spend a month of their time and not get paid? who can afford to do that? the way it was promoted on teh vw website and in the non-automotive press – it clearly had the power of a well oiled machine behind it. the most obvious connection is to vw.

    now, iirc, both of those articles indicated that vw had provided the car but i dont recall (and will not read all the posts above to find out) if it was ever indicated that vw paid per diem. if it did then you as a reader should understand that as a general rule companies pay per diem to those in their employ.

    in summary, i am not surprised that they were paid by vw, and if you had asked me at the time i would have said, yes, i expect they were paid to do both events. having said that i agree that if they were paid it should be disclosed somewhere in the article (likely at the bottom or as part of the main text). that’s responsible journalism whether it be automotive or otherwise. declare all connections and let the reader decide how to interpret.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      re: “that’s responsible journalism”
      It’s not journalism anymore if you are getting paid by the companies that you are covering. At best, that’s PR. At worst, as in this case where the writer omitted to mention that he is a VW employee, it’s fraud.

      Sure, some of us will say “I’m not surprised,” but the fact is that these economy runs were reported as factual content in media. Ironically, they would have been held to a higher standard if they were presented as advertising: advertisers regularly get fined for making unsubstantiated claims.

  • avatar

    All it would have taken to avoid even the perception of impropriety would have been the following disclaimer:

    “This record attempt was sponsored by Volkswagen”.

    • 0 avatar

      He could have been more vague in his statement of VW sponsorship and it totally would have been okay. The press release from VW irks me a little too, as it doesn’t say that Gerdes is a professional driver but an automotive journalist.

      • 0 avatar
        qfrog

        Auto journalist = professional driver, no? They’re practically test drivers! You see they drive the car and then communicate some information about the drive to somebody. Luckily this will all change when the autonomous vehicles take over. When that comes to pass there will be no more professional driving done by auto journos. Reviews will be more or less the same thing as what you read in uber/lyft ride share service user reviews/ratings.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Agreed about the journalistic ethics problem.

    However, about the the hypermiling…

    If a Passat TDI driven normally could get say, 48 mpg, then you’d only save $130 over the 8122 miles driven, or $240 annually for 15k miles, at $2.00/gallon.

    That’s 20 bucks a month saved while risking life, law, and property, with no joy in driving.

    Some records aren’t worth breaking.

    • 0 avatar
      formula m

      I don’t get how this guy thinks he is lowering emissions by driving with no purpose for 8122miles with a Diesel engine running the whole time. That dumped plenty of emissions into the atmosphere while the only purpose was for this guy to get paid.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    I’m not sure anyone making a living as a blogger can really be called a professional journalist. The actually blogging part generally pays very little.

    As far as money corrupting journalism … that is happening everywhere, and has been going on for a very long time in just about every category.

  • avatar
    baggins

    I agree that he should have disclosed “this attempt was sponsored by VW”

    But generally I dont much care.I just assume all of these types of events are sponsored.

  • avatar
    Jeff Zekas

    Busted! Thank you, Mark Stevenson.

  • avatar
    night driver

    Agreed – a full disclosure that Volkswagen was a sponsor is absolutely necessary.

    I also recall, during a period where I was new car shopping, reading about Wayne Gerdes’ trips to Japan to meet with Hyundai about their Sonata Hybrid, followed by a drive around the country in one (including a stop at Hyundai USA headquarters if I recall correctly) and he generally gave glowing reviews of the Sonata Hybrid afterwards. It’s possible that payments were in place there as well. When reading that piece it sure felt to me that he could be paid for it, and remember being surprised that there was no disclosure about it.

    Great job by TTAC here.


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