By on May 18, 2013

 

While a minor shit storm erupted the other day over the use of a word denoting short-haired women who love women, and, allegedly, certain cars, I did a lot of the soul-searching and self-reflection demanded from me, and I thought about all the scandals I may have caused in my life, and which I would regret, if the hate mails are an indicator. There were many scandals, and one of the most egregious involved a car. Oddly enough, it involved a car that allegedly is a top choice among men who love men. The scandal, however, involved people who were into dogs, fish, and other animals. And it was about the Volkswagen Jetta.

Read More >

By on May 17, 2013

vw_propagandaThose who frequently demanded that the Autobiography Of BS © is turned into a book or a blockbuster movie see themselves a little closer to their declared goal. The series will be a monthly feature in Top Gear Deutschland, a very glossy magazine and spin-off of the TV series. The BBC-inspired buff book already hit the stands in Germany, and arrived in my Japanese mailbox today. Read More >

By on July 20, 2011

Volkswagen just sold one of my inventions, and I didn’t get a dime for it. Volkswagen didn’t get rich on the sale either. After more than 20 years of trying not too hard, Volkswagen is getting out of the non-OEM service business and  sells its Stop + Go chain of quick-fit shops to the management.

“It was supposed to be an all-out assault on the non-OEM service business,” writes Automobilwoche [sub] in an eulogy. The attack ended in defeat. Read More >

By on June 11, 2011

 

47.2 percent of all cars bought in Germany last month don’t run on gas. They run on diesel. It wasn’t always that way. A quarter century ago, a diesel car was unheard of in Europe. Well, not quite: The Mercedes diesels had a characteristic tractor sound. The diesel Mercedes was popular with taxi drivers because it was so sturdy, and with farmers. Farmers could buy low-tax diesel for their tractors. Allegedly, some found its way illegally into their diesel-Benz.

Success is not built on lawbreaking farmers and taxi drivers. What made the diesel driven car so popular?

It was the Volkswagen Golf D. And it didn’t make sense at all. Read More >

By on February 6, 2011

To commemorate the sudden departure of Marcelo de Vasconcello’s Illustrated History of the Brazilian Car, I’ll resurrect The Autobiography Of BS© - just for this one time, honest. It only tangentially has to do with cars, but a lot with Brazil. As all the other stories, the story is true. Even the name wasn’t changed. Hans-Peter is alive and well. He eluded the Brazilian DOI-CODI (their secret police) after I got him into hot water. He lives the good life, somewhere in Europe.

In the 70s, I started my career in advertising at GGK, one of the hottest shops in Europe. Our biggest client was Volkswagen and that client was mine. At that time, Volkswagen was on the verge of bankruptcy, the world went from one oil crisis to the next, and the end of the automobile was predicted by all. “When the liter Benzin will hit one Deutschmark, people will stop driving,” was the prediction by many experts, and everybody had bought into it. The other guys in the agency fled to safe accounts, such as alcohol and cigarettes, and I could take over Volkswagen.

One of the Art Directors I worked with was Hans-Peter Weiss. I made him a target of Brazil’s secret police. Read More >

By on November 23, 2010

Due to the animated discussion of distribution models and dealer profits, I’ll resurrect The Autobiography Of BS© - just for this one time. As all the other stories, the story is true. Even the name wasn’t changed. Harry is still alive and well. I just did make sure.

It was a Friday. At the tender age of 23, I served as the editor-in-chief of a small German weekly, and I hated hectic Fridays when we had to put the new issue to bed.

My friend Harry was on the phone.

“I need your help. Urgent financial matters.” Read More >

By on July 12, 2009

One of my jobs was to create marketing programs for Volkswagen that drive their customers to Volkswagen dealers at regular intervals for scheduled service. It was in the late 80s. I presented a daring idea:

“How about we give the customer a free roadside assistance program if they come to the shop once a year?”

“Interesting. Run the numbers, come back and tell us more.” Read More >

By on July 5, 2009

Flashback: Last time, Bernd Schäfers, Herr S. of Volkswagen and his gang, and yours truly were on a mountain top at the southern tip of Spain, out of luck and out of film. Pulling a daredevil stunt, Bernd had somehow saved me from being slaughtered and fired.

What now?

As the sun kept rising, we collected our equipment and our thoughts. We drove down the mountain to our base in Sotogrande. In the back seat, Herr S. lectured his Spanish-speaking assistant again why we had to abort the movie making: “That light, despite looking beautiful to the untrained eye, would have ruined the whole shot.”

We had lied to him. I yearned for Maalox or something stronger.

Down behind the secured gates of the Sotogrande golf course, Bernd and I went into a private crisis meeting: Read More >

By on June 28, 2009

You know what I loved most about car advertising? There was never a shortage of money to play with. I’m no longer tracking these things, but in 2007, GM spent $3 billion on what we call “measured media” alone. Measured media is defined as television, print and outdoor advertising. The unmeasured expenses, what’s called “below the line,” in the vernacular, are usually just as huge, maybe bigger. Above and below the line, GM must have spent the GDP of Mongolia on advertising.

Volkswagen’s budget resembled the GDP of a much smaller country, but I thoroughly enjoyed helping them to put it to good use.

One of these big ticket “below the line” activities are launch events. Read More >

By on June 21, 2009

Did you ever hold a 70s vintage Volkswagen car catalog in your hands? You know, the ones without a picture of a car on the cover? Just “The Rabbit,” “Der Käfer,” “Le Golf?” One distinct color per model, that’s it? Yes, those were the handiwork of yours truly.

My cartalogs were even exhibited at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. In a “mass production” exhibit. A shockwave assaulted my artistic pride. After it had abated, I had to concede that the museum was right: We cranked the catalogs out in assembly line fashion.

At the time, I had advanced from lowly copywriter to the lofty title of Creative Director of our advertising agency in Düsseldorf, Germany. I was in charge of a horde of 20 creative types. Rumor had it that when it came to hiring, my decision making was guided by physical factors alone: Copywriters had to be big bruisers, engage in body building, martial arts, and motocross biking. Art Directors had to be thin, sicklish, and at least had to look effeminate.

The most important part in the creation of a new catalog was the decision where to shoot the pictures. Read More >

By on June 14, 2009

It was November 1989. After a long into-the-evening meeting with Volkswagen execs in Wolfsburg, after the usual after-meeting festivities and after a very short night, I sat groggily behind the wheel of my Audi V8 (as it was called at the time) and headed back to Düsseldorf. Little did I know that what happened that night would gain me the company of sixty near-naked women. Others would gain even more . . .

I planned to hit the Königslutter exit of the Hannover-Berlin Autobahn with the usual élan. That road was not well travelled. Königslutter was the last exit in the free West. Next stop: The Iron Curtain. The death strip. Built to keep East Germans in East Germany.

I intended to make a high speed right turn and go west. Next stop: Düsseldorf. Two hours and forty-five minutes on an empty Autobahn. (These days, six hours is not uncommon.)

I executed the turn. Then, I faced the unbelievable. Read More >

By on June 7, 2009

This one has less hilarity. But it is German, I mean germane to The Truth About Cars.

1973, at the tender age of 24, I defected to the enemy. BS, the former muckraking journalist, became a copywriter in a hotshot advertising agency. As the saying went, I didn’t sell out, I cashed in: As a junior copywriter, I was paid twice as much of what I had made before as the editor in chief of a muckraking journal.

Raking muck had paid shit. Advertising was paradise. Work was easy, no more nerve-racking and downright dangerous undercover research, just sit and write. Powered by pilsener. Soon, my salary multiplied. Times were good.

They put me on the Volkswagen account. I didn’t have the vaguest idea about cars. I didn’t even have a driver’s license. This qualified me as an utterly unbiased and unbelievably gullible tool of automotive propaganda.

One of my first jobs was to launch a new Volkswagen with a funny name: “Golf.” Read More >

By on May 31, 2009

For more than ten years, every word a certain top executive of Volkswagen uttered in public was pure BS. I wrote his speeches. I wrote articles under his name. I even ghostwrote a book for him. I studied his mannerisms, his way of thinking and talking. He slowly but surely slipped into the role for which I wrote the script. He’s retired now but still a sought-after speaker on the conference circuit.

He liked to live and work on the edge, and I gladly walked him there. We had a strange symbiotic relationship. His trust in me bordered on the obscene. Even before major strategy announcements, his brief for the speech usually amounted to: “You know what to write.” He rarely did read the speech before giving it. He always delivered it with great aplomb and usually to thundering applause. I could put practically any word into his mouth. Power that had to be used wisely. Read More >

By on May 24, 2009

From 1973 through 2005, my job was to create excitement for Volkswagens in the hope that people would buy them. The job had its ups and downs. We loved facelifts and hated totally new cars. With a facelift, we could travel to attractive and warm places for the photo shoot. “Because of the sun.” Not to mention the beach. And the nice amenities of the Hotel Negresco in Nice. With a facelift, we could tool around in broad daylight, and nobody would bat an eye or even think of snapping a picture. Which magazine would publish the spy shot of a re-designed bumper? Totally new cars were top secret. Not allowed to travel outside the confines of the VW factory. Even there, constantly under tarps. The only places we could photograph them were at the in-house photo studio or at the VW proving grounds in Ehra-Lessien.

Ehra-Lessien (“Ehra” for short) was—still is—in a godforsaken place north of Wolfsburg. Surrounded by woods, barbed wire and an army of guards, Ehra is Europe’s largest test track. According to Wikipedia, “they had originally built it here during the Cold War, because it was a no-fly zone on the East German border, safe from prying eyes seeing secret prototypes.”

We said they built it there because they saved barbed wire on the one side abutting the death strip of the border. It was a lie. Read More >

By on May 17, 2009

In the late 70s, after Volkswagen had launched their new worldwide dealer network under the mysterious V.A.G. moniker. The V.A.G. dealers received a strong voice, their own national advertising campaign and a renewed focus on the importance of service. No wonder. Then as now, after-sales is the VW dealer’s number one profit center. The profit contribution of parts alone was often 30 percent or more. In 1979, for the first time, VW invited the service guys to the IAA auto show in Frankfurt. The suits asked me to come up with a spectacular concept for their debut. My first idea: fix cars live, Formula 1 pitstop style. Everybody liked it—until someone found out that the maximum height of the booth was 2.5 meters, way below the heights of the lift. Scratch that idea. Then I had an odd thought: Why not do it virtually? Read More >

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