Motor Trend’s Car of the Year award has been a lightning rod of criticism among automotive gadflies ever since… well, you decide. Corvair? Vega? Mustang II? Every year, MT picks one “best” car from a market that serves a wide variety of needs, and every year, the autoblogosphere rushes to help the tottering “contest” collapse under the weight of its own pretense. This year, with Motor Trend picking Volkswagen’s new de-Euro’d Passat (a car that has received a decidedly mixed critical reception) for its highest honor, is it any wonder that the peanut gallery is frothing over the choice?
You know, it’s getting goddamned hard for a chap to enjoy a decent corporate-sponsored nosebag from time to time what with the ever-imminent prospect of Jack “Banquo” Baruth popping out from behind a silver soup tureen and shouting “J’accuse!” like some sort of admonitory, jort-clad Visigoth. At least, such I was thinking to myself as I lined the walls of my pericardium with the rich yellow fat best produced by overly-sauced food and moderately crappy wines.
This was in the latter stages of a lunch – sorry – launch I was attending in, admittedly, a very unprofessional capacity. I’m still not entirely sure how I ended up here, but I’m one of those people who can’t say no when offered work; here though there would be no byline, and theoretically therefore, no conflict of interest.
Still, I was keeping one eye open, metaphorically-speaking, for our own favourite Sword of Damocles, as – pardon me good sir, but I believe your trotter is in my trough!
Lifer Automotive Journalist the Size of a Small Moon: “Oh, do beg pardon. Snarfle-snarfle-glub.”
If you saw the video above on Autoblog, accompanied by some tired prose suggesting that you summon some enthusiasm for this, the latest automotive promotion, would you think twice? You might if you knew the person who posted the story, and knew they were being paid to promote said promotion. But how does one actually get an inside look at the gritty world of automotive PR payola? How do you break through the great wall of… what’s that, Jalopnik?
Today, Autoblog writer Jeff Glucker wrote about Nissan’s Britney Spears contest. Trouble is, he’s working for the agency that’s running it.
Earlier this week, [then-Autoblog Associate Editor Jeff] Glucker sent out an e-mail solicitation to several of his contacts in the automotive website world, asking for help promoting a new campaign for the Nissan Versa:
I am working with third-party agency that’s assisting Nissan with a new campaign for the Versa. No, I didn’t lose my job or anything – this is just some side contracting work so I can buy a second iPad or golden shift-knob for my car.
Oh right, you just have to open your eyes.
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When bearded flip-flop enthusiast and serial-ruiner Jonny Lieberman recently wrote about his new long-term-tester fantasy ride – a stick-shifted, murda’d-out Caddy CTS-V wagon – he facebooked a prediction, “Cue the Baruth-venom in 3…2…1…” Quoth JB in response, “No venom here. In the best liberal fashion I have censured you for the ethics of it and moved on.”
Those of us in the peanut gallery goggled at the collegiality of the kaijus of contrarianism; thank goodness they weren’t going to start throwing buildings at each other again. Now Frank Greve’s AJR piece on auto-journo shillsterism has shown up, basically lauding Mr. Baruth as the Last Honest Man In Auto Journalism™ and intimating that Motor Trend is, by comparison, the painted whore of Babylon. Jeez, hasn’t Tokyo suffered enough?
Knowing that some of the top PR professionals in the business are regular readers of TTAC (they could be anyone…), I can imagine a number of them shaking their heads in disapproval at the headline of this post. “It’s happened,” they’re probably muttering to themselves, “TTAC has finally lost the plot.” But instead of dismissing out of hand the seemingly preposterous premise of this post, I ask the assembled anonymous masses of PR pros to bear with me for a moment. As laughable as it might seem to postulate that the industry’s spin doctors can learn something from the most infamously “off the reservation” auto exec ever, the urge to write off this post is part of the very problem I hope to tackle. Allow me to explain…
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The first time Top Gear “tested” an electric car, it depicted Tesla’s Roadster running out of electricity and being pushed from the track. Tesla immediately pointed out that the batteries “never fell below 20%” during the test, a charge the British motoring show addressed by claiming that its review
offers a fair representation of the Tesla’s performance on the day it was tested.
Tesla responded again, and then three years later (as the Roadster was headed out of production) the EV maker sued the BBC and Top Gear producers. An online war of words erupted, with Tesla coming away looking rather foolish. And guess what? Now it’s all happening all over again… and this time, the most EV-committed global automaker, Nissan, has taken the Top Gear bait.
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If you asked an auto industry lobbyist, say, a month ago, what the big fights were over in CAFE negotiations, he probably wouldn’t have said “the number.” In the parlance of the Potomac valley, that means everyone at the table knows that at some point they’re all going to join hands and sing kumbaya over one highly symbolic number. Not surprisingly, the numbers that everyone in DC has been looking at fall right in the middle of these four scenarios… not coincidentally the tipping point where hybrids swing from a quarter to nearly half the market. But are these WSJ [sub] charts even accurate? John Krafcik, CEO of Hyundai Motor America and the industry’s CAFE contrarian implies that it’s not for everyone, telling Automotive News [sub] that
Honestly, our focus isn’t on hybrid. Our focus is on optimizing internal combustion and getting as many fuel-efficient vehicles out there, across the lineup. That’s the way you do it. If you look at the math, if you look at how CAFE math works, volume trumps everything.
But then Krafcik oversees a brand that doesn’t just sell lots of high-efficiency cars, it sells very few pickups… resulting in a sales-weighted fleet fuel economy 35.7 MPG in the first half of this year (as calculated by Hyundai). Did we mention that the 2016 passenger car standard is 37.8 MPG, at which time it figures its non-hybrid Elantra will get 50 MPG combined on the CAFE test? And nobody can look at Hyundai’s six-month sales performance (up 26%) and argue that Americans don’t want to buy fuel-efficient cars. In short, Hyundai is proving that automakers who can make money selling appealing, fuel-efficient cars need not binge on hybrids Even, according to the EPA’s final rule on standards through 2016, for manufacturers trying to sell as many pickups as possible.
Dan Gurney signing autographs for members of the the media at the 2008 New York Auto Show
The big OEM car show season is over and now that summer is here, it’s time for car shows, meets and cruises. For the people who work for marketing in the car companies and in the aftermarket it’s really a year long season. I see some of the same faces at the NAIAS, the Detroit Autorama, the Hot Rod Power Tour and the Woodward Dream Cruise..
I’ve attended press previews of some of the big auto shows since 2002. I’ve worked Detroit every year since, Chicago every year but ’09, and Toronto a couple of times when it didn’t conflict with Chicago. A car show media preview is not the same as the public car show and not just because there is staging and seating for the press and the displays are not in their final form. In a word the difference is access. During the public days, some of the cars are locked, and the ultra luxury and exotic rides are completely roped off from the unwashed masses. If you have a question to ask, there are trained product spokes men and women who will tell you about the floor models or give you a shpiel about a concept vehicle. There may be some sales reps from local dealers as well who will gladly give you a business card. You never see an executive from an automaker on the show floor during the public days. If there are celebrities, like racers, athletes and entertainers making personal appearances, they too are usually behind ropes and if autographs are available, the lines are long.
The media preview is completely different. Aside from its utility to journalists, for a car guy or gal it’s an auto show on an exponential scale. Yes there are models and product specialists on the turntables and around the displays who can try to answer you questions, but more important there are all the executives, product managers, engineers, designers and marketing people involved in making this year’s tangerine flake streamline babies. I like to talk to pretty ladies as much as the next guy so the models and booth professionals are fine with me. If I have a question or comment about a car, though, I think the chief designer could probably answer my question better than someone who’s learned a script. If you had your choice of people to talk cars with, wouldn’t you pick Carroll Shelby over someone hired by a talent agency?
Mark Modica, a former Saturn dealer GM bondholder, has leveraged his financial loss at the hands of the government bailout into a blogging position at the National Legal and Policy Center, a conservative nonprofit that “promotes ethics in public life through research, investigation, education and legal action.” At the NLPC, Modica focuses on what he believes to be corruption surrounding the auto bailout, and has written a series of anti-GM posts that make TTAC look like a Detroit hometown newspaper (TTAC “bias police,” take note). Most recently, Modica has caught the attention of the auto media, including Automobile Magazine and Jalopnik, with a series of posts accusing Chevy dealers of “scamming” taxpayers by claiming the Volt’s $7,500 tax credit and then selling Volts as used cars. TTAC welcomes anyone seeking to cast more light on the bailout, but unfortunately, Modica’s attacks are too focused on making GM look bad and not focused enough on providing relevant information to the American people. Let’s take a look and see why…
Back in 1976, the Italian automaker Fiat had been badly battered by a global energy crisis and the resulting malaise infecting the global auto industry. In what Time Magazine described at the time as “a devastatingly ironic example of petropower,” Col. Muammar Gaddafi instructed his Libyan Arab Foreign Bank to invest some $415m into the Italian automaker, giving it a stake that would eventually grow to some 14 percent of the firm’s equity.
By 1986, Fiat’s Libyan stakeholders were becoming more trouble than they were worth. In the wake of the Lockerbie bombings, the US introduced sanctions on Libya, and Fiat’s Libyan connection left its attempts to bid for US military contracts (particularly those related to Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative) dead on arrival. As a result, Fiat and its shareholders bought back the entire 14 percent Libyan stake in the firm, presenting the Libyan Arab Foreign Bank-controlled Banca UBAE with a $3.1b check. And, according to what a Fiat spokesperson told us yesterday, that is where the story ends. But thanks to the now-ubiquitous Wikileaks, we have found that this story may in fact go farther than that. In fact, as the evidence stands right now, either the US State Department is working with bad information (which major news sources have yet to correct), or Fiat is lying about its ties to the embattled Gaddafi regime.