Category: Media

By on February 8, 2011

In the rarefied world of auto journalism, EVO magazine has assumed a place at the top of the food chain, for its derring-do tales of “flat out motoring”, performance car snobbery of the highest order and rich douchebag “contributors” whose only qualification is owning an absurdly expensive car that masquerades as a “long term tester”.

Like foodies, hipsters and other urban vermin, the EVO crew clearly gets off on the elitism of motoring rather than the appreciation of an automobile or the joy of driving. Figures then, that Chris Harris, supposedly a thinking man’s Jeremy Clarkson, criticized the Mazda MX-5 as being “shit”. According to Harris, the Mazda is “slow, imprecise and unsatisfying”. On what planet?

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By on February 8, 2011

[Ed: With today’s news of NHTSA’s investigation results, we thought we’d look back at TTAC’s coverage of the Toyota Unintended Acceleration scandal.]

The Toyota Unintended Acceleration Scandal of 2010 was a curious beastie of a media phenomenon. Shortly after I started writing for TTAC, NHTSA opened an investigation into Toyota Tacomas because, as the Center for Auto Safety’s Clarence Ditlow put it,

If there were truly human error, there would be a proportional distribution across models. It’s very difficult to explain how some makes and models have higher numbers of complaints than others absent some flaw in the vehicle.

Fresh as I was to writing about the world of cars, I was sure I had the story dead to rights. I had seen this movie before, when my father told me his epic Parnelli Jones Unintended Acceleration story. Dad had even killed the the family pickup’s engine at a traffic light to prove it… and I knew how bad the brakes in the old Ford were (but that’s another story). Absent a better explanation than mere statistical likelihood, I knew there was only one cause for this problem. With a level of confidence that seems totally at odds with subsequent events, I concluded by suggesting that

the Detroit Free Press and Motor Trend blog, are trying to resuscitate the [Audi 5000] media frenzy, only this time Toyota’s to blame for people mistaking the accelerator for their brake pedal… If a TTAC reader out there has a Tacoma, perhaps they would do us the honor of standing on the brakes while mashing the accelerator for a few seconds. This should prove fairly simply that “unintended acceleration” is possible only when you are not actually on the brakes.

It was that simple… wasn’t it?

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By on February 7, 2011

Chrysler’s Super Bowl ad starring the city of Detroit and its new 200 sedan may have captured the imagination of American industry-watchers, but its timing was highly inauspicious. As the ad was launched, Chrysler was being thrust into a kind of transnational custody battle between US taxpayers and the Italian government, a battle that underscores the ambiguous benefits of national bailouts of multinational companies. At the same time, Chrysler workers have once again made news by getting caught partaking in controlled substances during a lunch break, an awkward representation of the culture of the city that Chrysler is so desperate to re-inspire faith in. And even outside of the controversies swirling around America’s most challenged domestic automaker, there are signs that the phenomenon that can be termed “automotive nationalism” is outliving its usefulness. Chrysler may argue that “what we make makes us,” but appeals to the national or regional character of a car are not simply misleading… they’re downright dangerous.
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By on December 17, 2010

One of the more admirable qualities of the blogging culture is a relentless underdog streak. Anyone who mans the ramparts of a decent blog is forever scouring the worlds of business, media and opinion for an opportunity to attack the most prominent voices of the day. And TTAC is no exception: we certainly came up by attacking the apologists and Polyannas who are still massively overrepresented in the world of automotive commentary. But what a difference a bailout makes. While the mainstream automotive media spent much of the leadup to the auto bailout making apologies and excuses for Detroit’s decline, TTAC told the unpleasant truth, gaining us new readers and credibility every step of the way. Now that I find myself being asked to contribute to one of the most prestigious opinion outlets in the world (the NY Times op-ed page) on a regular basis, TTAC is no longer the underdog, and other blogs have stepped into the breach to attack us as the new status quo. Fair enough… let’s do this thing.

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By on September 2, 2010

One of the world’s foremost authorities on Automotive Journalism recently got their hands on a trio of Corvettes just for fun. But what unfolded was on the verge of hilarity, if not for their self-proclaimed journalistic superiority over us “punk kids with lots of servers and a desire to get free test drives.”

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By on August 9, 2010

I ought to start this article off with the reasons as to why I decided to write this article. I got scalded recently for criticizing Jack Baruth’s article on why Top Gear USA will fail. On reflection, the scalding was well earned. It’s a bit unprofessional to criticize a fellow worker’s work no matter how much you disagree with it.

But this set off a light bulb in my head. Why should I post a comment about why I disagree with an article, and get browbeaten, if I can write an article of my own, highlighting my thoughts? Isn’t that the American way? Why give something away for free, when you can sell it? Read More >

By on June 26, 2010

TTAC readers, the Best and the Brightest, seemed to have liked the first Magazine Memories so I started to sort and  organize the boxes of old buff books in the basement, with an eye towards another column for you guys. The first piece was about a Sports Car Graphic from 1969, a golden age for both performance cars and auto racing. I thought it would be interesting, by way of contrast, to look at an era of less worthy automobiles, the “malaise era”, so named because of a speech given by Jimmy Carter during his presidency that attempted to address a sense of national lethargy. Though Carter never actually used the word malaise, the tag stuck. Looking at magazines from the middle of the Carter years, the winter of 1980-81, though, the cars were so boring and mediocre that I thought it’d be too much of a challenge to even joke about how boring and mediocre they were.
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By on May 20, 2010

The auto-journo world has been a-Twitter all night about the journo’s kid who crashed a 997 Turbo.. The actual “crash” doesn’t amount to much (about fifteen grand in damage to car and house, most of it covered by insurance) but the article Peter Cheney wrote to describe the incident provides some near-priceless insight into the manner by which automotive “journalism” has become PR by another name.

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By on May 10, 2010

With strong new auto safety legislation being debated in congress,the role and scope of government regulation in the auto industry is becoming a hotly-contested issue. But one important consideration is being left out of the discussion: the role of private “regulation” of the auto industry. Even as the new legislation was being drafted, we were treated to an object lesson in non-governmental regulation when the non-profit Consumer Reports issued a “do not buy” warning for the Lexus GX after it exhibited lift-off oversteer on a test course. Because CR performs independent testing on a wide variety of dealer-example vehicles, it was able to detect this error, which prompted Toyota to stop sales and production of the model until a fix was released. Throughout the incident, NHTSA played second fiddle to CR, merely checking the non-profit’s work. The lesson: a subscriber-based, non-profit is the real front line of US auto regulation. But, as the Wall Street Journal [sub] reports, Consumer Reports is being shadowed by another organization called Consumers Digest… and you don’t want to make the mistake of confusing the one with the other.

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By on April 3, 2010

The New York Auto Show was a surprisingly robust event with a feast of products for any price point.  But covering a show of this magnitude as a lone reporter was no small feat. With a wealth of product comes a wealth of showy stage productions and, of course, a metric ton of happy babble from the company men. They have their job, I have mine. On to the truth.

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By on March 15, 2010

Jim Sikes’ Prius high-speed dash to fame or infamy is a media hype-fest, with wild swings in sentiment from Toyota bashing to Sikes trashing. The rush to judgment is innately human, and Sikes certainly makes an easy target. But in the process, very little effort has been made to analyze what actually happened, or what might have actually happened, on the basis of the facts rather than Jim Sikes’ financial history and sexual proclivities. Read More >

By on March 14, 2010

A few days ago, James Sikes and his runaway Prius was all over news. Until we mentioned that something is fishy. Sikes’ driving skills were put in question. Stories about a wife swapping website emerged. Stories about bankruptcy. Stories about an unpaid lease on the Prius. And sundry other stories. Quickly, Sikes turned into Balloon Boy 2.0

Michael Fumento, director of the Independent Journalism Project, went on Neil Cavuto’s show on Fox Business and said: “It appears that everybody on planet earth suspected that there was something horribly wrong with this picture – except for the national media. The real hoax wasn’t James Sikes, it was in fact our press.” Read More >

By on March 7, 2010

[Note: This piece first ran in May 2007. It seems particularly relevant again in light of the current Toyota unintended acceleration (UA) situation. But please note that the circumstance that caused the Audi UA may, or may not be very different, depending on the circumstances. In the early eighties, electronic gas pedals and complex engine controls and other interfaces such as with ABS/brakes were still on the horizon. Nevertheless, the rules of physics have not been repealed. And an unknown percentage of Toyota UA events undoubtedly are the result of pedal misapplication. Audi’s near collapse in the American market after this incident remains a painful lesson in the power of the media, the slowness of the NHTSA, and the critical PR choices manufacturers make in the wake of a crisis like this. PN]

When I first heard about the Audi “sudden unintended acceleration” segment on CBS’s 60 Minutes in 1986, I knew instantly that they were blowing smoke. Literally. Read More >

By on January 7, 2010

I fought the media and the media won

[Ed: part one of this piece can be found here]

Six hours of completely sober sleep! As I arrived at Laguna Seca for a double race day in the Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Challenge, I felt like a new man. It’s customary for most club race days to start with practice sessions, but Skip Barber chooses instead to put the drivers in their trusty Econolines for a morning ride-and-coach session. My rather humbling lack of pace on Saturday — two full seconds a lap behind the leaders — led me to take this one seriously.

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By on September 6, 2009

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beholders have beheld the new Honda Crosstour and found it not beautiful. Ugly, in fact. Ten years ago, this condem-nation wouldn’t have been a problem for the vehicle’s manufacturer. At worst, a few aesthetically-offended members of the automotive press would have nibbled the hand that feeds, gently alluding to the vehicle’s “challenging” exterior. Otherwise, the illusion that the Honda Crosstour isn’t a Gorgon-on-wheels would have been maintained—at least until “disappointing” sales proved the point. Those days are gone. These days, Honda’s decision to green light an ugly automobile has unleashed a major PR debacle. Welcome to the Internet, fellas. I did warn you.

True story. Once upon a time, I wrote that the Subaru B9 Tribeca was ugly. More specifically, I called the Subie SUV’s front end a “flying vagina.” Excrement and rotary air moving device collided. Subaru had me fired from my job as car reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle. The anti-TTAC backlash was fast and furious. BMW, Chrysler, Subaru, Toyota, GM—every single mainstream carmaker in the United States took TTAC off their press car list. Including Honda.

HoMoCo tried to dress up their contribution to the ban as a sudden realization that TTAC was too small for press car consideration. I didn’t argue the point. Why bother? We were small. But I told the PR flack in question that he was missing the point. The game was changing. Thanks to the Internet, the Japanese carmaker couldn’t hide from the truth about their cars. You know, eventually.

I figured GM’s bankruptcy would be the beginning of the end for decades of journalistic bribery and collusion. When the largest and most monolithic of the American automakers went down, the industry would realize they had to face the truth about their products, or face extinction. While I didn’t expect the chastened car companies to embrace their protagonist, I thought the post-GM C11 automakers would at least begin to see the value of a website that left no holds barred.

At that point, perhaps, carmakers might reach out to us and engage our writers and commentators in something roughly akin to a conversation. An open, honest and frank exchange of views about their vehicles’ shortcomings, leading to better products and customer relations. I predicted that the first car company to fully embrace Internet openness would have an enormous competitive advantage.

Here’s what I didn’t understand: TTAC was part of the problem. Yes, we host a not inconsiderable 1.1 million unique visitors per month. But we’re still an elitist outfit. Not to coin a phrase, we report, you decide. Old school. Or, more accurately, outdated.

The Crosstour controversy proves that the power of the truth has leapfrogged gatekeepers—both old and new—and landed on the keyboards of individual enthusiasts. To wit: a TTAC writer didn’t force Honda’s hand in the matter of its ugly ass CUV. Everyone did. Honda’s Facebook page was the medium. “The Crosstour is ugly” was the message.

And now that the message is out there, Honda can’t deal. Their efforts to do so, via their “Message to Fans,” misunderstands the fundamentally no-bullshit nature of Internet “debate.” By doing so, Honda only makes things worse.

Hi, Facebook fans. We’re listening, and we want to address a few things you’ve been talking about over the past few days. The photos: Arguably, the two studio photos we posted didn’t give you enough detail, nor were they the best to showcase the vehicle. There are more photos on the way. Maybe it’s like a bad yearbook photo or something, and we think the new photos will clear things up. It’s not the European wagon: We’ve seen a lot of comments about the desire for a wagon, but this is neither a wagon nor designed for wagon buyers. We think the Euro wagon is a cool vehicle, too, and we appreciate the feedback… but a version of that wasn’t our intention here. That’s another segment worthy of our consideration, but the Accord Crosstour, built on the larger, Accord platform, is meant to give you the best of two worlds – the versatility of an SUV with the sportiness of a car. Many of you don’t like the styling: It may not be for everyone. Our research suggests that the styling does test well among people shopping for a crossover.

Arguably? “A bad yearbook photo?” “Clear things up?” Honda’s rip-post is defensive, evasive, obfuscatory, condescending. Moreover, it shows that the automaker is so far out of the cultural loop they don’t realize that the phrase the “best of two worlds” evokes the deeply uncool Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus paradigm. And “We’re listening” brings to mind blowhard fictional shrink Frasier Crane. Taken as a whole, it’s hard to imagine Honda drafting a worse reply to their “fans” that doesn’t include the words FOAD.

More to the point, Honda fails to understand that the Internet wins. The web has revealed that their would-be emperor is buck naked and unattractive; rendering their previous product design and research worthless. And there’s nothing Honda can do to change this perception amongst the automotive opinion shapers. Because it’s not perception. It’s reality.

Honda can’t fix ugly. Unless, of course, they do. Honda could spend tens of millions of dollars to rectify this now-obvious mistake. Lest we forget, despite Subaru’s vicious anti-TTAC smear campaign, the car company quickly modified the Tribeca’s flying vagina front end into a Chrysler Pacifica-esque snout. Will Honda follow suit and change the Crosstour?

In some ways, it doesn’t matter. The autoblogosphere has forced Honda to face the truth about their car. For those of us who love cars—not forgetting that hatred is love turned upside down—the fact that Honda may be shamed into returning to product excellence is a truly wondrous thing.

It turns out that Gil Scott-Heron was right: the revolution will not be televised. It’s on Facebook.

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