The Truth About Cars » Journalism The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 17:47:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Journalism An Open Letter To The Mopar Community Regarding Our Cherokee Review Fri, 13 Sep 2013 18:51:39 +0000 neontow

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’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 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.


Jack Baruth
#187 Plymouth Neon, NASA Performance Touring “E”

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Gawker Wants The Detroit News To Stick To The Real Journalism Mon, 06 May 2013 18:57:38 +0000 Night coming tenderly, and you know the rest. Picture courtesy LifeChoice.

When the Detroit News decided to make a click-tastic slideshow of The 50 Most Beautiful WAGS In Sports, the blogosphere responded with some WAGging of its own — mostly of tongues. Nearly everybody agreed that there was something deeply saddening and pathetic about the fact that a semi-respected Old News bastion is now using Google Image Search and one-click-per-picture tactics to puff up the numbers. Some of the strongest criticism, however, came from a most unlikely source.

In a piece entitled Oh God The Detroit News Is Trying To Be Buzzfeed Now, Contributor Aaron Foley opines that

But a countdown, click-through list of most beautiful wives and girlfriends of athletes? NO. Really? It shouldn’t have come to this. I get that Buzzfeed is popular because they have lists and Complex always does clicky slideshow shit like this, but they have that lane. Don’t merge into that lane. It’s their lane. And frankly, it works for them.

This all sounds perfectly reasonable, and you’re likely to nod your head along with it, until you realize that Mr. Foley is writing for a blog that ran a picture of Steve McQueen’s penis.

A picture.

Of Steve McQueen’s.


The stage is being set for an epic showdown between old media and new media, for sure, but it’s not going to pan out quite the way the script-writers at Gawker et al planned it. Some time ago, in a piece about a similar episode of Jalopnik news-ethics outrage, I wrote that

It’s the Connery-in-The-Untouchables approach. They put a picture of a Ferrari on the cover? You put a picture of a crashed Ferrari on the website. They declare the Chevy Sonic to be the best car ever? You do the same, plus run a story on a guy driving an electric scooter on the freeway.

Now, let me show you Jack’s Foolproof Chart Of What Young Male Readers Like, from Least to Most:

Detailed reliability data
Sophisticated, knowledgeable automotive testing
Fun stories about stuff
Stories where something blows up
Pictures of cool stuff
Pictures of stuff blowing up
An article about girls doing slutty things
Mugshots of girls who have done slutty things
A girl talking about having the “back of her eyeballs” knocked out by some dude raw-doggin’ her in a hallway
A picture of the above
A video of the above
A video of the above, with two guys
A video of the above, with two guys and a dog
A video of the above, with two guys, a dog, and a tight-ass dubstep soundstrack

You get the idea, right? It’s always possible to increase viewership by moving farther down the list. Jalopnik is farther down the list than Car and Driver, but that doesn’t mean they get to cry “Hold!” at the Mugshots of girls who have done slutty things level. Somebody’s gonna take it farther.

I was right about that, but what I failed to discuss was that Jalopnik (and TTAC, and Buzzfeed, and everyone else) aren’t just under attack from new bloggers trying to out-slut or out-snark us. We’re also seeing an increasing willingness on the part of the stodgy old media to do whatever it takes to compete. Motor Trend, which prior to the year 2010 was only remembered by anyone for its earnest and tireless advocacy on behalf of the Chevrolet Citation, now operates the biggest automotive-related video channel in the world.

Think about that. The lamest, oldest, unhippest car magazine out there also runs the newest, freshest, biggest, most popular video channel. How did that happen? It’s simple: while the other car magazines and newspapers were coasting on their assets, MT worked to develop, borrow, or imitate things that the viewer wanted to see. They didn’t depend on the name or the pre-existing reader base. Instead, they used that reader base as a launch platform, a list of potential evangelicals who, if they were presented with content they enjoyed, would spread the word to others.

If you think that kind of approach — the reader-base-as-seed-capital approach — only works for a YouTube channel, you’re wrong. Mark my words: Any day now, somebody at Car and Driver is going to decide to attack the Web at full speed. They’ll put the whole magazine on there in expanded format. They’ll create a top-notch user comment system and update it on Internet time. They’ll leverage their million-plus readers to get ten-million-plus Web readers. They’ll decide to do to Jalopnik, and to TTAC, what Jalopnik did to them five years ago.

If they do so, they will succeed. If. If they have the will, the guts, and the intelligence to see it through. If they treat it like they are a start-up that happens to be lucky enough to have two million clients banging on the door. If they apply the same kind of original thinking that led to the creation of the original Car and Driver to the creation of the next one. The phoenix that rises from those particular ashes won’t look much like the current magazine does, any more than MT‘s YouTube channel looks like a four-color Chevrolet Citation advertorial, but it will succeed. Mark my words.

Aaron Foley is right. The Detroit News can’t, and shouldn’t, try to compete with Buzzfeed by running the occasional poorly-thought-out slideshow. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t eat a lot of lunches by changing direction before circumstances force them to abandon ship. Ooh. Abandon ship. I like that phrase. Let’s roll with it. In that context, Mr. Foley’s column shouldn’t be seen as sour grapes or misguided whining. It should be seen as a warning shot across the bow. A warning shot that the Detroit News would do well to respond to, not by turning away, but by firing a full broadside.

Correction: Aaron Foley is a contributor, not the Detroit Editor as previously mentioned. -Ed.

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In Defense Of: The Press Junket Mon, 31 Oct 2011 16:45:05 +0000

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.”

Think nothing of it. Now where was I? Ah yes, the dining room. There I was, surrounded by the ambiance of several tonnes of avoirdupois on the hoof rapidly consuming their considerable body weights in alcohol, rich meats and cream-based sauces. The sound was akin to that of creating a vast clone army of Cookie Monsters and then turning them loose to attack the Nestle Toll House central warehouses. Om, as they say, Nom.

As I sat, replete and idly wondering how much leftover ribeye I could secret away in my pockets for homeward economy-flight consumption before I became drunk enough to lose basic motor skills, a voice hissed at me.

“Psssst!” came the hoarse whisper, “Lime-Green Audi S5!”

Thus it was that I received the secret verbal handshake that identifies those of us for whom the gravy train remains a bemusing through-the-looking-glass experience, best described by TTAC contributor Derek Kreindler as a luxury vacation with people you hate. Not that I object to the free bacon of course.

Fast-forward a bit and here I am again at yet another free-for-all, sipping a Stone IPA I didn’t pay for, noshing on some quote-unquote “vintage”  ribeye – hipsterism for carnivores? – with port-wine reduction. As our gracious host rises to his feet to thank the assembled journalists for coming, thus reminding us all about how important we really are, I’m thinking about Jeff Glucker.

A better writer than I has already covered this topic, but moving forward, the immediate fallout of Gluckergate has been the usual 10-10-80 polarization of those who read, follow and comment on the various automotive blogs and websites that are part of Interwebs 2-point-whatever-we’re-at-now. 10% of people were outraged at Mr. Glucker’s ethical mis-step, and applaud Jalopnik’s no-holds-barred outing. 10% of people (including yours truly) were outraged at Jalopnik’s mean-spirited sensationalization of Mr. Glucker’s misstep, their gleeful attempt to score points off a rival blog, and the offensive odour of holier-than-thou adopted by a site that used to be a cool place to get COTD.

For 80% of folks however, it seems to have been no big deal, business as usual, a Pontiac Tempest in a GM-stamped Teapot that showed up in a giftbag in the free hotel room you were flown to on business class. By the way, these are only approximations – I don’t know how accurate my Scion calculator is.

The consensus seems to be, and I apologize in advance as I’m about to start slopping around the whitewash of generalization here, that automotive “journalism” should forever be aware of the invisible quotes surrounding the latter half of its appellation. At the end of the day, to seize hold of one of the most hackneyed phrases available, the public sees us as little different from those who review TV shows or toasters.

For me, it’s even more simple: there but for the grace of God, go I. Like Jeff Glucker, I am no Baruth or Farago when it comes to “tirelessly savaging his enemies”. Quite frankly, the thought of even mildly inconveniencing an enemy makes me yearn for a nice, long, mid-afternoon nap. No, I’ll have to be content with merely savaging the English language.

And really, fat jokes aside, who am I to begin to cast the stones of ethics at my colleagues when I myself am working towards the same equipment list as the current Nissan Altima: full-size spare tire as standard. If there’s a sin too often revisited at the TTAC offices, it’s that of patting ourselves too hard on the back for being independent, and incorruptible, and outside the mainstream.

But when our own Edward N. half-despairingly asks the question, “where is the pride?” I bristle. It’s right goddam here.

No, not necessarily only in the articles and reviews before you now, but in the company I am privileged to keep. It’s in the excellent weirdness found at Glucker’s own Hooniverse website. It’s in the riotous anarchy of the 24 hours of LeMons. It’s in the sensible debate of a Best and Brightest comments section and the in-sensible arguing on the facebook page of a certain be-flipflopped TTAC alum.

Surely, the face of automotive journalism has changed as the face of traditional media has changed; not always for the better, but with a new host of writers and thinkers, and most importantly, with a new kind of audience. Not only that, but also the shoulders of the giants we stand upon are not always as sloping as we New Breed hacks would have you believe: there are many print journalists to whom I humbly doff my cap.

The cogs of the PR machine grind grimly on, just as they always have done, with free lunches and free cars, jewel-like launch settings for economy-grade rides and endless giveaways. But the cogs have chipped a tooth: in internet forum discussions, in the musings of those automotive writers I’m honoured to call colleague and in, quite frankly, a higher calibre of PR folks who actually care about the companies and products they represent, there is pride to be found.

Most of all, dear reader, there is you, the TTAC audience; the some of the people you can’t fool any of the time. It is my humble privilege to lay before you such scribblings as I do and have your own finely-tuned bullshit-o-meters waver the needle if you detect the influence of a comped bar-bill.

In the meantime, I happily wade though rivers of bearnaise to bring you The Truth, ever mindful of my responsibilities to the pull-no-punches ideals set out by our founder, and carried on by the writing and editing staff of TTAC.

Obsequious Waiter: Would Sir laike an aftair-dinnair meent?

No, sod off. I’m absolutely stuffed.

Obsequious Waiter: Oh, but Sir, it’s only wafair-theen.

Oh all right, just the one then.


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Ask The Best and Brightest: Shouldn’t We Shut Up About Styling? Sun, 27 Jun 2010 14:32:25 +0000

It may not be apparent from the cheerful, distracted way in which I load my TTAC contributions with ridiculous jargon, shocking sexual audacity, and repulsive images of the ghetto, but writing an online auto review is actually a rather tightly woven proposition. One has about a thousand words, give or take a few, in which to convey the essence of a vehicle which has cost hundreds of millions of dollars to develop. There is usually so much data in the press materials that a simple Cliffs Notes version of that data would run to double the permitted review length.

That’s not all. Everybody has access to those materials, so one must be careful to save some room with which to convey accurate, personalized driving impressions. Speaking frankly, there are only three differences between the average denim journOrca (just made that up) and your humble author: I can drive a vehicle beyond four-tenths, I fit in most bucket seats, and I rarely sleep alone at press events. Therefore, in a thousand-word review, I have to set aside a few hundred words to be honest about how the car drives.

You get the point. There’s not a lot of room in the “trunk” of a review. This doesn’t stop most of us in the business from putting junk in that trunk. The “junk” in question consists of vague, uneducated ranting on automotive styling. Click the jump to hear some examples and discuss what should be done.

I had the recent misfortune of reading a CTS Coupe review which devoted nearly half of the available page space to a styling critique. The reviewer said “aero-sculpted” and “large-ish”. He compared the vehicle to a children’s toy and a Corvette. There was a moment where he appeared to simply be vomiting random phrases onto his keyboard.

This fellow isn’t a designer. He wasn’t trained in design. He didn’t go to design school. My personal experience with design was limited to a single course at university and two decades reading about Isamu Noguchi, but I’m not sure this fellow had even that. In other words, he’s completely unqualified to provide an informed opinion.

Perhaps, in the era where automotive reviews were delivered by telegraph and then shouted aloud to an anxious crowd of people standing in a dusty town square, this would have been useful. In the modern era, however, we can see photographs of the car and judge for ourselves.

I think it’s ridiculous to write more than a paragraph about styling in a review. Since I’m not always correct, however, I want the B&B to chime in. How much do you want to hear about styling in a review? Any suggestions as for how I can provide you better information on that topic? Do you want to hear more about sex on press trips? Who ate all the bacon at the breakfast buffet? Let’s have answers!

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The Challenges Of Automotive Journalism Tue, 08 Dec 2009 18:29:47 +0000 It ain't easy being sleazy... (
The following is a piece called “What We Wear” by Alex Law, reprinted from the Automobile Journalist Association of Canada’s November 27 “Mini Newsletter.”

Word that AJAC has actually launched a set of branded clothes struck me as quite meaningful, since the long history of the auto writing trade is to wear clothes with other people’s names.

It must be noted that Dave Booth, Jim Kenzie and I discussed a variation on this idea about a decade back, but it was limited to one of those jackets you see on people in a rock band. Our idea was to design a Car Guys World Tour jacket, with a map of the globe on the back. The first time you visited a particular city, you could sew a star on its location on the jacket in commemoration. Visit Moscow and put a star on its spot on the jacket, and so on. Ironically, we were traveling too much to make it happen.

But getting clothes from auto firms has been going on for as long as I’ve been in the business, a term which recently passed 30 years. According to a usually reliable source (Hi, Walt), the car companies only went to jackets, shirts and hats because in the 1960s the gift thing was getting out of hand. In the early days of auto journalism, the gifts would sometimes include appliances, such as fridges.

Now, somewhere in deepest Milton or in a four-star hotel in Xanadu or some such place, Jim Kenzie is reading this and wishing he could interrupt me to tell his story about the inexperienced Volvo PR man, but he can’t because I’m going to. This is only fair, as we have been stealing each other’s stories for years. Ask him to tell you about my worst experience with a copy editor. And for you Internet folks, a copy editor is someone who checks your story for errors before it appears.

Maybe 20 years back, Volvo brought a new guy into its European PR staff. He was smart and all those good things, but he did not know that the protocol there at the time was that you put the media agenda for the program on the gift in the hotel rooms. He realized his mistake the next morning, when a line of smiling hacks from all over Europe came down to check out with a TV under their arms.

The closest thing to a flap about gift clothes happened in Atlanta in the late 1980s. But you have to go back a year to North Carolina to appreciate the situation better, when GM had a program for its Buick-Olds-Cadillac division in the famous Greenbrier Hotel. At the time that immense, rambling structure was known purely as a golf destination, its secret life as a gigantic bunker for the U.S. government in the 1950s was as then unknown. Really. Bing it on the web. Anyway, we all got an ugly green Greenbrier Resort sweater when we checked in, and the PR people soon made it clear that they’d made no effort to guess our sizes. Take it back to the gift shop, they said, and get the size you want, or, you know, exchange it for something you liked better. My memory is that nearly all the sweaters went back in favour of something else.

So the next year, in a resort on Lake Lanier, Georgia, the BOC people cut to the chase and issued gift certificates for the gift shop or the pro shop at the golf course. Only you had to sign the gift certificates, and this struck a lot of people as a very bad thing, so no gifts were taken home. Ugly sweaters as currency is one thing, apparently, but a piece of paper with a dollar sign ($50 US) and your signature is something else.

BOC took note of this the next year and arranged for everyone to get a pair of Foot-Joys running shoes, with people on hand to measure your feet so the custom-fitted beauties would fit perfectly when they arrived at your home a few weeks later. They were great shoes, which I wore out on more press trips.

This chain of events got Jim and I to talking about gift clothes shortly thereafter, and he started to bemoan the fact that it was always jackets, shirts and hats, jackets, shirts and hats, jackets, shirts and hats, with a pair of gloves or shoes every now and then. This helped him keep his clothes’ budget low, he admitted, but he was trying to think of something that would relieve him of the need to buy pants, socks and underwear.

His idea was that the car companies across Canada should figure out how much they planned to spend on gift clothes every year and contribute that to a fund that would be apportioned to auto writers on an individual basis. That way, we would easily get enough to pay all of our clothing requirements, even though we would have order bespoke tailoring. After all, gift clothes always include the car company’s name or logo, so Jim figured that all of the shirts and jackets we had made would come with a Velcro patch on the chest, so that we could affix the appropriate logo depending upon whose program we were attending. When we wore the clothes away from a car event, Jim suggested, we should use a patch that advertised his band.

This seemed like an excellent idea to me, but I worried that it would be too hard for the car companies to agree on how it would work. My solution was simpler: we would find clothing items or other things that we really liked and tell the car companies about them for future use. Thus was the notion of The Graft Registry born.

Feel free to use the idea now, if you want. From what I hear, the shirts, jackets, hats and USB memory sticks are starting to build up.

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