The Truth About Cars » press cars http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 29 Jul 2014 21:42:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 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 editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (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 » press cars http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com What’s It Really Like To Obliterate a Press Car? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/whats-it-really-like-to-obliterate-a-press-car/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/whats-it-really-like-to-obliterate-a-press-car/#comments Sat, 28 Jul 2012 14:30:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=454544 After reading Jack’s “mean-spiritedly annotated” interpretation of Motor Trend’s Scott Evans’ rollover of a Cadillac ATS at a press event and then Scott’s safe-n-sane account of his unfortunate off-road adventure, I remembered 24 Hours of LeMons head honcho Jay Lamm mentioning that he’d rolled a Range Rover in spectacular fashion during his car-journo days. With all this talk about upside-down press cars lately, I decided to interview Mr. Lamm about his wreck and the effects it had on his subsequent career.
If there’s anyone who has car writing in his blood, it’s this guy. Jay’s father, Michael Lamm, wrote and edited for most of the car rags back in the day (and still writes good stuff for Hemmings nowadays), and Jay battled in the auto-journo trenches for a good quarter-century before hanging it up to become a race promoter. He’s refreshingly grumpy and cynical about the entire business (to the point of hanging a signed pledge to never write about cars again over his desk), so I knew he wouldn’t sugar-coat anything in this story. Here we go!

MM: A little background first. How long did you work as an automotive journalist before embarking on your current career as a race promoter, and what were some of the publications for which you wrote?

JL: The first thing I ever sold was a piece about Elvis’ metalflake-blue Maserati Ghibli, to AutoWeek when I was 16. Since then I did stuff for Automobile, Car and Driver, the late lamented MPH, Spy Magazine, Popular Mechanics, a bunch of others. And I was editor of Sports Car International in the 90s and Vintage Motorsport and a whole bunch of one-marque mags, some being pretty okay and some just appallingly awful.

MM: OK, now that we’ve got that stuff out of the way, let’s talk about the really interesting part, i.e., your glorious press-car-killing rollover. What was the vehicle, and where was the event?

JL: It was a Range Rover, and the event was The Great Divide Expedition. You still see those stickers sometimes on hooptie-ass Range Rovers from, I don’t know, it must’ve been the very late ’80s. Anyway, the deal was they had a bunch of Range Rovers and you flew into the Rockies and crossed the Great Divide in these sport-utes a whole bunch of times, taking pictures and ogling the scenery and all the while shoveling buckets of airlifted shrimp into your maw. Okay, I don’t actually remember the shrimp, so I’m projecting a little there. I do remember it was pretty swanky for a trip about grinding America’s nature under the British-built pneumatic boot-heel of a luxury SUV.

MM: On the Hella Sweet To Butt Turrable Continuum (HSTBTC), where would you place this vehicle?

JL: About mid-pack. If you accept that the First World’s soccer moms need a short-coupled, leather-lined safari wagon with gigantic hoppy springs under the chassis, it was great. If you think “Hmm, sounds like a great recipe for a rollover if driven by a guy with no talent (ie, me),” it was butt-turrible. So really, that’s open to interpretation.

MM: So, how did the wreck happen? Walk us through the chain of events.

JL: I needed to pee. There were about seven of us up in the high country on these gravel roads, and I DESPERATELY needed to pee.

So I come around a corner, and there’s about four other dudes on this deal all pulled over to the side of the road with their donkeys out, simultaneously studying nature and hydrodynamics. I think “ah, salvation.” I join ‘em.

So now I’m standing there, one-handed for, like, eight solid minutes. Did I mention I really had to pee? Finally I’m done, and by then all but one of the other cars had taken off, and the last one was just piling in and going away as I’m zipping my fly. Now, I don’t want to get lost, of course, and–you know, since I’m an automotive journalist–God forbid I should actually look at a map and find my own way like a grownup, so I jump back in my Range Rover and tear-ass to catch up to the guy who just left. And as soon as I catch up with him, I realize he’s really flying. FLYING. We’re on these gravel roads, going over hills and creeks and stuff, and he’s just ripping. But I say, you know, those classic final words, “if he can go that fast, I can go that fast.”

Turns out “he” was zillion-time Baja 1000 winner Malcolm Smith. If I’m in a Range Rover, Malcolm Smith could outrun me in a golf cart. I could so NOT go as fast as that guy, and about two minutes later I totally bit it. The road went up over a rise and jigged sharp right just on the other side. For Malcom, no problem–he, like, teleported the car 50 yards to the right and putted happily down the road. I rolled mine about four times, corner to corner, and I distinctly remember thinking, as it was sliding along on its windshield about 60 mph, “Wait–who did that? That’s REALLY FUCKING BAD. I sure feel sorry for THAT poor bastard.”

Nobody was hurt, but the PR guy in the backseat got the entire contents of an ice chest down his shorts, which I felt kinda bad about. The guy in the front passenger’s seat was a Motor Trend dude who’d just rolled a new Saab on a press launch in, like, Öbberlikkenflickenhammer a month ago, so he couldn’t say dick…in fact, they were both really kind about it, considering how badly I’d just screwed them.

MM: How trashed was the vehicle?

JL: It was hella-done trashed. Bill Baker, who was the head of Range Rover at the time, came back eventually after we’d pushed it back on its wheels and said “Hey, these things are so tough, it’ll just start right up!” Yeah, um, sorry Bill, not so much. Every corner was rounded off, the roof was caved in, the wheels were exploring new forms of directional self-expression…that thing was messed up. For all I know, there was, like, a nest of endangered snowy plovers sucked up in the air cleaner. It was done.

MM: Did you get sweated by anybody (e.g., press flacks, editors, cops) about the wreck?

JL: Not a soul. Even Bill, who I’m sure would have been delighted to chuck my ass off the nearest cliff, was very polite about it, though he did suggest that for my own sake–you know, rattled and all, probably sore, snakebit, blah blah blah–I should probably take the next goddamn plane out of Wyoming and thus his professional life. Oh, and BTW, they’d happily pay for it. Which they did.

Now, I’ve never worked on the PR side, so this is purely a supposition, but I’ve always assumed that if you hand the keys to a zillion-dollar luxury vehicle to a 22-year-old kid and say “have fun!!” you probably already expect that it might not come back in pristine dealer condition. And that said, I’m not nearly as surprised that some press cars get wiped out as I am that so few get wiped out. Even if you’re talking about some given set of well trained, highly responsible drivers–and, let’s be perfectly clear here, we are NOT talking about a set of well trained and highly responsible drivers–then by sheer probability alone, you’d kind of assume that a lot more would end in a ditch. You’re just talking about hundreds and hundreds of guys who are out there driving constantly, in all kinds of weather, in unfamiliar cars, on all kinds of weird routes, traffic signs in Urdu and shit, and they’re all doing God knows how many tens of millions of miles a year between them. The fact that they’re not stacking them up ALL THE TIME is more amazing to me than the fact that some dude named Darth Bissoon-Vader occasionally shortens a Lambo.

MM: Did you ever mention the wreck in your writing?

JL: Yeah, all the time, in fact. I don’t even remember who I was sent by on that thing, and I know they didn’t say Boo about it, but it came up a lot for a while after that–you know, as in “…not wanting to roll yet another press vehicle, I declined Mr. Moss’s invitation to….”

MM: Did you get blacklisted with that manufacturer or otherwise suffer any negative, career-tarnishing consequences as a result of the wreck?

JL: Not that I’m aware of, but really, who knows? I did so little SUV stuff anyway, they could have said “we’re never letting THAT Jewish bastard in one of our cars again,” and I doubt that I would have noticed. Certainly nobody else seemed to care, except my mother, who is still kinda horrified to this day. But a week later, I was driving a Nissan Pathfinder press car and thinking, “Man, I sure hope Malcolm Smith isn’t around here anyplace.”

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How I Got Banned From Two Press Car Fleets http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/how-i-got-banned-from-two-press-car-fleets/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/how-i-got-banned-from-two-press-car-fleets/#comments Sun, 01 Apr 2012 17:47:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=437440

(Today’s guest post comes from Peter Dushenski. While most journalists love to brag about what kind of press cars they can get access to, Peter is here to share the story of how he got banned from from fleets. It’s one you won’t often hear. – DK)

“Also I must inform you that I will no longer be supplying you with Toyota or BMW vehicles.”

That was it.

That was the very last line in an e-mail I received last week from The Press Fleet Manager. No explanation followed. Not even a sign-off remark. No “Sincerely”, no “Regards”. No frivolity.

This was particularly unexpected because I’d merely e-mailed her to request a leave of absence from the fleet schedule while I vacationed in Israel with my fiancée next month. Unless she had connections with Better Place, I wasn’t expecting more of a response than “Ok, thanks.”

After a follow-up phone call, she informed me that BMW had found my Mini Countryman review “offensive”, that Toyota didn’t see how my Venza review catered to their intended demographic, and that I was an entitled young punk who didn’t realize how quickly I could be replaced. And just like that, I was banned from BMW and Toyota Canada’s press fleets.

So let’s take a look at what one car company found so irrelevant and the other so insulting.

Mini is known the world over for its unconventional ad campaigns. It’s this fun and tangential marketing that keeps their ergonomically inept city car fresh after a decade of relative stagnation. It turns out, however, that it’s only kosher if Mini is the one doing things differently.

My comparison of the Mini Countryman and Ford Focus last Fall was, from my perspective, an unqualified success. The feedback on my use of Ali G-aping hood slang was overwhelmingly positive. Readers seemed to enjoy reading my experimental style just as much as I enjoyed writing it. It’s worth noting that writing in this style is not only challenging but also surprisingly labour intensive. I lost track of the hours I spent writing and re-writing that article, fiddling with various tones and styles. I was quite proud of the result, particularly my analysis of the seating arrangement:

 Startin’ wit’ da Countryman, we see dat it only seats 4 of yo peeps, which be meanin’ dat one of yo crew be walkin’. Dat some bullshit fo real! To add in salts to yo injuries, the seats be so flat dat da walls be jealous. Snap! Doze seats wrap around yo skinny ass like yo arms wrap around a Californ-I-A Redwood. It ain’t even close.

BMW Canada didn’t seem to care for my references to active transportation, homophonic sodium chloride, and American forestry. They found it offensive! BMW/Mini probably didn’t like losing the comparison test either. Maybe Porsche’s promotional policies, the ones Jack is always raving about, are gaining wider appeal?

The crazy thing is that I never even asked to drive BMW’s press cars in the first place. Like several manufacturers such as Audi, Volvo, and Subaru, BMW doesn’t have a regular press fleet for the Prairies. BMW normally reserves their Canadian press vehicles for privileged Torontonians like Derek and Vancouverites like Brenden. The fairly awful Mini Countryman was an anomaly and I still can’t figure out what it was doing in Edmonton, other than getting whooped by a Ford.

So finding out that I was cut from BMW’s nonexistent fleet was nothing less than redeeming. HQ almost certainly hadn’t realized that I was even driving the Countryman. That they took the time to read my review was an honour.

Then there’s the matter of Toyota’s press fleet. I’ve lost track, but I’ve reviewed either seven or eight Toyota products over the past 15 months, and it never seemed that Toyota was too concerned with my take one way or another. They could’ve taken exception with my review of the Scion xD, which remains the single worst new car I’ve ever driven, but they didn’t. Even when I called the xD the Worst Car Reviewed in 2011, they took the criticism like a champ, if they noticed at all. But as I mentioned earlier, according to The Press Fleet Manager, it was my Venza review that broke the camel’s back.

Right before I left for Berlin last August (I like traveling, ok?), I drove the 4-cylinder AWD Venza for a week. It was the automotive equivalent of a University lecture on the differentiation of B-lymphocytes into antibody-forming plasma cells. Trust me. After 10 days in the western part of the reunified capital, I was still struggling to make the Venza review anything other than methodically dull. Then, suddenly, while meditating in the impossibly cool lobby of the Karim Rashid-designed nhow hotel, I had the vision to write out the review by hand and scan the paper. I’m not one to question inspiration, so I went with it. I even went so far as to Crayola a concept for a more exciting Venza.

I’d done some hand-drawn blogging before, most notably with pencil crayons for this Peter Orosz-approved Martian GT3 piece, so this wasn’t uncharted territory for me. My chicken scratched critique of the Venza, however, was so off the mark from Toyota Canada’s expectations that they went into convulsions on the floor, vomiting beige until their abs could take no more. My reckless doodling was simply too fringe for Toyota’s predictable target customer. BMW felt the same way about my slangin’.

 And they have a point: I wasn’t appealing to their target audience. But nor am I supposed to. Both companies already have full-fledged marketing departments to cater to the people who “should” buy their cars. It’s my job to tease out the people who shouldn’t.

If I were a marketing company directly charging Mini and Toyota for my work, the invoice would be into the five figures before I lifted a Crayon. Providing me with a few hundred dollars worth of seat time is a steal for them. My creative services are essentially being provided free-of-charge. I was taking creative risks, not just because I have the luxury and inclination, but because I have to.

Besides, taking risks is fun! With the Countryman and Venza reviews, you might say that these risks didn’t pay off. But I take lots of risks, and I don’t expect them all to pay off.

Owling the Raptor was a risk. Hand-writing a review was a risk. Drawing a picture was a risk. Writing in hood slang was a risk. Discussing philosophy on a car blog is the biggest risk I’m taking right now. Will it pay off? Based on the positive reception in the last two months, I’d say yes.

Sometimes my perspectives are pretty out there, but I’d argue that the perspectives that test us are even more important than the perspectives we already have. New ideas and a diversity of backgrounds are what make TTAC and the B&B unparalleled. I often find inspiration on these very pages, making this particular opportunity all the more cherished and my gratitude towards Derek all the greater for extending this opportunity.

Blogging isn’t my primary occupation; it’s my labour of love. As such, I have the luxury of taking risks and occasionally ruffling feathers. I don’t have to worry about pissing off advertisers the way writers at larger publications, both print and online, do. Really, losing press fleet access is the worst thing that can happen to me, and it’s far from life changing.

Even though I won’t get to bag a new FR-S, I’ll continue to share my worldly and uncommon perspectives for as long as I enjoy doing so. I take pleasure in exploring ideas and taking creative risks, and I hope that I can encourage you, the B&B, to do the same.

Some risks, it seems, pay off. Even when you’d swear they don’t.

Peter Dushenski is the risk taker behind CarEnvy.ca

 

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How To Be An Automotive Journalist, Part II: The Press Loaner http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/how-to-be-an-automotive-journalist-part-ii-the-press-loaner/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/how-to-be-an-automotive-journalist-part-ii-the-press-loaner/#comments Fri, 20 Aug 2010 06:41:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=363366

The man on the other end of the phone was the “Wheels” editor for the Smallville Citizen-Journal and he was furious. There was no Mythos RoadSquisher SUV in his driveway! His press car had not been delivered! Instead, there was an email at the top of his in-box explaining that the journalist who had been driving the Mythos the previous week had crashed it, along with an assurance that he would be rescheduled for the next available vehicle as soon as possible.

“You stupid bitch,” he screamed into the phone, “what the f— do you think I’m going to drive this week?” My friend, a pert young woman who works for one of the major press-car agencies, was flabbergasted.

“Sir, if you drive your own car for a few days, we will make sure to get you—” The volume on the other end went up another notch.

“I DON’T OWN A CAR, YOU IGNORANT STINKING C–T! GET ME A CAR NOW! TODAY! OR FIND ANOTHER JOB WHERE YOU CAN SUCK C–K ALL DAY LONG!”

“Sir, what can I do, the fleet is completely empty—”

“GET UP AND WALK YOUR DIRTY WHORE ASS TO THE AIRPORT RENTAL COUNTER AND GET ME A CAR! AND HAVE IT DELIVERED! IN THE NEXT TWO HOURS!” And that, my friends, is exactly what she did.

As I write the story of that exchange, I’m strongly tempted to tone it down a bit, to make it more believable. In this case, however, truth is stranger than fiction, and more upsetting. Here’s more truth: The average print journo or big-blog editor in this business either does not own a car, as is the case with our “Wheels” writer described above, or has a little 2,000-mile-per-year creampuff garaged somewhere for that rare week when there’s no free car in his driveway. This business is overflowing with… free cars.

Across the country, there are lots chock-full of the very latest automobiles, all pampered, polished to perfection, and then lovingly topped-up with fuel not more than five miles away from the home of the journalist to whom they are delivered. They are picked up a week later dirty, damaged, and often with so little fuel that a splash from a portable jug is required to get them to the nearest station. When the cars are repaired and detailed, the oddest things are found. I left a pair of sunglasses in a press loaner and called in a panic later that afternoon, only to be told, “Unless it’s a gun, drug paraphernalia, or actual drugs in a Baggie, we just FedEx it to your house.”

“What’s the worst thing you’ve found in a press car?” I inquired.

“Two used condoms and a loaded roach clip, all jammed together into the crease of the front passenger seat.”

Press loaners are the reason many people enter the business. Fifty-two new cars a year, each with a full tank and free insurance. The pattern is almost always the same. Journos wait at home for their first-ever loaner, chat-up the delivery people, blog orgasmically about how Mythos just seems to have the nicest roll-up windows in the business, and prepare for the end of the week by cleaning the car from top to tread before filling it with Shell Ultra 94. By the middle of their first year, they’re using 7-Series Bimmers to haul mulch and they’re spilling Starbucks into the center console. By the time they are “veterans” they are carpet-bombing Facebook and Twitter with outraged complaints about their free cars: “Came home tonight to find a Sienna. THANKS FOR NOTHING!” “This week’s presser is some shitty base Benz with poverty-spec wheels. Don’t look for me to valet-park this one LOLZ.”

As a child, I subscribed to Car Advertising and Breathless Reviews, which often would end a “Road Test” with something along the lines of, “For the whole time we had the 1979 Dodge Omni, it was always the last set of the keys pulled off the board in the evening.” That’s right! They had a free car for nearly everybody in the office! Maybe 10-15 people! A new car every week for each of them! A total of 40-60 cars? How many reviews did they publish in a given month? Four, at the most.

As the number of free-car-worthy outlets simply exploded in the past decade, so did the number of free cars. Everybody expects a car now, and many expect to have two every week. Last year, I sat in the back of an airport shuttle with a small-city print journo who bragged to me that not only had he not owned a car in a decade, his adult daughter had never owned a car. She simply drove the less desirable of the vehicles dropped off for the week. Some people get caught letting their kids drive Porsche Turbos and still get fifty-two free rides a year.

Where does TTAC stand on all this? Our august founder, Robert Farago, was extremely ambivalent towards press loaners. When he wanted to review a car, he rented one or test-drove one (or, when a TTAC writer did get a press car, he insisted on full disclosure, a tradition TTAC maintains). I personally receive between six and twelve press loaners a year, mostly from domestic automakers. Of those, some are trucks. I request trucks whenever possible, for the sole purpose of pulling my race car to NASA events. I write at least one article about every loaner I receive. When I can, I track them. (See here and here and elsewhere.) Most of the time, I pick up my press cars in Detroit, which means I drive 190 miles each way to get them, at my own expense. I do this because I feel diffident, at best, about having them delivered.

I’m also a bit ambivalent about the ethics of driving a subsidized vehicle and then reporting honestly on that vehicle. The alternative is limiting ourselves to bringing TTAC readers reviews of rental cars and wildly-extrapolated descriptions of five-mile dealer test drives, so for the foreseeable future we’ll continue to do our best to provide honest reviews of press loaners. In the end, you will determine what we should do. I would like to think that my history of personally owning “upscale” vehicles renders me a bit less susceptible to starry-eyed articles — a free 5-Series BMW seems like a much bigger deal if you don’t have a Phaeton or 911 in the garage — but truth be told, I’m simply pleased as punch when I head out to the fleet companies for a loaner.

If you think press-fleet cars are perhaps too cozy an arrangement between the watchers and the watched, wait until you hear about the levels beyond. We’re talking, of course, about the phenomenon of the “long-term loaner” — the massively-expensive vehicle simply gifted to a major magazine or blog for a year or more — but that’s not the top of the pyramid. Near the top of the pyramid we have the completely free car, given to a journalist permanently for no particular reason, and at the top of the pyramid there is the Holy Grail of automotive journalism, the direct glance into the sun, the Kwisatz Haderach: a brand-new sports car, fitted-out with everything you need to go SCCA or NASA racing, and simply given to you for the modest sum of one dollar. Stay tuned, and beware of tubby old newspaper journos in rented Camrys!

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