The Pleasure Stops Here

the pleasure stops here

Over at Edmunds.com, automotive journalist Alistair Weaver reckons Dubai's Jebel Hafeet Mountain Road is "The World's Greatest Driving Road." Judging from Marty Padgett's rhapsodic description of Maui's Heavenly Hana Highway, The Car Connection scribe may beg to differ. It's a dual-branded debate. BMW paid for Weaver's wanderings; Volvo footed the bill for Padgett's peregrinations. I'm not saying these corporate subsidies rendered these writers less qualified to choose the world's best tarmac, but neither journalist could make that call without car company cash. In other words, once again, money talks, bullshit walks.

Both Edmunds and The Car Connection neglected to tell their audience that their travelogues were made possible by a grant from a company whose cars were described glowingly therein. I have no qualms with Weaver's assertion that the MINI's "success is a testament to the brilliance of its design." Nor do I quibble with Padgett's assessment that Hawaiian C70 drivers should "bring great music for the C70's top-notch 910-watt audio system." But these stories wouldn't exist without the manufacturers' undeclared interest. Withholding that information from site visitors is unethical.

Fair disclosure: I don't know for sure that BMW or Ford paid for these trips. I've yet to receive an email on the matter, or a statement from either site about their junketeering policy in general. So I'm assuming. This is the same defense I've heard from publications who happily sell junket fruit (i.e. NOT Business Week, Conde Nast Traveler, The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe and the LA and New York Times). One gatekeeper told me straight out that he simply assumes that his readers will make the connection between pay and play, and so be it. Which is a bit like a counterfeiter saying that a store clerk should be able to tell a bogus bill from a real one when they see one.

I've also heard the excuse "we don't have a choice." Which is more or less true. New car launch junketeering is so pervasive that unless a car publication/journalist accepts an all-expenses-paid first-class trip to Spain, South Africa, Arizona, Hawaii or wherever, they won't get Stage One access to the latest whip. (Post-junket, manufacturers cars take about two months to filter down to the local writers.) Buff books and car manufacturers are locked into a symbiotic relationship whose corruption is smothered by the quality of the free surrounds, food and, lest we forget, alcohol.

I find the extension of this jet-set corruption club to web-based media distressing, but not surprising. As eyeballs defect to the net, carmaker cash was bound to follow. Why wouldn't the Mayja Playas work the same scam on web-based automotive journalists that they've employed so successfully on their print-based colleagues? Why shouldn't websites stick their poorly-paid snouts into the same velvet-lined trough? Who really cares if there's an unspoken agreement: you be generally positive and respectful of our products and we'll keep you in the style (and access) to which you've become accustomed?

Word up: the web ain't like that. While carmakers and info corps are busy working the same old, same old, surfers are looking for the real deal. At the risk of repeating myself, buying a car is a big deal. Consumers want the straight shit. And they aren't stupid. They know what that big old Chevy logo blinking at them from the corner of Edmunds.com means. They know what's what when an article waxes lyrically about Hawaii, and then ends with a plug for a Volvo C70. Websites that think they can get away with unacknowledged junketeering will learn that it ain't necessarily so. And by the time they do, it'll be too late.

Meanwhile, I realize that the majority of my colleagues are a lost cause. I don't expect them to buck the system or take the high moral ground or even engage in fair disclosure. So I call on the automotive manufacturers to end this gold-plated junketeering once and for all. Listen up guys: TTAC, Jalopnik and Autoblog's Google rankings, and the increasing relevance of brand-based forums, proves that the rules have changed. Car buyers will find independent information about your products. You can't stop it. You can't co-opt it. So why not go with the flow? Less philosophically, ending the junketeering practice will give you far more bang-for-the-buck.

Ditch the Dubai and Hawaiian feeding frenzies. Release new cars to the regional press fleets. The buff books will find a way to keep their customers. You'll save a huge amount of money AND get blanket coverage. And here's another idea: lend your cars to web-active automotive alphas. If your products are good enough, you'll get the kind of groundswell of honest, untainted opinion that sells cars in this, the new millennia.

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  • Marky S. To: article author: My Pleasure! I just don't want to be seen as a "know-it-all". There is a good detailed article on Wikipedia about the poor Edsel. Many believe that Ford gave up on it too soon, although there are a variety of reasons why Edsel was not popular. It actually sold respectable well, considering that this NEW nameplate was introduced during a Recession.
  • EBFlex "I've only filled the gas tank three times in 2500 miles"Assuming you went from 0 gallons to full (17.2), you have averaged almost 50MPG over those 2500 miles. 50 MPG in a Jeep Wrangler. To all of you EV nut jobs, tell me again how PHEVs are not the absolute best thing to happen to automobiles since the wheel. And tell me how they don't make EVs look like the awful play toys that they are.
  • MRF 95 T-Bird The Buick 215/3.5-liter aluminum V8 was one of GMs great engines. Unfortunately GM being GM in one of their greatest mistakes was selling off the tooling to BL. If they kept it around and improved upon it it would have been a fine motor for their compacts and midsize models through the OPEC oil crisis.
  • Chris P Bacon Not sure why a '21 is getting reviewed, because there have been improvements to the 4xe. I've got a '22 4xe Sahara. May 2022 build in High-Velocity yellow with a soft top. As soon as it was announced I knew I wanted to try it, not for the fuel mileage, but for the technology. I don't have a Level 2 charger, it charges fully overnight on the included Level 1. I see an indicated range of 27 miles regularly. Today it indicated 29 when I unplugged. I've only filled the gas tank three times in 2500 miles, a full charge costs me about $3 based on my current electricity supplier. I don't experience the rough transitions between electric and gas, so maybe Jeep figured it out? It's stupid fast when using all the power off the line. So much so that it will break the rear wheels loose when you stomp on it. I agree that plugin hybrids are the future. I see no need for a pure electric. This is the way to go.
  • RHD The word B R O N C O written in contrasting paint on the dashboard is quite unnecessary. The passenger certainly knows what kind of vehicle he or she is in. That detail is a big fail. The red and white Bronco looks great, especially with tires that have honest-to-goodness sidewalls on them.
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