In Defense of "In Defense of Saab"
Before I respond to Steven Wade’s article “In Defense of Saab” and the resulting comments, I want to say a few words about the medium of discourse: the automotive blog. A few years ago, when automotive blogs first appeared, I was thrilled that I could comment on objectionable opinions. The ability to lodge instant feedback instantly rendered car magazines an anachronism. Or so I thought. After a month of commenting, I reread my previous posts. I was shocked by what I found. My comments were filled with hearsay evidence, unfounded opinions, attacks on cars I had never owned and a general prevalence of bullshit.
Most dictionaries define the word “bullshit” as a lie. Bullshit is not a lie. A liar is a person who misrepresents the truth in an effort to convince another person of a falsehood. A bullshitter can be stating a truth or falsity; it is not the statement but their intentions which they misrepresent. Bullshitters are not concerned with what is true or false. They’re concerned with how convincing their statement appears. A bullshitter will say anything if it will help them to achieve their goal.
One of the more prevalent forms of bullshit in our modern society is a statement or series of statements in which a person misrepresents themselves so as to be perceived in a more knowledgeable light. Automotive blogs are suffused with this kind of bullshit. Not to put too fine a point on it, The Truth About Cars is a website in which the editors and commentators are locked in a never ending cycle of unsubstantiated opinions and predictions presented as fact.
I read one automotive blog daily: Trollhattansaab.net . It’s written, moderated and published by Steven Wade, author of the Saab article that brought me to this site. In many ways, Trollhattansaab.net is no better than any other automotive blog in its output of bullshit. Mr. Wade is neither an engineer nor a member of the automotive industry. His information is often second hand. And although he is quick to point out the flaws he finds with Saab cars and the company, his opinions in regard to other brands are biased and largely unfounded.
I read Trollhattansaab.net in order to explore the main question that Mr. Wade often contemplates on his site. How does a brand that currently sells under 160k vehicles a year attract enough passionate owners that Trollhattansaab.net receives well over 5k unique visitors per day? Why is it that Saab drivers are so passionate about being Saab drivers?
I do not have the answer, and neither does Mr. Wade. However, on his site you will find thousands of comments from Saab owners describing why they love and occasionally dislike their cars. These statements are fact. They are real. They are based on years of owning Saab products. And these are the comments which should make up the majority of automotive blogs. Comments from owners about their experiences with their vehicles– and their vehicles only– are the only comments of value.
If I were asked to write an article on Saab for The Truth About Cars, I would not fill it with predictions, hopeful opinions or a detailed look at the company’s historical innovations. If this website is really The Truth About Cars, I would write the following:
The truth about the 1999 Saab 9-5 Wagon is that in eight years mine has never needed a single repair. I’ve never encountered a couch it could not carry, nor experienced weather too dangerous to drive through. In my 1999 Saab 9-5 Wagon, I feel confident and safe. And best of all, when there is no one on the road and I jam the accelerator into the floor and hear that turbocharger spool up as it flings me around the bend, I smile.
It is a Saab but also heavily influenced by its parent company GM. Does that make it a worse car? No. Does it matter to people who evaluate cars not on performance or design but based on biases about a company? Yes. To summarize: if automotive blogs are to be of any value to consumers or manufacturers then their editors and commentators have to reconsider why they are writing. Is it to present an unfounded opinion about a car they took for a quick test drive? Would it not be better if the reviewer presented just the empirical facts about the car, and left the first impressions for the consumer to form on his own?
Consumer Reports’ recent announcement that bias had influenced the reliability ratings of certain vehicles may trigger a change in that publication, from opinionated and biased car reviews, to the principles the publication was founded on: providing scientific testing of consumer products. I urge the editors and readers of this blog to follow suit.
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