This Is The Feel-Good Article Of The Year… If You're An Autojourno

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
this is the feel good article of the year if you re an autojourno

There’s a new show on cable called “Shameless”. Supposedly it has Emily Rossum in a topless kitchen sex scene. Actually, I’m going to go watch it right now, come to think of it.

…And we’re back. Hmm. That was shameless, alright, but you know what’s even more shameless? Writing a story that exposes you as a hack, a dupe, and what the Communists used to call a “useful idiot”. Yesterday’s opinion piece on Autoblog, entitled How Bob Lutz Made Four Journalists His Secret Weapons, is just such a story. Let’s dig in.

What’s wrong with this story? In a word, everything. Let’s perform a little close reading:

When Bob Lutz ran General Motors’ product development efforts, he did something that no other car company has done in the history of making cars. He hired four automotive journalists to assess all of GM’s new vehicles before they were OK’d for production. And their word was law. Everything had to be developed to their satisfaction.

Strictly speaking, this is true: Although the incestuous relationship between the auto industry and the auto media has been in existence as long as said entities — even the well-respected Patrick Bedard started his career working for the Big 3 — never before had someone explicitly hired precisely four autojournos.

But were they even autojournos? Nick Twork, the fourth guy mentioned, was only briefly a writer before entering PR. That would be like characterizing TTAC’s hiring of yours truly as “the first auto blog to hire a Wendy’s cashier” just because I did that job for three months in my teens.

Rich Ceppos, whom McElory ignorantly claims “could have raced professionally had he chosen to”, has been bouncing around the supply side of the industry for a long time. Yeah, he used to write for C/D. When he was writing for C/D, I think I was in elementary school.

The other two guys are consummate press-event veterans, so they probably count, but I doubt any of their readers can remember anything they’ve written. They are the utility infielders of the business, and those guys bounce in and out of PR all the time.

…Today Mary Barra is running PD. She’s tasked with developing new cars faster and at lower cost. That’s got me wondering if Lutz’s secret weapons can survive GM’s latest management changes.

Nobody gives a shit about that but you, dude. We know the deal. Your old bar pals might need some work in the future, so you’re puff-piecing them. Classy.

But the former journalists are known to force the development people to take their time to get things right… One of the areas where the journos played a critical role was in the development of the Chevrolet Volt.

Wait, what? Is that something GM’s gotten right? A $42,000 car that gets worse mileage than an Elantra on the freeway? I’d hate to see what GM’s gotten wrong. Oh, I remember: pretty much everything else except the Corvette Z06.

I’ve known about Lutz’s secret weapons for several years. But he personally asked me not to write anything about them.

McElroy, who normally ascends into squeakily breathless rapture on-air about every crappy car that’s ever been released, is reaching a new high here. He sounds like a teenaged girl who just met a Jonas Brother.

That’s how much of a competitive advantage he felt they brought to GM. He didn’t want to see any other car company copying this approach. Since these guys are friends and colleagues whom I’ve known for years, I also didn’t want to jeopardize their jobs. So I didn’t write about them. Until now. And now I think it’s important that I do.

Because they need new jobs, right?

Product development requires a gut feel. It requires a passion for excellence. Above all it requires an in-depth knowledge of product, and what will convert customers into true believers. Lutz’s secret weapons gave that to GM. Let’s hope it keeps them.

What utter, sycophantic garbage… but you can see why this article was endlessly reTweeted by every journo in the business yesterday. McElroy is being smart here. He’s using our own journalistic misconceptions against us, hoping that we will help his pals as a result.

Journalists would love to think that they know more about product development than engineers. That’s ridiculous. Product development isn’t seat-of-the-pants moonbat speculation. It’s hard work, requiring endless iterations of design and countless hours of testing. McElroy’s Magnificent Four could no more design a Corvette than McElroy himself could write The Great Gatsby. Criticism and creation are vastly different tasks, and the former is far, far easier than the latter.

Dan Neil once wrote that Lutz’s job is to work the refs. He is a physically imposing man, a tremendously charismatic one. Men like that tend to trample on the beta males, wannabes, and barflies who make up the bulk of auto journalism. Even I was impressed by the guy at the CTS-V Challenge two years. I was there to beat him, (and I did) but I felt somehow privileged to be in his presence.

McElroy, as anyone who has seen his videos can attest, is precisely the kind of chap who would be saddling up Lutz’s horse and cleaning his toilet in an earlier era. If Maximum Bob asked him not to write something… well of course he wouldn’t write about it! Until now, when the man is gone and his friends require a boost.

This wasn’t journalism in any sense of the word. It’s an insider’s attempt to work the system on behalf of his (admittedly very nice) people. McElroy should be ashamed to have written it, and Autoblog should be ashamed of publishing it. Are they? Don’t count on it. In this business, “shameless” is the mantra.

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3 of 45 comments
  • Ronnie Schreiber Ronnie Schreiber on Jan 27, 2011

    BTW, I think it's appropriate to note that one of TTAC's editors used to write advertising for a major automobile manufacturer.

    • Bertel Schmitt Bertel Schmitt on Jan 27, 2011

      I recommend it. Its honest, unabashed propaganda, and it pays several orders of magnitudes more. Think difference between a high class escort and a crack whore. What would you rather be?

  • Detroit-X Detroit-X on Jan 27, 2011

    John McElroy, how funny. I can just imagine his manic voice saying: "While I was impressed with the new Chevy Vega, I couldn't help but thinking the acceleration wasn't enough. Then, I realized, I had been pushing on the brake instead of the accelerator pedal!! Sha-zaam! Now, I'm getting where I need to go faster! Way to go GM!! And boy, is that paint shiny!!

  • 3SpeedAutomatic I drove a rental Renegade a few years back. Felt the engine (TIgerShark) was ready was ready to pop out from under the hood. Very crude!! Sole purpose was CAFE offsets. Also drove a V6 Cherokee which was very nice and currently out of production. Should be able to scoop up one at a fair deal.🚗🚗🚗
  • Inside Looking Out This is actually the answer to the question I asked not that long ago.
  • Inside Looking Out Regarding "narrow windows" - the trend is that windows will eventually be replaced by big OLED screens displaying some exotic place or may even other planet.
  • Robert I have had 4th gen 1996 model for many years and enjoy driving as much now as when I first purchased it - has 190 hp variant with just the right amount of power for most all driving situations!
  • ToolGuy Meanwhile in Germany...