Housekeeping: On Clickbait, Wish Fulfillment And The Ford GT

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler

None of you could ever accuse me of having a particularly thick skin, but there is one accusation that does get to me. Cries of “clickbait” are often doled out in these pages. They seem to occur when somebody disagrees with the conclusions reached in the article, or when too much negative light is shed on the reader’s pet brand. Cognitive lapses aside, these accusations get under my skin for a couple of reasons

  1. TTAC has never been under a mandate to increase our click count, and as long as I am at the helm, it will not be. Unlike other competitors, who tie everything from their editorial schedule to the compensation of their writers to “clicks”, we are allowed to sacrifice quantity in favor of quality and editorial independence. This means that in exchange for our freedom, we don’t get certain things, like unfettered press car access, or the budget to hire a copy editor. But our owners at VerticalScope have consistently understood and respected our need to liberate this site from the shackles of tyranny: in this case, click-based reporting, compensation structures etc. It comes at a significant cost, in terms of budget and salaries, but the end result is a website that can bring you The Truth About Cars, rather than baseless rumors, photos of celebrity genitalia and other unseemly editorial topics designed to juice our stats.
  2. In terms of ROI, a 1000 word essay on the topic of automobiles is hardly the stuff that clickbait is made of. Slide shows, listicles and the like are far better instruments to cheaply generate clicks, and they’ve never appeared on this site. Not agreeing with a point of view does not equal clickbait.

That’s not to say that all clickbait appears in the form of a Buzzfeed-esque “YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT THESE 25 ADORABLE BABY DIESEL WAGONS DID NEXT” piece of “content”. Sometimes, you get it in the blind repetition of totally baseless rumors that are, at best, wish-fulfillment for poorly trained, poorly paid bloggers and at worst, inaccurate information posted out of a reckless disregard for the realities of what it takes to bring a new vehicle to market.

On October 1st, Road & Track published a piece titled “All signs point to new Ford GT and 2016 return to Le Mans”. The piece was authored by respected motorsports figure Marshall Pruett, though it was largely filled with speculation and conjecture, though R&T, felt that Pruett’s sources and Pruett’s own track record were sufficient to run with the story. That alone lends a measure of credibility to the story, though as we’ll see, it was contradicted by our own sources.

In the piece, Pruett asserts that the Ford GT supercar will be revived in 2016, to coincide with Ford’s 50 year anniversary of its racing efforts at Le Mans. How does Pruett know this?

Recent meetings between GTE constructors on 2016 rules, as witnessed at Circuit of The Americas, have included a representative affiliated with Ford, and based on additional feedback, a launch of the Ford GT 24 Hours of Le Mans project would coincide with the introduction of the successor to the Ford GT, which ceased production in 2007.

Based on additional feedback? What exactly does that mean? Pruett then asks Jamie Allison, the head of Ford Racing, whether plans are afoot for a revived GT. Allison’s response is about as close to an outright denial as one can get

“Our focus right now is, obviously, finishing the season on a high note at Petit Le Mans,” he said. “Our focus is also working with our partners. I do look forward into a future of some of the classes in the sport, including the P2 we just talked about. We really have our near-term lenses on our participating in the sport and that’s really the scope that we are focused on.

“Anything beyond that would be strictly endeavoring into… just propagating something that is not within the scope of what we focus on. In our realm and in the world of sports-car racing, [we’re] really focused on our EcoBoost-powered DP and focusing on the season here as it comes to an exciting end at Petit Le Mans.”

It all adds up to pretty flimsy evidence that a new GT is in the works. Pruett makes a giant leap of his own, stating “Here’s the thing, Allison could have just said, “No.” But he didn’t,” and then speculating on which high-end race shop could prepare the car, and suggesting a 2015 Detroit Auto Show debut.

Rather than follow the lead of a million other outlets and blindly regurgitate the story, we chose to wait to see if anyone could confirm the story. Here at TTAC, we have the luxury of being able to take time and talk to people who are in a position to give us a straight answer. And according to our numerous sources inside the Blue Oval and its suppliers, this story is worth less than Zimbabwean currency.

Despite its mythical status and strong secondary market values, the original Ford GT was considered a failure. It sold poorly, cost a ton of money to bring to market and was quickly axed.

Anyone with a basic understanding of how new vehicle programs work would know that even if there were budget, personnel, R&D resources and production capacity available, a 2015 introduction and a 2016 launch for a brand new sports car that shares virtually no common components with an existing vehicle is a laughably short timeline, bordering on fantasy. Our Ford sources, mired with the task of reviving Lincoln, supporting a struggling European unit and launching the most important vehicle in their portfolio, to be a flight of fancy from the enthusiast community. Another publication suggested that perhaps a super secret skunkworks team is hard at work on the car, but even this is little more than the stuff of car guy fantasy. Such teams do exist in certain capacities, but every new vehicle program, from the lowliest crossover to the most game-changing halo supercar has its own new vehicle program that is visible to the relevant employees who are responsible for tracking and reporting on the progress of these programs to top executives. Our sources are the people involved in these functions, and they were able to confirm that this program does not exist anywhere within Ford (stay tuned this week when we leak all of those juicy product details).

Here’s where things get out of control. R&T and Pruett did the original reporting, the vetting of sources and exercised judgment on running the story. Even if the info doesn’t pan out, that’s still the proper process for maintaining journalistic integrity.

What’s truly insidious is the fact that countless outlets outlets blindly regurgitated the item without making even the slightest attempt to verify its accuracy – or even worse, slyly admit that it was basically nonsense, but still run with it anyways. This is the most subtle and most insidious form of clickbait – publishing articles that are known to be false, out of negligence or a desire to deceive all in the name of boosting traffic stats. And it’s the kind that you’ll never, ever see on these pages. R&T has the kind of processes that are missing from the more unscrupulous players. They think there is something to the rumors and feel confident in reporting them, to the point that they will stand behind what they report. The other guys are happy to publish something they wouldn’t stand behind, and they are doing it with a wink and a nod. If the rumors don’t pan out, they’ll never be held accountable for reporting on it, and they know it.

All we get for it is less revenue, a need to go outside official channels for vehicle reviews, none of the traditional perks that the auto media is accustomed to and a select group of commenters eager to accuse this site of the very tactics that is deliberately eschews. We must be insane.

Derek Kreindler
Derek Kreindler

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  • Vulpine My first pickup truck was a Mitsubishi Sport... able to out-accelerate the French Fuego turbo by Renault at the time. I really liked the brand back then because they built a model for every type of driver, including the rather famous 300/3000GT AWD sports car (a car I really wanted, but couldn't afford.)
  • Vulpine A sedan version of either car makes it no longer that car. We've already seen this with the Mustang Mach-E and almost nobody acknowledges it as a Mustang.
  • Vulpine Not just Chevy, but GM has been shooting itself in the foot for the last three decades. They've already had to be rescued once in that period, and if they keep going as they are, they will need another rescue... assuming the US govt. will willing to lose more money on them.
  • W Conrad Sedans have been fine for me, but I were getting a new car, it would be an SUV. Not only because less sedans available, but I can't see around them in my sedan!
  • Slavuta More hatchbacks