By on August 5, 2016

Lotus Evora 400, Image: © 2016 Jack Baruth/The Truth About Cars

If you want to truly understand how the sausage of “automotive journalism” is made, there are two articles that you absolutely must read. The first is fun: it’s by Neal Pollack and it talks about the outrageous excesses of Mercedes PR’s “Pied Piper.” The second is long and occasionally tedious: it’s called “Taking Readers For A Ride” and it was written for American Journalism Review by a fellow named Frank Greve with material assistance from … yours truly.

Most people know by now that the majority of new-car press introductions are absurdly sybaritic affairs, featuring five-star hotels, unlimited room service, outrageous gifts, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Why does Subaru have to introduce the XV Crosstrek in Iceland? The simple answer is that they didn’t … but they knew that the broke-ass journalists who used the trip as a vacation (and, in at least one case, a hookup) would treasure the trip for the rest of their lives.

This sort of thing distorts autowriting to a degree that is borderline insane. But if you listen to the PR people and their apologists in the media, they will tell you that there is just no other way to do it. Wrong answer. It’s possible to do a press intro on the cheap — and it’s also possible to make that intro the best one of all time.

This past Wednesday and Thursday, Lotus introduced the Evora 400 to a very small group of journalists that happened to include your humble author (on Weds) and your humble author’s younger brother (on Thurs). I reviewed the Evora 400 for Road & Track. It’s a brilliant car. One of the all-time greats. But I don’t want to talk about the Evora now; I want to talk about the press trip. This was my experience.

Tuesday, 6:50 p.m.: I’m packing up my Accord for the drive to South Haven, Michigan. It’s a 5 hour, 41 minute trip. According to my Instagram feed, there have been multiple new-car introductions in 2016 where the journosaurs were treated to a flight in a Gulfstream, but Lotus didn’t even offer to get me to the track. When I asked about hotel accommodations, primarily because I had no idea where I should stay, they reluctantly booked me a room at the Baymont Inn at South Haven. So that’s where I’m going.

Wednesday, 12:50 a.m.: I’m settling down at the Baymont Inn. It’s not terrible — as a former BMX racer who traveled the national circuit, I’ve spent a few nights sleeping in the tub at a Super 8 — but it’s far from great. “What’s this room cost?” I asked the clerk, who was clearly pissed at having to check me in past midnight.

“Eighty-nine bucks,” was her response.

Wednesday, 8:35 a.m.: I’m at Gingerman Raceway. Lotus has three cars here: one for the track, one for the road, and one spare just in case. There’s soda, water, and a few bagels available for me and my five compatriots. Although it’s already 90 degrees outside, our meeting room isn’t even air-conditioned.

Who cares. There’s a semi-circle of chairs. Jean-Marc Gales, the CEO, is sitting in one of them. He chats with us about the Evora for about half an hour. The average morning presentation at a Big Three press event lasts two hours and usually features an upscale breakfast. This is better.

Wednesday, 10:25 a.m.: After a series of spectacular and embarrassing crashes at press events, most automakers have turned their “track days” into lead-follow affairs that thrill the mommybloggers but are a complete waste of time for everybody else. Not Lotus. I’m told that I will have 25 uninterrupted minutes all by myself around Gingerman. Are they serious? Yes, they are serious. One of the Lotus pro drivers in attendance asks me if I’ve driven the track before. When I respond in the affirmative, he says, “Okay, then you can have the time that we would have used to show you the track. Use it for your own driving.” Have I died and gone to heaven?

A few years ago, I attended a press event for the Shelby GT500 that, including travel, cost me three full days of my life. I was given one lap of Infineon Raceway. Three days of my life, for one lap. Now I’m going to have seventeen or eighteen laps of Gingerman in exchange for one day.

Wednesday, 11:25 a.m.: I take the other Evora for a quick tour of the roads around Gingerman. Most press events force you to have a “drive partner,” but Lotus doesn’t make me do this. I drive around for 20 minutes and come back.

Wednesdsay, 12:05 p.m.: Danger Girl pulls up in the Accord. “I’m outta here,” I tell Jean-Marc. He shakes my hand.

“We have fish and chips. You want some?”

“That’s okay, I’m going to get home early.” And just like that, I’m done with the press event. I was on-site for under four hours. One hour of that was spent learning about the car. One half-hour was spent on the track, and one half-hour was available for the road. In other words, fifty percent of the event was directly productive and useful.

Compare that with the press preview I recently attended for another sports car. It was spread across two nights in a very expensive hotel, and there were four upscale meals involved, but I only drove the car for 45 minutes on the road and 7 runs of an autocross course. Let’s say two productive hours — and that would be charitable — for thirty-six hours of my time. That’s about 5-percent productivity, compared to the 50 percent of the Lotus event.

Wednesday, 7:45 p.m.: Even after stopping by the Heritage Guitar Company in Kalamazoo and buying a guitar at Sweetwater Sound in Fort Wayne, Indiana, I’m still home before dark. I was gone for almost exactly 24 hours. Had I not done the guitar stuff, I’d have been done in 22.

I can hear my friends in the journalism business clucking their tongues now. “Of course the Lotus event was simple,” they’ll say. “Lotus doesn’t have any money.” That may be so — they don’t sell a lot of cars in the United States, so every penny counts. But what bothers me is this: I’ve traveled a lot on my own dime and I’ve rented a few racetracks on my own dime. I know what Lotus spent to make this happen. And I know what the major automakers spend to make their events happen.

I figure that for the price of a typical Big Three or German sports-car introduction overseas, they could stage ten to fifteen events like this around the country at high-quality racetracks. That’s a conservative number. I once heard the figure “Twenty million dollars” thrown around regarding a particularly expensive event that I attended. With that kind of money, you could rent Gingerman for 10 years straight and still have enough cash left over to give away a lot of rooms at the Baymont Inn.

It would be crass and ungenerous of me if I didn’t admit that I’ve had some wonderful times at press trips. I’ve slept on private beaches and I’ve woken up next to beautiful women and I’ve laughed with friends into the early hours of the morning and I’ve seen things that I never would have seen with my own money if I lived to be 200 years old. But the way Lotus did this event is the right way. Rent a track. Leave the mommybloggers and the lifestyle jerkoffs at home. Give me a chance to see what the car can do. Give me a chance to ask the questions that I know my readers will want to have answered. Then send me home at noon. It’s that simple.

Lotus earned my respect twice on Wednesday. First, with their event. Second, with the Evora 400 itself. That’s another lesson that the automakers would do well to learn: If you have a product that commands respect, you don’t need the Ritz-Carlton, and you don’t need a Pied Piper.

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71 Comments on “No Fixed Abode: The Best Press Event Ever!...”


  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Of course there is very little objective ‘auto journalism’.

    The ‘auto journalists’ for the major media generally fall all over themselves kissing the behinds of the company that has paid to fly, feed, accommodate, and present them with all kinds of swag.

    They generally only test the fully optioned models and in turn recommend them.

    And they rarely ever mention what the majority of ‘car buyers’ need or want to know.

    And unfortunately this is where Jack’s article fall a little short. Anyone who is going to buy a Lotus is mostly interested on how it will perform on a track. And what it is like on windy roads. They will want to know its engineering specs, torque curves, etc. So Lotus presented an event that fits perfectly with their market’s consumers.

    However the person who buys a Journey, a Corolla, a Sentra, a CRV, etc has little or no interest in this at all. They want to know if they can fit a baby seat behind them. If there is room for the dog. If the cupholders can hold a Big Gulp. How hard it will be to clean the seats. And most importantly the two things that ‘auto journalists’ do not mention, i) how long will it be reliable, ii) how much will it cost to keep it on the road.

    For these consumers, long term reliability tests, testing rental cars, reviews by someone who actually owns the vehicle are far more important than anything that an ‘auto journalist’ can tell them after a press event.

    • 0 avatar
      319583076

      Journalism is advertising – the point is to create a tension relievable through action (purchase). Auto journalism can be entertaining but it’s a mistake to take it seriously.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      I don’t think you can exactly simultaneously decry loaded press cars, and ask for practical information on how cars are used in the real world. How many features on new cars are superfluous gadgets that don’t alter the usability of the vehicle except for their specific function? A complete reviewer should at least be able to judge how the car would be without those features. Furthermore, there are people who buy those features, and it’s doing them a disservice to not discuss how well they work (or don’t work).

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        What percentage of loaded Fusions, Corollas, Accents or Caravans are sold in comparison to mid-range or even base models?

        So then why test the majority of the time only the loaded, top of the line model?

        TTAC has the right idea. Test the rental spec version. Let owners submit reviews based on their real life experience.

        From my own life, here is an anecdotal example. In 1996 I ‘special ordered’ the newly released ‘Sport’ edition of the Caravan. Came in only 2 colours. Had special rims, which had to be special ordered when my better half bounced one off a curb. And expensive tires. Supposedly an upgraded suspension. It received ‘rave’ reviews in the mainstream press.

        In reality it was a massive disappointment. Could not notice any difference in ride, handling, performance, etc over the previous 2 Caravans that we had. And you could not fit an infant seat behind the driver’s seat. Isn’t that something that would interest consumers of mini-vans and be worth a mention when ‘journalists’ recommend it? In all respects it was nowhere near as good a value as the lower spec model, which these ‘journalists’ did not recommend.

        • 0 avatar
          Maymar

          That’s entirely different though, that’s not a problem of only testing the loaded model, that’s a problem of not being able to calibrate that model’s merits against what actual purchasers are looking for. To illustrate what I’m thinking of, look at Steph’s RX350 review from earlier this week. It’s a loaded one, and it manages to discuss the value of those add-ons (or, how when lacking them, it’s questionable value against the competition, with them, it’s obscenely expensive).

          Furthermore, didn’t the rental review thing come out of TTAC’s occasional inability to get press cars? Feature diversity is just a side benefit.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    “We have fish and chips. You want some?”

    I would have stayed just to see if the lunch had been done well. Good Fish and Chips is one of my weaknesses.

    Leave the mommybloggers and the lifestyle jerkoffs at home. Lol I’m trying to picture the “mommyblogger” take on a two seat sports car with no car seat anchors.

  • avatar
    thegamper

    Great points. Agree very much that the product sells itself in so many cases and that a real world experience is worth more to readers than many of the staged events.

    In any event, thinking of my own experience, some of the most memorable and enjoyable times I have had in cars were as a result of the setting, the scenery, the roads. Driving a Fiat Punto through back roads in Ireland along a scenic bridge next to a perfectly serene inland lake reflecting all the world was one such experience. Had to stop the car, get out and take it in. The car was forgettable in many ways, but if that was the only experience I had with it, I might write some flattering things about it when reflecting back on the drive.

    Think that is the idea of most press events like the opulent ones you describe. The experience and setting will no doubt subconsciously (or consciously) add to your feelings about the car.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Two important questions:

    1. Evora 400 or Viper?

    2. Unrelated, but since I went full spectrum disorder on it yesterday, do you still feel the same way about the mid-engined Corvette as you did a few months ago when you wrote the R&T piece about it?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      1. Viper for me, because I have enough driveway space to use it as basically a sixth motorcycle. But if I lived anywhere where I was restricted to two cars — or, horror of horrors, ONE — then Evora.

      2. I do feel the same way. A mid-engined Corvette is, to my mind, an uphill battle against all sorts of problems.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Just curious, seems like a small number of journos, are they repeating this at various locations around the country?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      They are not.

      I believe there were sixteen participants total. I saw the usual suspects from Motor Trend and Automobile in my wave. (Frank, not Jonny, obviously.)

  • avatar
    DukeGanote

    As a former Fort Wayne resident and still fanboy, I appreciate the shout-out for Sweetwater Sound.

  • avatar
    319583076

    Death is the only truth, everything else is subjective.

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    Were you on the ‘long course’ at Gingerman, and if so, what kind of times can the Evora 400 throw down?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I was on the long course.

      No idea on the times, I wasn’t running data and I don’t have video.

      It’s a quick car. Not McLaren 570S close. Maybe somewhere around an LT1 Vette, less power but much better brakes and more subtle handling.

  • avatar
    Fred

    Jack, welcome to the fold. Nice little review at R&T as well.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    It’s a shame that drivers cars have to be pre-empted and fluffed by exotic locales & continental breakfasts for positive reviews. This is why I take more stock in “long term” reviews… once the veneer of press events is stripped away by the daily grind, cars like the M3 go from “sublime” to something the whole staff “gave up on driving”. It’s like judging whether a woman is marriage material hearing your buddy’s sordid tale of a one night stand with her in Cabo.

    • 0 avatar
      Adam Tonge

      I demand a full breakfast buffet! With booze!

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        I like long term tests too.

        Did it take forever to rack up 40,000 miles because nobody wanted to drive the sucker? Did the time fly by because you were fighting each other to drive it cross-country? Did you constantly damage wheels and tires because they’re fragile?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Your review of the Evora 400 was unusually gushy – enough to make me really like the car. Too bad it’s all wrong for me.

  • avatar

    Thanks for the insight. I thought the journos would get more time with the cars…yes, the execs can regale you with their brilliance…and at car company money, the five star hotels are trivial.

    I can understand the car companies being skittish about the drivers, as it may be the only place an incompetent person can crash a new $90k bit of unobtainable and the owners not only don’t sue but hope you are OK….

    Also, anyone who is car writer is just a notch behind the Stig…

    Any test car will always have every option…the unicorn manual will be there…and the suspension will be only the top shelf….Every BMW will be M Sport. Any GM will be FE3 or whatever is higher for that model. The car will have been gone over for perfect balance, the tires will have been buffed in, and brakes/shocks also in that sweet spot of new but run in.

    The first story will be just glowing PR. A drunk Journo could just scan the press releases and then command/replace to fill the space.

    The second test will be a “short take”. They will say something useful about the car, then, mostly repeat the first story.

    The third test will be the one where they get the car, slap on the testing equipment, and get numbers. This will also tell you everything that sucked about the outgoing model…things that were never mentioned or maybe only hinted at. Those of us who read car mags in the 80-90’s got very good at cracking the code. At least now they outright say the electric steering in a BMW isn’t great.

    The fourth test is a comparison test. Winners can be politically picked, but in today’s day and age, even the “loser” would probably be great in my driveway. CAR always gave it to the British car, Auto Motor und Sport, the German.

    The fifth is a “look back”, with anticipation of the new model.

    Lather, rinse, repeat.

    I’m sure I’d play too if anyone was dropping off fully gassed top tier versions of cars I couldn’t afford normally in my driveway with regularity.

    DED (RIP) and others during the golden age of car mags had a fantastic gig going…..and before the internet, had a government level money printing press…..

    • 0 avatar

      The Lotus event was also dissimilar in that regard. The testers had the Black package, but not the carbon fiber package or the titanium exhaust. I was contacted by a Lotus dealer in California after my Facebook Live session with the car yesterday who was very excited to see the video, because his dealership was getting the car I had been test driving. Not one like it, mind you—that very car.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      the one that p***ed me off was the 2010 Mustang GT. all of the reviews praised the car’s performance effusively. I bought one, and wondered where all that performance was.

      turned out all of the press cars had the 3.73:1 rear gear, mine had the 3.31s. Big difference. Press cars were ripping off 0-60s in just under 5 seconds, but if mine was able to do it under 6 I’d have been surprised.

    • 0 avatar
      tresmonos

      speedlaw,
      as to the risk due to ” incompetent person can crash a new $90k bit of unobtainable “, you would be blown away how many pre-production cars end up in design ‘test fleets’ being non value added so some engineer can drive it as their personal car.

      OEM’s can afford to lose more units to value added activities such as Jack’s well described press event.

  • avatar
    Driver8

    Bravo. Somewhere a beige V6 Camry dreams, Walter Mitty style, to be one. “Oh boy, a kick down for the on-ramp! A few precious seconds above 3 grand on the tach! Vroom vroom vroom!”

    • 0 avatar
      319583076

      Puppy Biscuit.

    • 0 avatar
      DukeGanote

      Having lived in Germany, high-speed vehicles in the U.S. seem like a complete waste of money. A solid 80-90 mph is what it takes, as I recall Brock Yates describing his preferred approach to the Cannonball Run, rather than any bursts of real speed.

      • 0 avatar

        Agreed. You need good roll-on to pass the crapbox blocking the passing lane…you know, the owner just hung up the cell phone and realized they were blocking the left lane at 52 mph, so will now speed up to 75 making what was an easy pass now a roll on drag race, before you lose the passing lane and his phone rings again.

        Even out west, there isn’t the same high speed as Germany….it was a unique system and experience. US roads aren’t nearly as “flat” as German ones. I’ve noticed that my Caddy, even FE3, is set up for the camber changes much better than my Germans…but in Germany, are aren’t any camber changes.

    • 0 avatar
      Nick 2012

      Toyota’s engineering team was at the Joliet Lemons race a few weeks ago and fielded a 97-02 gen Camry with a new 3.5 2GR engine. It was one of the fastest cars on the track.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    Big companies do business the same as auto companies with their car reveals. I’ve been at “education” sessions involving new drugs where no expense is spared. You get wined and dined. My brother is a manager with a large Forest Resource company and he has been to some big events. He has gone to hockey games in corporate private suites where food and drink flowed. It is how the system works. I personally am not swayed but many are.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      Do you know the biggest recruiters of cheerleaders in the US? Merck, Pfizer and J&J. Why, you ask? Well, the job of a pharmaceutical rep is to get time with busy doctors and convince them to substitute your drug for a competitors.

      What are the characteristics of the person who is most likely to secure an appointment with a middle aged, busy doctor? A highly educated PhD in pharmacology or a 23 year old bubbly blonde who spent the last 4 years shaking her way through undergrad?

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        VoGo – I’m not surprised. Most of the drug reps I’ve encountered have been female and attractive. The majority had a degree in Pharmacology or Nursing. The last 2 male drug reps I have met reminded me of “old school lot lizards”. They were aggressive and self-aggrandizing.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah I once went to the unveiling of a large commercial diesel engine while at a trade show thanks to friend who got me an invite. They had a 10 ton engine in the middle of a room with custom built water fall that changed patterns to spell out the name of the engine builder and a 2nd floor built above the engine with a glass floor and an open bar serving top shelf liquor. There was also an after party I was not invited to I guess that involved the rental of the top 2 floors of a W hotel. I here that party was for the owners of the engines various distribution centers around the world.

      • 0 avatar
        drewtam

        That is wining and dining potential buyers and dealers, not journalists. I think that is a significant difference.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          I don’t have authority to pick drugs and my brother doesn’t buy equipment but we still get wined and dined. The hope is that somewhere along the way it will influence sales.
          There must be studies somewhere backing up the expense or they wouldn’t do it.

          I do agree that “bribing” journalists is unethical but unfortunately that is how the game is played.

  • avatar
    tresmonos

    Lotus just earned a ton of respect in my mind. An honest to god manufacturer of automobiles.

    As someone who has coordinated and produced little skittles that were earmarked for Instagram celebrities, I cannot begin to illustrate how refreshing this article was to read.

    Even Mark’s dealership comments above underline the efficiency and significance of the entire Lotus value stream. Incredible.

    That, to me, is finding meaning in your work.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “Why does Subaru have to introduce the XV Crosstrek in Iceland?”

    To avoid compromising encounters with flying vaginas?*

    (For those of you who don’t get the joke: https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/05/bmw-bans-ttac-the-vagina-dialogues/ )

  • avatar
    smokingclutch

    Jack,

    How do you feel about the previous several models as used enthusiast cars?

  • avatar
    Boxerman

    As a current elise owner one of the plasures of having the car(apart from the driving) is the complete lack of BS. There is almost zero poseur cachet to lotus so corrospondingly they tend to only be bought by people who really appreciate what they are and use them as designed. I always say that if one only ever owned an elsie as a sports car you would have missed nothing.

    Ok a serious question, for trackday fun, would it be an exige v6 cup or the evora 400, asumning you didnt care about whether the exige is street legal.

  • avatar
    Bunter1

    Now I am going to cry like a little whiny girl.
    I live about ten minutes from Gingerman. I would have been delighted to give the Lotus people the benefit of my microscopic testing skills.
    Really, I’d be perfect. Unlike these guys who do this all the time, my limited skills would give them real world feedback on how a neophyte would handle it at the track.
    Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh.

    OK, vented.

    Love and bullets,
    Bunter


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