No Fixed Abode: The Best Press Event Ever!

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
no fixed abode the best press event ever

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.

Join the conversation
2 of 71 comments
  • Boxerman Boxerman on Aug 05, 2016

    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.

  • Bunter1 Bunter1 on Aug 08, 2016

    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

  • Cprescott Yawn.
  • 28-Cars-Later Wrangler people are crazy.
  • 28-Cars-Later "Transition" to layoffs, this guy is the Bob(s) from Office Space.
  • Vap65689119 As a release engineer I also worked in quality, if they are serious they should look at Toyotas business model which has their suppliers as genuine partners, thats how you get a quality product
  • Mike-NB2 I seem to have landed in an alternate universe. $12,000 for a Jeep that's going on a quarter-century old and with an automatic transmission? Wow.