By on May 16, 2017

#HondaFamilyOdyssey

Ripples on a pond. Waves on the ocean. On the surface, they’re innocuous. But make enough waves and you know’ll you’re either doing the right or wrong thing, taking the right or wrong action, getting the right or wrong result.

In this particular case, the waves were building in the form of private messages and an email from a public relations representative from an OEM. It read:

From: <OEM PR flack>
To: <Mark Stevenson>
Subject: Seriously?

Honda…

That was it.

Even with only two words, the email was a no-brainer. The flack was talking about the Honda Odyssey launch.

Just weeks before that email, some members of TTAC had an at-length discussion on our participation in the event as TTAC’s invite to the program sat unanswered in my inbox.

As you all know by now, Honda flew journalists and their families to Hawaii to test the new 2018 Honda Odyssey and enjoy the comforts of the Big Island. It’s an important product for Honda, to be sure, as the minivan market is shrinking and automakers are coming up with ever-cleverer ways to part you from your money for a brand new two-box family hauler.

The program itself wasn’t nearly as opulent as other vehicle launches set in Marseille, Majorca, or Monte Carlo, but it still had all the ingredients for bad optics: a trip that included non-functional guests, a tropical paradise, and a vehicle out of its element on an island that isn’t known for having the best or many roads. These three ingredients crippled Honda’s press launch of the Odyssey from the start, priming the launch for undesired attention from readers.

But we still went.

After much deliberation and combing of Honda’s itinerary for the event, we decided we would send Chris on the trip (he has two kids, so it made sense to send them to test out a minivan). However, we made it plainly clear beforehand to Honda we wouldn’t participate in some of the activities on the agenda, namely an “Instagram scavenger hunt” engineered to drive social engagement for #Honda and the #Odyssey.

Our reason for our decision was this: If we didn’t go, we wouldn’t be able to offer our voice on the Odyssey to you at the same time as other outlets.

Many of our readers suggested, “You could have gotten Honda to deliver a local vehicle instead,” and that’s true. We’d need to wait for those vehicles to enter the general press fleets as we don’t hold the same sway as the buff books, which are given advanced vehicle access. That means our first review of an Odyssey would be months away. The timeline of getting a local vehicle would have put us at a significant competitive disadvantage.

Still, I’d like to make something clear to you, our readers: Just because we participated in Honda’s Hawaii launch of the Odyssey does not mean we agree with the process.

In other words, don’t hate the player, hate the game.

Even I hate the game.

Honda, by holding its event in a far away locale with an extended stay to replicate a real family vacation, effectively forced us to take a junket that put our ethical integrity in jeopardy if we’re to remain competitive. This isn’t to shame Honda — at least not in particular. All OEMs will, at some point or another, come up with a grand plan to woo attendees on a junket to pay more attention to the garnish than the main course. This is an industry-wide problem.

Don’t believe me? Even some PR folks are worried about it.

“I am in a crisis of conscience,” stated one OEM representative in a message to me last week. “What the heck are we all doing?”

Well, what the heck are we all doing?

We — and I’m speaking for TTAC here — will do what we can to remain competitive. That means bringing you the content you enjoy and (hopefully) adding some unvarnished truth to the PR-friendly, hashtagged shouting match.

Unfortunately, this lifestyle-driven environment is now the status quo. We are now journalists attempting to exist alongside people who make their livings from videos explaining what they bought at the mall last week.

It’s fucking insane.

Until the automotive media collectively decides how much is too much so that we can all compete at the same level (which is never going to happen), or OEMs decide ingratiating themselves to journalists isn’t the best way to promote their #brands, the media will continue to dig itself further into the beach sand as the waves continue to lap at the shore.

But the tide is coming. I hope we don’t quickly find ourselves up to our necks in a flood.

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79 Comments on “It’s Time For the Tide to Turn on Automaker Junkets...”


  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    “We are now journalists attempting to exist alongside people who make their livings from videos explaining what they bought at the mall last week.”

    Do makeup hauls really make that much cash? It is a bit of a sad thing to compete with though yes.

    Boo on Honda for getting whiney when people mention their PR events, people deserve to know about the gifts and treats dropped upon brown-nosed journalists (No offense Chris, you’re still cool).

    • 0 avatar

      Honda didn’t get whiny with us. We simply told them what we would and would not participate in on the trip. They were fine with it.

      Still, it would be nice to be part of a launch closer to home that’s a bit simpler.

      • 0 avatar
        sirwired

        I don’t think anybody had a problem with “simplicity” (I’ll bet you didn’t exactly have to twist Chris’s arm here to get him to go on a free vacation to Hawaii with his family…)

        It’s the fact that this was a naked bribe to the reviewers (many of which almost certainly forgot to mention this lagresse) that is the problem.

        It’d be cool if you could talk to some of the other major rags (some of which do have at least a LITTLE integrity) and all agree to include a complaint about this if you all get invited to the same over-the-top naked bribe, like this was.

        Perhaps automakers would pay attention if C&D, R&T, TTAC, CR, Jalopnik, Edmunds, etc. all publicly revealed, and complained about, the same junket. Automakers can’t very well disinvite everybody except small-time bloggers/leeches.

        • 0 avatar

          “Perhaps automakers would pay attention if C&D, R&T, TTAC, CR, Jalopnik, Edmunds, etc. all publicly revealed, and complained about, the same junket.”

          Good idea, but I’m not the conductor to lead that train. It needs to be started by an outlet with more weight than TTAC.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        I stand corrected

        A more simple launch would be best yea, lets journos focus on the product and not the free martinis.

        Let me ask, when did crazy expensive car press events like this become a normal thing? I’m curious to know the history behind it.

        • 0 avatar

          I think there’s always been some glad-handing involved, but when the lifestyle writers started coming on the same trips and same waves of those trips, there was definitely a shift from product to experience on these events.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      Mark, I haven’t had time to comment much lately, but you’re taking the clear, moral high ground here, by even publicly addressing this ethical quicksand (that all automotive manufacturers and most autojournosaurists are acting in collusion on, to the detriment of the consumer), and I honestly, sincerely think that you should be rewarded and celebrated by your cohorts and peers (at least those who haven’t already sold whatever salvageable part of their souls that remained intact) for staking that high ground.

      This is a huge problem, as automotive “reviews” ebb closer and closer with each passing year to manufacturer-sponsored and manufacturer-shaped presstitution content.

      It should be noted that Jack Baruth, whether one likes, dislikes or is indifferent to him otherwise, is excellent in this regard, also (refusing to sell his soul to the manufacturers – CAVEAT: Though I don’t read everything Jack writes for the silk stocking glossy rags like Road&Track wherein he mainly reviews exotic and hyper-performance cars, so I hope he refuses to sell his soul to those companies, also).

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    I’m sorry for your dilemma, Mark. Sounds like the manufacturers/PR people hold all the cards in this game.

    Doesn’t matter if it’s a cushy family junket to Hawaii, or an event held in a sketchy neighborhood of Houston at 3AM on a Tuesday, automotive journalists will go, lest they be “scooped” by their competition.

    I don’t see any scenario in which automotive journalists would band together in significant numbers to boycott a press event. It’s just not the nature of the industry.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    I can’t disagree with your decision to send somebody (and their family) to the junket, but an introductory Editors Note expressing discomfort with this naked bribing of reviewers, would have been nice.

    • 0 avatar

      In this case, I wanted to wait on purpose because I didn’t want my editor’s note to taint our reader’s reactions.

      In the future, we will put in editor’s notes.

      • 0 avatar
        sirwired

        Yes, the disclosure of the bribe would have “tainted” reader’s reactions, but this would have been perfectly justified. Honda deserves to have reader’s views tainted over this. (And it would lead to a properly skeptical eye on outlets that “forgot” to mention it.) Certainly a review that reveals the lavish spending up-front is more trustworthy than one that does not.

        Maybe something like: “Like all media outlets participating in this preview (the only opportunity to drive the vehicle at this time), TTAC was provided gratis transportation to, and lodging in, HI for the reviewer and his family for the duration of this event. We’ve done our best to not let this color the review’s content, but we did not choose the venue, which cannot help but provide the appearance of conflict in a way that an event held at something other than an expensive vacation destination would not.”

        At the least, a return to the explicit notes TTAC put at the end of all reviews for a short while would be nice. (I will acknowledge that Chris did mention the free trip in the body of the review.)

        • 0 avatar

          “At the least, a return to the explicit notes TTAC put at the end of all reviews for a short while would be nice.”

          We really need a system to remember to put those in.

          However, I will promise explicit editor’s notes in the future if this comes up again.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    Thanks for the candor. The first step in getting rid of rot is to expose it to the sunlight.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Sorry, this explanation doesn’t hold water.

    It’s not like the 2018 Odyssey is a revolutionary new vehicle. I don’t know TTAC’s business model, but I doubt producing the first review of this vehicle is worth the mistrust you’ve earned by doing so.

    The review itself was hardly unvarnished, and I’d say that’s a direct consequence of this junket. Chris may as well have said “this is the best minivan you can buy; it’s almost perfect”.

    At this point, the story has only received 40 comments, and several of them (including mine) related to the junket. You’d get far more clicks for “what’s your favorite car color?”, or some other innocuous topic.

    Jack wrote about this sort of thing several years ago, which included this line:

    “One rather infamous journo reportedly took his girlfriend/escort on a private jet to Sicily courtesy of Porsche’s bottomless press budget. All you had to do get on the gravy train was to sing the praises of the cars, apparently, and who cares if those praises are warranted?”

    https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/dr-strangehatch-or-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-hate-the-panamera/

    “All the kids are doing it” doesn’t fly. I think TTAC has really regressed with this one.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      So you’re advising Mark and TTAC to follow the “right, but dead” approach to car reviews and access to cars in a timely manner.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        Yes, but that’s a false choice. TTAC won’t fail because it doesn’t scoop a modestly-revised minivan on Day One.

        One of the reasons I trusted TTAC’s reviews is because I thought the site *didn’t* stoop to the level of other rags with paid-for fawning praise.

        • 0 avatar

          So you’d rather us not give a first-hand account of an extremely popular vehicle bought by thousands of Americans and Canadians.

          There is no paid-for fawning praise. Chris’ review was pretty neutral, but far from the “omg best van evar!” shouting you’ll get from other outlets.

          After all, Chris didn’t say the Odyssey just told the Pacifica to step outside.

          • 0 avatar
            SCE to AUX

            You *should* give a first-hand account, but it doesn’t need to be the *first* account.

            Chris’ review had approximately 2 mildly negative comments, which were quickly brushed aside with easy explanations. It was hardly neutral.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            “Chris’ review had approximately 2 mildly negative comments, which were quickly brushed aside with easy explanations. It was hardly neutral.”

            Not to be Captain Obvious here, but maybe Chris genuinely only found a couple of things to mildly complain about? We (as a society) seem to have moved towards a perverse need for “perfect balance of the extremes.” As though a review needs to have an equal number of “pluses” and “minuses,” and those pluses and minuses have to have equal weight.

        • 0 avatar
          jkross22

          If I’m in the market for a minivan now, I’m looking for reviews now. Not in a few months or whenever they’re going to be made available locally to Chris or Mark or whomever.

          That’s how it is. It’s not fair, it’s not how it should be and it compromises objectivity, but closing one’s eyes and refusing to participate won’t even the playing field. It’ll just mean (eventually) one less player. I don’t see how that helps.

    • 0 avatar

      I appreciate your input, but regardless of how revolutionary the Odyssey is, the vehicle is hugely important and popular. I constantly joke our traffic would double overnight if we were “The Truth About Camrys and Mustangs.” Neither of those vehicles are revolutionary either, but they get tons of eyeballs so we can justify the more niche content we provide.

      “The review itself was hardly unvarnished, and I’d say that’s a direct consequence of this junket. Chris may as well have said ‘this is the best minivan you can buy; it’s almost perfect’.”

      Personally, I think the review could have been more critical, too, but I’m not about to put words in Chris’ mouth either. And what if it is the best damn minivan out there?

      “At this point, the story has only received 40 comments, and several of them (including mine) related to the junket. You’d get far more clicks for “what’s your favorite car color?”, or some other innocuous topic.”

      If I offered up content based on forecasted comment counts, I wouldn’t be doing my job.

      “‘All the kids are doing it’ doesn’t fly. I think TTAC has really regressed with this one.”

      There’s a lot of value in bringing family members along on a minivan test, or at least setting up a junket so reviewers will get a chance to use the rear seat equipment in practical terms. But an extended stay at a resort is beyond over the top.

      That said, the numbers don’t lie and the piece is being read by lots of people, so that means they’re interested in the topic at hand and I’ve done my job.

      There will be times when junkets are just way over the top. There’s no value in sending someone away for a week-long vacation to check out a Mini Cooper for instance. For every issue that comes up, we’ll evaluate the junket and make a decision on what to do.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Mark, Your site has eaten/rejected 5 of my last 6 postings. Am I being BTSR’ed?

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        “…regardless of how revolutionary the Odyssey is, the vehicle is hugely important and popular”

        No, it isn’t. They Odyssey is outsold by 61 other vehicles, including the Caravan, Sienna, and Pacifica minivans and many other cars including the lowly Kia Forte and Chevy Equinox SUV. Is TTAC going to justify junkets for all of these vehicles, too?

        The Odyssey is not a segment leader, and this time, it’s merely evolutionary in its execution.

        You should have kept the powder dry for a better occasion.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          So, note to Mark: check with SCE to AUX before reviewing any non-electric vehicle. He will instruct you when to do it as well as if to bother at all, based apparently on how it sells compared to the Chevrolet Equinox.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            and if it *is* an electric vehicle, if it’s not a Tesla your verdict had better say it’s a piece of sh!t.

          • 0 avatar
            SCE to AUX

            @JohnTaurus: Odyssey sells #4 in its segment, but I don’t see TTAC accepting junkets to review vehicles customers actually care more about.

            @JimZ: You obviously haven’t read my comments about EVs very closely.

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      I think the review would have been fine if the lavish spending that was showered on everybody at the event was disclosed right at the top. I don’t think refusing to review the vehicle until a press copy could be had late-summer would really be an option.

      Although to Chris’s credit, he at least mentioned it in the body of the review… of course it would have been illegal not to.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-Iron

      @SCE to AUX

      It didn’t sit well with me either but I have to ask, what did you mean by “regressed”?

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        TTAC has re-invented itself several times over the years, each time saying it will take the high road in journalistic integrity.

        There has been drama behind the scenes and in full view of the readers, from both Editors and Writers, some of it related to integrity issues.

        We’ve even had several high-handed pieces written here about how the auto rags whore themselves to the mfrs, accepting any freebies in exchange for generous reviews and the promise of a return visit. TTAC said it would be different – at least that’s how I understood it.

        So now we’re honestly told that Honda treated a TTAC staffer *and his family* to an exotic trip to review a minivan that sells #4 in its segment, yet we’re supposed to believe that the resulting review was completely unvarnished.

        So yes, based on written and implied promises in the past by TTAC, I call that regression.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          SCE to AUX, I see it more like that ttac can adapt to changing times and changing readership.

          The autoworld is dynamic and ever-changing and ttac strives to change with it.

          If an old dude like me can adapt and overcome change, I say more power to the ttac EIC and staff.

        • 0 avatar
          Detroit-Iron

          I don’t think TTAC ever regressed or progressed, unless you go all the way back to the Vertiscope takeover. It seems to me that all the EICs did the best they could with what they were given. I don’t even think the review was a good example of the “wobble” the fact of the matter is that any fully loaded van is probably a decent ride.

    • 0 avatar
      baggins

      Maybe the new Odyssey the best van out there. Pretty much every review for the last 10-15yrs puts the Ody or the Sienna as the top, so stands to reason that the new Ody is a strong entry.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I really, really hate being flown to exotic locations as part of my job.

    “But the tide is coming. I hope we don’t quickly find ourselves up to our necks in a flood.”

    What is this tide exactly? The tide of people not reading your media? Do you refer to your professional reputation? Serious question.

  • avatar
    Syke

    I got no problem with TTAC going anywhere they’re invited to check out a new vehicle. By the very realization that we’re all auto enthusiasts, who have at least some knowledge of how the marketing works, I don’t see any particular problem. Of course the manufacturer is going to try and put the writer in a favorable mood toward the product he’s about to report on. He’d be a bloody idiot if he didn’t try.

    It is appreciated, and just shy of expected, that the reporter also report on the circumstances under which he’s doing his job at the moment.

    Let’s keep things in a bit of perspective. This isn’t some political action attempting to disenfranchise the LGBT community or negate the Second Amendment. This is just another attempt to sell a car. A car that will be nitpicked to death in the next 6-12 months once the shine has worn off and the dealer is putting money on the hood to move the product.

    For the record, I always assume the reporter has been wined and dined before writing his/her article. It sets up a slight block towards what the reporter has written, toning down the printed page.

    No big deal.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      “A car that will be nitpicked to death in the next 6-12 months once the shine has worn off and the dealer is putting money on the hood to move the product.”

      Agreed, so of what value is a shiny, virtually paid-for review?

      We all know journalists must travel to sometimes-cool locations for new car reviews, and that wining and dining is part of the hospitality. This is expected.

      What is not expected is an all-expenses paid trip 6 time zones away for the journalist and his family (nice people, all, I’m certain). Other journalists could have substituted as ‘family’ for the drive test, but that’s not what going to Hawaii is all about, is it?

      I *always* have good feelings about those who are kind to my family. I’m not picking on Chris or his family or Honda. My gripe is about the wisdom of TTAC allowing Honda to buy a review in this manner.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        Yes, a grown man can easily give you a child’s perspective on a minivan. If this was an F-750, you might have a point. You’re grasping at straws now, trying to insinuate what isn’t there.

        Lets turn your scenario around:
        Who better to swill free drinks with than your fellow journo buddies? Because that’s what vacation is all about. Drinking and BSing, calling it work, checking out the “scenery” with a little wink wink, nudge nudge. If they get really bored, laughing at how some commenters like to get on the soap box for no reason, pointing at evidience that isn’t there, and making up scenarios to justify their needlessly strong opinions of how offended they are at the writers doing their due diligence to bring the readers the best information possible, and not just about cars those certain commenters think they should.

        • 0 avatar
          SCE to AUX

          “writers doing their due diligence to bring the readers the best information possible”

          You can’t be serious.

          Since when does ‘due diligence’ mean that I must travel to Hawaii with my family to get a sense of how the modestly redesigned #4-selling minivan rates?

  • avatar
    George B

    The main problem with this Automaker junket is the location. If Toyota flew automotive journalist families to DFW airport to review the Sienna, made them drive the Sienna up 121 to it’s new headquarters in Plano, TX, and then sent them out to various family-friendly events in nearby Frisco, the participants would be experiencing the Sienna in its natural habitat. Fewer journalists would jump at the chance to experience the outer suburbs where the houses are new, the schools are excellent, and and the commutes are rather long, but that’s where people who buy minivans actually live.

  • avatar
    RRocket

    Auto journos always seem to “have a crisis of conscience” over these events.

    But always never enough not to go it seems….

    All of this, therefore, is very hollow when I read about it.

    “I was appalled at what Honda did. But I still took the $10,000 junket. But to maintain my journalistic integrity, I skipped the $20 scavenger hunt. Take that Honda! I will not be bought!

    Hollow.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “Auto journos always seem to “have a crisis of conscience” over these events.

      But always never enough not to go it seems….”

      except most of them never talk about it, and if they do they mention once in passing where their test drive was.

      then they go on private Facebook groups and complain that they don’t think they get enough free stuff. Near as I can tell, TTAC and Jalopnik are the only sites I read which consistently disclose where the media event was and what came along with it, and they do so in a separate paragraph somewhere within the review. Does anyone else do that?

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Sadly, I bet the van stands on its own merits and doesn’t need such bribery to garner a good review. They should have used it on one of their suckier cars, like the HR-V…

  • avatar

    I own a car company.
    We have a new car.
    You have a magazine that has access we don’t.
    Come to a wonderful place. Drive our perfect cars.
    We’ll pour your favorite scotch at dinner. (24 y.o.)
    Sleep in.
    Brunch (oh, yes bring significant other for the week)
    More cars.
    Surprise !
    Fly back to Hoboken. Write story.

    The long lead story is ALWAYS a farce. We geeks learn the new engines and transmissions, and get two photos. The writer is assumed to be drunk except for the early morning test drives, where they get all those sunrise auto shots.

    Call me for the end of model cycle story for the truth…but the other article is the next gen, reviewed in…Tenerife, even if the car will never be sold there…..

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      First Drive : GREATEST EVER!

      First Comparison Test (1st or 2nd place) : It is a class-leading car. Just need to refine “X” a little bit more.

      Second Comparison (mid to lower pack) : We still like it, but “X” and “A” are holding it back.

      Next-gen First Drive : Thank God they finally fixed “X” and “A”!!! It was so terrible on the last model and we all hated it. But anyway the new one is the “GREATEST EVER!”.

      thetruthaboutcars.com/2016/02/motor-trend-hits-sema-hard-changes-mind/#comment-7331778

  • avatar
    jalop1991

    The simple fact is, car magazines (as one example) are inherently in this condition all the time. Every one of them, bar none, has sworn up and down since its inception that “there’s a Chinese wall between editorial and advertising, and editorial does whatever it wants with no input from or thought given to whatever’s happening in advertising.”

    And each time, they’ve said it with a straight face–as if their readership is nothing but slobbering morons, believing every word at face value.

    TTAC is no different. But now, they play the “all the kids are doing it, please, I have to go along to be cool!” card.

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      Except, this wasn’t a business vs. editorial issue at all; the problem here is a naked bribe of the reviewers themselves.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        you’ve used the term “naked bribe” four times in this comment section. Either provide some evidence that this review was actually bought and paid for, or change the f***ing record.

  • avatar
    dont.fit.in.cars

    Don’t see what the self flagellation is all about. I’ve looped the Big Island, upped and over the hill and got poured on windward side. While not an exact daily grind on the mainland, it’s enough. Read your article and pleased with its words. The only truth to oneself is telling it like it is; give no quarter to that while eating and drinking at another’s castle is no harm.

    The only measure not discussed is length of my femur, it’s unusually large, prevents me from squatting (if I assume the position, I fall over backwards) and should be use as metric for all future car builds. Most likely don’t fit in the thing so I’m stuck in low mileage zone drive a truck.

  • avatar
    newenthusiast

    I’m really surprised at the push back Mark is getting here, not only for having Chris disclose how it is that he came to review the vehicle, but exposing some of the behind the scenes issues TTAC faced when the invite came.

    He is under no obligation to do either, and most publications don’t. It’s not something most media does. (Oh, if you don’t think a ‘lifestyle’ story on your local TV news isn’t paid for via an ad buy of a seemingly unrelated business, I have some oceanfront property in Arizona…if you’ll buy that I’ll throw the Golden Gate in free).

    When I worked in radio, because of the legacy of payola scandals of the 50’s, we didn’t have to mention that concert tickets for listener trips to a show (which someone from the station would also attend) were paid for by the labels, or that the A&R guys would do ‘listener meet & greets’ as a legal way to also touch base with the on-air staff, particularly the music director. But we damn sure had to sign papers and declare every last bit of those things in our taxes if we participated. And it STILL kept ‘hush hush’. Even though it was all legal. And we weren’t doing reviews or directly selling music. Or taking cash.

    So, for TTAC to disclose what is more clearly shady ethics is a good thing. Yet, some of you would have them refuse all offers. Doing so would reduce their access to mostly rental reviews and put them near the end of the line for fleet review vehicles. It would end TTAC, probably.

    If we are all willing to pay a monthly subscription fee to get access to content and relieve them of this burden, fine. Otherwise, we have to accept that it is humans making a decision on a case by case basis, and we aren’t always going to agree with it.

    That is NOT the same as unethical behavior, which is what seem to be the accusation.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      TTAC should not refuse all offers; it’s part of the job to accept certain offers from mfrs.

      I’m happy the site was honest enough to disclose the circumstances of this review.

      But if TTAC won’t balk at sending its writer *and his family* to an exotic site for a car review, then what is TTAC’s limit?

      • 0 avatar
        newenthusiast

        It is possible that Honda specifically budgeted for, and required publications to select invitees with younger families to come and use the minivan in the most typical way possible as a condition of acceptance of the offer. Maybe Mark could chime in to clarify, assuming he is free to disclose details like that?

        Honda would have been better served doing this on Oahu, though. I know the Big Island has less traffic and more fun roads to drive, but Honolulu has terrible rush hour gridlock and suburbs and more typical conditions a family daily driver would encounter. However, the Big Island is a great place to test such a vehicle for hills. Mauna Kea has a long,twisty, steep climb to try and tackle fully loaded with a van.

        • 0 avatar

          It wasn’t a requirement, but it was a request from Honda that we send a family. If we were to send a journalist on his or her own, we would be on the backfoot with no first-hand account of how the Odyssey performs as a family hauler. I’m sure we could have sent just Chris, but that wasn’t preferable to Honda or TTAC.

          That said, and even though Hawaii is still part of the United States, it would have been much better if Honda held this event somewhere in the lower 48 like Chrysler did with the Pacifica. I think the long trip to Hawaii was used as an excuse to treat journalists to an extended stay in the Pacific. Had Honda held this event closer to home, the program could have been shorter and we wouldn’t be running into the mess brought on by the program’s opulence.

          • 0 avatar
            jalop1991

            “It wasn’t a requirement, but it was a request from Honda that we send a family. If we were to send a journalist on his or her own, we would be on the backfoot with no first-hand account of how the Odyssey performs as a family hauler. ”

            Bushwack. I speak as a family man; I guarantee that anyone who currently has, and hauls, a family can go by himself and evaluate the new widget with respect to its ability to make his life better in the context of hauling and dealing with said family.

            There is absolutely ZERO need to bring everyone for a short-term evaluation.

            I know this for a fact.

          • 0 avatar

            I’d love to know how you can simultaneously test if rear-seat entertainment induces motion sickness while you’re sitting in the front seat and driving.

          • 0 avatar
            WheelMcCoy

            @jalop1991

            “guarantee”, “ZERO need”, “fact”

            A lot of absolutes there. As a family man, I bring my family when test driving a car. My kid will notice things I wouldn’t notice (window height, sounds, etc) and I ask for his feedback.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        “But if TTAC won’t balk at sending its writer *and his family* to an exotic site for a car review, then what is TTAC’s limit?”

        ah, the “slippery slope” concern troll.

  • avatar
    SirRaoulDuke

    Simple solution: send me. I don’t work for you, you can call me a contract stringer or something else silly. I pull no punches on anything. I’ll call a LaFerrari a turd if it is a turd. And I can wheel a car with the best of them. At least better than some journos that have been known to wad up a sports car or two. Monte Carlo, you say? I’ll pack my bags.

  • avatar
    tallguy130

    Mark I understand where your coming from with wanting to be competitive with content, really I do. I’m also willing to accept that the glowing review was a result of it being a really good van. But this feels like it violates something central to the mission of your site; giving pure and honest commentary that is not influenced by auto maker handouts.

    I’m fine waiting a few months for a review if i know that when it comes it’s the unvarnished truth. That’s why I’m on this site and not one of the Buff Books. That’s why I stopped subscribing to them. Because you offer a more accurate product. If you lose that then why am I here?

    • 0 avatar

      “If you lose that then why am I here?”

      It’s a good question, and one I struggle with as well.

      On one hand, we have a loyal readership that holds us to a certain standard and all the extra costs and constraints that brings.

      On the other hand, we have a tiny budget and need to be frugal to bring you our current complement of content.

      Trust me when I say I wish it wasn’t this way. I’m not a fan of the junket system. However, if we paid our own way on these trips, we might only be able to produce five first drives per year without starting to cut the other content you enjoy. I’m not willing to sacrifice that other content at this point. Maybe you are.

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      After mulling it over for a while, I find that I’m okay with TTAC accepting junkets. TTAC won’t necessarily die if it didn’t, but it will wither under competition from lesser blog sites. So go ahead and enjoy, as long as the connection is revealed, which Chris Tonn did. It would be good to do a later follow up review on a borrowed or rented Odyssey after Chris sobers up. :)

      You can call it “The Odyssey after the honeymoon.”

  • avatar
    Sam Hall

    These junkets don’t really bother me much, at least vis a vis the “lifestyle bloggers” that have apparently infiltrated the journalist rice bowl. I’ve watched their YouTube videos and read their blogs, and have no trouble telling the difference between a mommy blogger saying the new CR-V is super quiet and cool and neat, and Alex Dykes comparing the CVT in the new Accord to the one from three years ago.

    It’s not like it’s a mountaintop revelation that a press loaner comes with unspoken pressure to write a nice-sounding review. That’s what makes TTAC’s rental reviews interesting to me–it’s at least one scenario where there’s clearly nothing stopping the writer from telling the unvarnished truth.

    And anyway, the real showstoppers when I’m shopping for a car are things you can’t get from someone else’s weekend test drive–long term reliability issues, dangerous defects or just things that I personally can’t stand, like the gas/electric transition in hybrids, or the completely character-free experience of driving any Honda from the past 15 years.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    My sympathies, Mark. It’s a lose-lose situation for you.

    A small enterprise like TTAC would understandably want a chance to produce an early review of a new product, but the price of that is playing their game and risking bad optics. The Odyssey may be as excellent as Chris’s review suggests, but a paid Hawaiian vacation of the sort excoriated time and again by Baruthian prose causes reflexive distrust and suspicion. If the vehicle was flawed and the author called it out in the fashion expected by long time TTAC readers, wave by-by to further invitations and plan on featuring more rental reviews.

    Booby traps everywhere.

    Good luck, just keep as open as you can about these things and tell Chris that even an excellent vehicle could use a critical jab or two. Silly title aside, I didn’t find Chris’s review fawning. But it was rather careful and innocuous…and boring as a result. Like he was typing on eggshells, trying not to offend either us or Honda. Motortrend’s writeup from this trip included more outright praise but also a few harder critiques.

  • avatar
    Crancast

    I am bothering to post because I once enjoyed coming to this site.

    Firstly, no issue at all with attending the junket. Every business has sales-marketing relationships to manage, manage it the best you can pure and simple. This write up is one of the most interesting non-Jack reads on here in a long time. Good for you Mark in posting it and starting the discussion.

    Now for the more harsh reality from where I sit. No site or journalistic entity making a living off of QOTD and like click baity crapola has anything over the lifestyle youtuber’s and bloggers. TTAC is just the same, maybe even worse. Concern for journalist integrity when the site traffic is generated off of click bait and articles are not even fact checked (Civic Type R w/CVT transmission ring a bell)? Come on.

    But the icing on this cake is the actual Odyssey review. Did the Honda PR folks literally write it? Any comment on the actual volume knob? How do the seat belts being integrated into the second row seats work comfort wise, adjustable height? Are the seats tougher to take out with the Magic glide? What does Honda think the use rate will be with Magic glide, don’t most families keep the second row center seat in (is there somewhere to store it)? Any performance stats between the new car and the old one? I could keep going. Not a single nugget in that review outside of the PR talking/writing notes.

    I really miss the TTAC.

  • avatar
    RRocket

    Serious question:

    Would it really matter if you didn’t test the car until it was available to the public? You’ve got loyal readership here. We don’t come here for WHEN you test the cars, we come her for your OPINION on the cars. I’d not stop reading if you were to test the Odyssey a few months down the road, and I’d bet most people would feel the same. And I find car reviews of a vehicle 3-6 months before I can buy it or see it as not being terribly helpful in the grand scheme of car buying. An afternoon in a vehicle borrowed from a dealership (or press fleet) wouldn’t be appreciably different (instrumented testing notwithstanding). Afterall, this is precisely how the car buying public determines whether or not they like a car..a real-world dealership test drive when the car is actually available.

  • avatar
    xantia10000

    Interesting topic, Mark. I wonder if it would have been more informative / impactful / entertaining if you wrote this from a more general perspective and not pick on Honda specifically. Because it seems more an industry issue rather than something specific to the Odyssey launch, as egregious as it may seem. Plus, it would be pretty funny to hear about all the exploitative past antics OEMs have done to woo you journalists.

    By the way, is it unorthodox to write a negative review despite all the wining & dining & resort hotel-ing?

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