By on November 11, 2020

Shutterstock user M.Stasy

I just got back from traveling to Michigan, from Illinois, by car, to drive a brand-new SUV. One that’s important for the automaker and the market. It was the second time in a month I’d done so, staying in hotels each time.

I might be doing it one more time this month, although a recent change to Chicago’s advisory regarding travel and quarantines might cause me to cancel and send a TTAC contributor.

Meanwhile, you may have noticed that after months of quiet, all of a sudden first drives are taking place again, and not just with cars being dropped off at journalists’ homes. Nor are first drives being limited to regional events in one city with scribes driving in for the day and not overnighting. Some journalists are actually traveling by plane to events. Friend of the site Chad Kirchner traveled to the West Coast to bring you the TRX first drive, and other such operations are in the works.

I’m not flying right now because of corporate rules, but driving is fine, even if a hotel is required. That makes sense — you don’t interact with many people while driving, even if you end up in another state. I probably interact with more people when grocery shopping. I was a bit nervous about it at first, and my bosses are supportive and would understand if I opted out, but I am willing to drive places (and stay overnight) if the OEM is creating a safe event, if I can plan things to minimize interaction with strangers, if the hotel is taking precautions appropriately, and if I can do so while more or less abiding by the restrictions in place where I live and where I am going.

And truth be told, both events I attended in Michigan were well run, as were the three local events I’ve attended here in the Chicago area. The risk wasn’t zero, but each time I felt it was as safe as possible. Masks were required, we were outdoors as much as possible, temperatures were checked, we were asked if we showed symptoms, social distance was maintained, journalists were assigned their own cars, cars were sanitized if there was any switching, and the usual social events weren’t held. No dinners, happy hours, or bar hopping. Just room service or takeout. On-site meals were held in observance of safety protocols.

Thing is, are these junkets necessary right now? We’re almost back to, if not worse than, the situation we were in during the spring. Sure, we can better treat covid patients, but the numbers are awful. Should automakers be hosting launch events to sell cars at all? Should they push them back or just arrange for select journalists to get loans at home?

I get it from the OEM perspective. Metal needs to be moved, and budgets need to be spent. And I have seen nothing to indicate that any OEM is running these events in an irresponsible manner. Unless you think it’s irresponsible to hold the event at all.

On the other hand, it makes for a tough choice for journalists and editors. Imagine a freelancer who has to choose between lost income or increased risk of covid. Even if these events are low risk, they aren’t as low risk as staying home.

We have self-interest, too — do we lose coverage if I can’t fly somewhere and no freelancers are available? That can cost us clicks, and deprive you, the reader, of our take on an important new or redesigned car.

There aren’t easy answers here, and there’s no “bad guy”, other than the virus itself. I am not excoriating the OEMs here. And again, I, personally, am willing to travel, with proper precautions taken.

It’s true that America’s federal response to the pandemic has been pretty bad, and some states have handled things poorly, and that doesn’t help, but even if our governments (federal, state, and local) had gotten it all correct from the start, we’d still be struggling. The countries that did it well are struggling again because this virus is dastardly. Extremely contagious, spread via people who don’t know they have it (asymptomatic, presymptomatic, people who mistake a mild case for a cold or allergies), no known cure, no vaccine as of this writing. All of those things make it hard to stop.

This is why automotive journalists on Car Twitter are beginning to complain and suggesting automakers hit pause on launch events again.

So, should the automakers listen? Or are these events, and the associated travel, safe enough with the proper precautions — masking, frequent hand washing, social distancing when possible, no group dinners, no drive partners, hand sanitizer everywhere?

Should OEMs simply concentrate on loaning cars to journalists at their homes? Or should they just do small regional drives and not provide air travel?

I don’t know. All I know is that I will attend if I feel safe and I won’t if I don’t. Or if the powers that be say I can’t. Still, I can’t shake a nagging feeling that it’s a bit odd to host events right now, while the virus surges. I’ll feel that way whether I attend or not.

What say you?

[Image: M.Stasy/]

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10 Comments on “QOTD: Should Automakers Be Hosting Launch Events Right Now?...”

  • avatar

    The answer is clear: “Shut down the virus, not the country.”

    So in your case, this would mean, errr, um,,,

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Everyone should use their best judgment.

    The denier crowd does whatever they want. We have a friend who claims she hasn’t worn a mask yet – not in a store or a gathering of any kind. Maybe she’s not going into stores, I don’t know. IMO, she’s not portraying boldness; she’s saying she just doesn’t care about anyone else’s opinion or welfare, only to make a point.

    I guess I’d prefer home delivery of a test vehicle. If Carvana can do it, why not mfrs eager to get the word out? At what point does a big launch event actually hurt the mfr’s reputation?

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      I do have an in-home launch loan scheduled. Outside of mentioning TRX, I deliberately didn’t name any MFR here (though you can figure out one from the latest first drive). I only mentioned TRX not to shame FCA but because it’s on the site and other sites so it’s no secret. But many of the OEMs are doing events or planning to.

      I stopped for fuel and the lack of mask-wearing among gas-station customers was quite troubling. I hate wearing the mask, most people do, but it’s such an easy way to slow the spread and reduce your chances of catching it.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Point of clarification: IMO, if mfrs want to offer launch events, good for them. But while nobody is forcing anyone to attend them, the mfrs should offer alternate (or even primary) means of access.

      If nobody showed up to a launch event, the mfrs would have to adjust. Their dealers have had to learn how to sell cars in a ‘touchless’ manner, so the mfrs should be able to present their wares in the same way.

      They are really stuck in the past – that’s the basic problem here.

    • 0 avatar
      schmitt trigger

      “ he’s saying she just doesn’t care about anyone else’s opinion or welfare,“

      Is that a definition of egoism?

  • avatar

    We, at least those of us without a national media machine to carry us, can’t just hide in our basements for six or a dozen more months. The world has carried on this whole time. It will continue to do so, with or without you.

    Use your judgement. Mine is that, early agitprop to the contrary, this virus has proven to be a nothingburger for my demographic. Yours too. So avoid or mask up around the people for whom it isn’t and otherwise enjoy the fruits of living in an awfully fat time.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s idiots like you who are causing the pandemic to spike once again, with your casual attitude and such. Forget your judgement and listen to science. It won’t kill you to stay home for another few months until the vaccines are ready to be given out.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        Well that’s pretty elitist. How do you know this person will still have a home to stay in if they don’t go to work for 2 months? They are supposed to accept financial ruin so you feel safe? Maybe you should pay their rent then.

        • 0 avatar

          Maybe they can just PUT ON A MASK like the normal, decent people do, and quit acting like such a baby.
          With the new cases per day rate at an all time high, why are there still stubborn idiots out there?

  • avatar

    Looks like Chicago just made your choice a lot easier.

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