HUCKSTER’S PARADISE.
Tuesday, November 28, 2017 at 02:11PM
Editor

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. As I was sitting at my desk contemplating what I was going to write about this week, I had several options. There was the meeting in Washington, D.C., which had Mary Barra, Joe Hinrichs, and His Smugness (aka The Great Sergio) discussing keeping NAFTA intact with America’s First Empty Suit, Mike Pence. I imagine that it went down like a deleted scene from the classic Peter Sellers’ movie Being There, where the Vice President consults the drapes to see which way the wind was blowing before uttering a sound.

Then there are the rumors, which are growing uglier by the minute, about the chaos at the Tesla factory as they wrestle with producing the Model 3. (According to a report in Bloomberg, Tesla is burning through $1 billion per quarter, and it will need another $2 billion by mid-2018, or it will be completely out of money by August.) To say it is not going well is turning out to be the understatement of the year, but then I covered that in last week’s column

Or, there’s the fact that Akio Toyoda is shaking up Toyota management because, as he sees it, it is a matter of “surviving or dying” as the future of the automobile business is completely transformed into what, well, no one actually knows. So, as he put it, it is “now or never” for Toyota to transform itself into something that is going to be around for the foreseeable future. I applaud the “all hands on deck” urgency from Akio, but if no one actually knows where the ship is sailing to, this just in: It might not end well.

So that seemed like a nice range of topics to consider, but then the stories came across the Internet touting Motor Trend’s Car Of The Year awards, and well, everything changed. But before I get into that, a little background is in order.

As most readers know, I despise and detest every frickin’ award perpetrated by the automotive media. It’s a veritable Huckster’s Paradise simply devoid of credibility on even the most basic of levels, and, as most enthusiasts who actually read the “buff” books know, they’re blatant revenue-generating scams masquerading as achievements worthy of gravitas.

It’s a dance that has deep roots in this business, and it all started decades ago at Motor Trend. In my previous life in advertising, I distinctly remember having to muster my creative troops to “pitch” Motor Trend executives on the notion that the 1986 Dodge Lancer (yeah, I know, what a joke) should be considered for their COTY. We spent a full week mounting a creative presentation to show them how Dodge would advertise the award on TV and in print, with all the proper M/T “caliper” award logos properly positioned. This was combined with a media presentation delineating how much Dodge would be spending should the award be bestowed on the Lancer. Thankfully, the car didn’t “win” but I will never forget what an absolute joke it was, a blatantly fraudulent pursuit to line Petersen Publishing’s pockets.

Why did they get away with it? Because the auto companies were so eager for validation, no matter where it originated, that they were perfectly willing to hand over fistfuls of cash so that they could tout their Belchfire 8 as the COTY. The whole thing made you want to take a shower to wash the slime off. Since those halcyon days of blatant quid pro quo, the number of “awards” handed out by the media has exploded exponentially to an almost comical degree, except none of it is the least bit funny as obscure publications and websites come up with more and more dumb-ass awards full of sound and fury signifying absolutely nothing.

Fast forward to today, right this very minute. Now, let me make it very clear that the powers that be at Motor Trend have taken great pains over the years to distance the publication from its bad old days, touting its rigorous standards and due diligence in evaluating vehicles with ruthless objectivity. And I actually thought that maybe, just maybe, the dark days of Motor Trend’s “bought-and-paid-for” past had been relegated to the dustbin of history.

Until now. 

When the news came out that the Motor Trend editors named the Alfa Romeo Giulia the COTY I did a spit take of coffee all over my keyboard. This was followed by a flurry of emails from readers, saying, basically, WTF? And to say that all hell has broken loose since the announcement is an understatement. 

Do you want to know why the overwhelming feeling out there in the autoverse is WTF? It’s because after the auto journalists were flown to a bucolic location to test-drive the Giulia and wined and dined endlessly, the reports began filtering back that the Giulia was the greatest thing since, well, sliced bread. 

But then, a funny thing happened. When the journalists actually got to drive the Giulia back on home soil virtually every road test of the car reported myriad problems, everything from annoying electrical malfunctions to actual pieces falling off the cars. True to form and as is their wont, too many journalists simply glossed over those piddling little details and praised the Italianate BMW to high heaven.  

Yes, we have all seen this sort of syrupy bootlicking by auto journo-types countless times before, and everyone goes away feeling full and happy. The journalists because they get an endless supply of free cars to drive and the manufacturers who are just craving the kind of jump-start boost that a strong review might give them.

So here we are. This is what Motor Trend’s Mark Rechtin said after the announcement: “The Giulia was the only vehicle whose essence enraptured the jury with its charm and unbridled zeal for driving. 

Sure. And the next part of that quote should read, “We completely ignored the fact that the combination of the shockingly piss-poor FCA quality ratings and the historically dismal, etched-in-stone, subpar quality demonstrated over decades by Alfa Romeo might be a negative; not to mention the notoriously woeful resale performance of anything with FCA’s name attached to it. But even so, and after all other factors were considered, the Alfa Romeo Giulia is the Motor Trend Car Of The Year!”

But that’s not even the most amazing part in this debacle. The other cars that were up for M/T’s COTY? The new Honda Accord, which is a completely legit choice and, wait for it, the Tesla Model 3, a car that only a handful of people have even seen let alone driven, and a car that will probably not see the light of day in even the most minuscule of quantities until the second quarter of 2018. (Apparently Motor Trend editors are favorites of Tesla operatives and they’ve put a lot of miles on Model 3 prototypes, so they were actually considering it. But even they must have a shred of self-respect left to know in their guts that if they named the Model 3 as COTY they would be laughed out of the building.)

Then again, that cacophonous sound you hear is the autoverse cracking up at the thought that Motor Trend editors threw rational thinking to the wind, swallowed hard, and actually named the Giulia the COTY with straight faces. And in one fell swoop they managed to set the Way Back Machine to the bad old days of “you scratch my itch and I’ll scratch yours.”

For FCA, this charade is nothing new. Led by its shameless carpetbagging mercenary leader, this kind of blatant bullshit has been its standard operating procedure for so long now that no one even raises an eyebrow anymore. They collectively retired the Scumbags Of The Year (SOTY) trophy years ago. 

As for the powers that be at Motor Trend, this marks a new low, a monument to unmitigated automotive journalistic hack-dom that won’t soon be forgotten.

Congratulations to one and all involved.

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.

Article originally appeared on Autoextremist.com ~ the bare-knuckled, unvarnished, high octane truth... (http://www.autoextremist.com/).
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