The Best Reviews Money Can Buy

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Car journalists aren’t supposed to be car salesmen. Or at least – if they are – they have an obligation to tell you they are.

Else you might think their reviews aren’t exactly  . . . objective.

Tesla gets some great coverage from certain journalists – who aren’t really journalists because they are on Tesla’s payroll.

And not telling you about it.

Our Friend Fred… Tesla’s friend, actually.

One of these is a guy named Frederic Lambert, who writes for a Tesla fanboi blog called Electrek. His “coverage” of Tesla vehicles – and Tesla generally – has been uniformly snuggly and warm. Perhaps because he is compensated for “referring” his readers to Tesla. If they buy a Tesla based on his “referral,” Frederic gets goodies!. The value of these free goodies is comparable to the subsidies taxpayers are forced to pay people who buy Teslas.

The more you get, the more you get.

Three referrals entitle the referrer – Lambert and no doubt others-not-yet-outed – to a free set of 21 inch Arachnid wheels for the Model S or a 22-inch Turbine wheels for the Model X. If you had to buy a set of forged 21 or 22 inch wheels over-the-counter from Tesla – as opposed to getting them under the table – you’d be looking at a couple thousand bucks, at least (see here).

And once you’ve got ’em, you can sell ’em. Get cash for ’em.

Hello, eBay!

Your fourth referral supercharges things, gets you a free $5,500 Founder Series Powerwall 2 home battery charger – signed by Elon himself, even! This is worth a pile. Not Elon’s signature. But the charger system. And it’s free – our favorite price! – if you help snuggle a few marks into a Tesla via your slob-on-the-knob “coverage” of them.

One hand washes the other.

Hell, one could make a living doing this. Why just write about cars when you can get paid-in-payola by the manufacturer to sell them, too!

Lambert also reportredly owns Tesla stock – which means the obvious as far as the objectivity of his coverage of Tesla.

So why no alarums of outrage? Why is Lambert still in business?

referrals

Because his sort of graft is in tune with the current orchestra of political correctness. The “referrals” are couched in terms of Planet Saving. By getting six people into new Teslas, Frederic Lambert “helped save 642 gallons of gasoline” and kept “6,744 lbs. of carbon dioxide” from being emitted.    

They guy isn’t even ashamed. When outed by actual automotive journalist Alex Roy, Lambert tweeted, belligerently:

“Breach of ethical standard please (sic). I am a Tesla owner (surprise) and take advantage of their referral program. Nothing to do with my reporting.”

responses

You can imagine the Hell that would have to be paid by Roy – or by me – if it were discovered that we “earned” thousands of dollars’ worth of free stuff from one of Elon’s IC-engine rivals by “referring” marks to the cars we’d just been writing about.

And yet, hardly a ripple.

Consumer Reports likes to trumpet the fact that it accepts no advertising from any car company. And while Consumer Reports is far from objective – the truth is, no writer is or even can be; we all bring our personal biases to the keyboard –  at least the reader can rest easy knowing the reviews they’re reading aren’t advertising copy in mufti.

As an old newspaper guy, I can personally attest that advertisers can and do bring enormous pressure to bear on a paper – or magazine’s – automotive coverage, especially car reviews. One angry call from a muckety-muck at GM, say, about a review they didn’t like and an implied threat to yank a quarter page ad for the new whatever-it-is – and bet your bippie the reviewer’s chain gets yanked.

I escaped this by going rogue – by establishing my own shop, which is supported by the readers rather than “referrals.” I’m not making thousands of dollars per month in payola but am glad not to be. Whatever you may think about my reviews, you can rest easy that I’m not being paid by the manufacturer to stroke the car.

And thereby, you.

The fearsome thing is that this business just described is becoming the New Business Model – and it is being aped by other car companies. They want favorable coverage. Which conflicts with objective coverage.

One way to do that is to buy favorable coverage – as in the case of Our Friend Fred.

Another method is to stifle coverage that isn’t favorable – merely fair – by not favoring the fair journalists.

Not by withholding “free” stuff, per Fred. But by denying them access.

I, for example, have not been able to get a Tesla to review. Notwithstanding that I’m at least a ranking middleweight contender, as far as my car journalist bona fides and the size of my audience (see here for more on this).

I would be fair to to the Tesla – as I have been fair to cars like the Chevy Volt, which you can read about here. But that is not what’s wanted. What’s expected is “coverage” a la Fred. Deliver that – and they’ll deliver cars to test drive.

And other things, too.

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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23 COMMENTS

  1. This happened in the 1980s heyday of the big car magazines, but apparently few people noticed or realized the implications.

    One of the columnists for Car and Driver had gotten his hands on some kind of paperwork, I think an exchange of letters, that strongly suggested Motor Trend based the choice for its “Car of the Year” award in part on how much advertising the car company had bought in the magazine. He discussed it briefly in the column, but Car and Driver did nothing else with what should have been front-cover news about a corrupt competitor.

    Of course, this raises the obvious question about C/D‘s own practices in such things as the winners of comparison tests and its own best-of awards, not to mention what other mags such as Road & Track and Automobile might have been doing…

  2. Not news….

    This is the way “the system” has been for ages. The only things that have changed, are that the degree of control and deception have become much more extreme; and thanks to the moral breakdown of society over the last few generations, there is no longer any widespread outrage or distrust or resistance. Add to that the fact that a good percentage of the population is so dumbed-down that, like little children, they’re not even sophisticated enough to know the information they are getting (be it news, advertising or whatnot) is not objective, and is designed simply to produce a desired reaction in their own thoughts and actions, and we thus have the society of lemmings we see all around us, in which the most enslaved people think that they are “free” and are all too happy to rush off and kill people halfway around the world, or their own neighbors in servitude to the “leaders” whom they think they chose.

    They also believe what car salesmen say- be the kind with a wide striped tie and a cigar at Joe’s Buy Here Pay Here Hooptie Lot, or some hipster who uses the latest buzzwords and who extols the “virtues” of $85K electric cars.

    What we are seeing is the end result of 100 years of a heinously corrupt political system; government edumacation; big-government-supporting Zionist media; etc. Every facet of human endeavor today in the first-world is infected with the same garbage.

  3. Another concerning/disturbing trend is all the self-censorship that is clearly happening since Bush II started pulling press credentials for journalists who didn’t toe the government line. It seems like that had an effect across the board in newsrooms or at least marketing departments. You dare to utter a disparaging word about the new iPhone? Well, maybe you don’t get an invite to the next product rollout. There’s plenty of other journalists who are glad to take your place.

    We’re in a strange transitional period in media. The message used to be tightly controlled by big-budgeted marketing departments, who went through the incestuous revolving door between press and corporations. They all know each other, they all hung out with each other, and they all pretty much agreed to the story the corporation wanted (in the case of GM: Hey, this POS Buick that gets 8 MPG and won’t start when the temp is below 50 degrees is a great car!). Now that anyone might be able to get an audience that idea is going out the window. Adding payouts is nothing new but really shows how we’re all manipulated. Stereo Review magazine never published a bad review of anything. They couldn’t even bring themselves to denounce the “snake oil” speaker wire because the companies advertised in the classified section.

    The real change though, is the Eric Peters model. Subscribers pay you directly for your insight and perspective. In the process we all create a community. And we’re much more interested in keeping that community alive because we have actually put some skin in the game. Eric can call a junk box a junk box and that means credibility. Of course if he does go over the edge and starts adding in product links without stating that they’re paid for (the Amsoil and Valentine sponsorships are pretty close BTW, but at least you used the product prior to them becoming advertisers), we’ll find someone else to trust. That’s the beauty of the Internet for consumers, we can be pretty fickle without a lot of effort.

    I only hope the masses figure out that Facebook isn’t the Internet, because I really like having a way to keep in touch with friends and family I don’t see very often but really hate Facebook. But because of the network effect that’s where they are and trying to introduce them to RSS or some other system is not going to be easy. Maybe when they start to see content disappearing that doesn’t fit the Facebook narrative they’ll start to look elsewhere.

    • Hi RK,

      One of the truly nutty things about all this – as I wrote about in the piece – is that I am one of the very few remaining car journalists who likes cars and isn’t reflexively hostile to the industry. I’ve defended them against out-of-control (and morally indefensible) regulatory assault.

      I give them a very fair shake.

      You’d think that would count for something.

      I wonder whether I’d get my access to GM’s press fleet restored if I “came out”? Maybe I should head to New York, dressed like the biker from the Village People… and do a dance to Macho Man in front of their building?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8UO4jquAlY

      • The last time automakers stood up to the regulators was the late 1980s when they fought against airbag mandates. Once government won that one and showed quite clearly they believe in herd management showing a willingness to deploy a safety device that at best kills fewer than it saves the automakers folded. Since then I’ve seen no real fight out them. I’ve seen them push for regulation for market advantage but not fight anything like they used to. Something changed.

        • Hi Brent,

          Something did.

          I happened to come online (rhetorically speaking) as a car journalist in the mid-1990s. The culture was much different then. The changes over the past few years, though, have been startling.

          Where they once paid lip service to the PC agenda, they now literally embrace it. Even more than that, actually. They are militant about it.

          It’s bizarre.

          Leaving aside absurd and unfair.

          Because, after all, the majority of the country – and the people buying cars – are still white people (of both sexes and most of them straight).

          So, in addition to everything else, it’s a terrible business decision.

          Especially if word about this business I’ve been writing about goes viral.

          God, I pray that it does.

          • I agree and I really hope these people get the message. When I was in the car buying market 4 years ago and again last year (for my wife). We looked at the usual suspects including GM (though I’ll admit that I would never touch a Ford, yes I’m biased) and I couldn’t get past the blinginess of Buick and Cadillac, it’s like they were trying to appeal to old folks and well to do former gang members at the same time. Infiniti was the same way. I went with Volvo in bith cases. The best business practice will always be to appeal to the widest market possible. So many companies are designing their cars with minorities and women in mind, however by accounts I’ve seen, white men still make the majority of buying decisions and I’m not buying anything that handles like ass or gets to 60 mph in more than 7 seconds. There being absolutely no excuse for acceleration slower than 0-60 in 7 seconds in 2017. Subaru seems to be the biggest offender. Just offer the damn Crosstrek with the WRX motor and be done with it. Fewer people want the Forester XT because it looks like a dyke restyled a Toyota 4Runner (which looks bad enough already). Speaking of car reviewers towing the corporate line… I remember a time were a slow car would have been severely criticized. Now I see praise for the likes of the Toyota CH-R and Crosstrek. Both of which are so slow that I’d suggest that they’re actually dangerous to drive in many places. -Rant complete haha.

      • With modern manufacturing and the plummeting cost of tools like CNC and 3D printers, it should be pretty easy for a new startup to build cars. Oh not millions of F150s, but boutique cars much like the Italians and French, and at a price that is much less than a Ferrari. The various car builder shows on Velocity and Discovery channel (but I’m being redundant since they’re both the same parent), along with the SEMA-style aftermarket means that it should be a piece of cake for motivated people to start a custom coachworks.

        But thanks to Uncle’s safety and CAFE rules it becomes extremely cost prohibitive for a startup and absolutely impossible for a small shop to do much more than modify existing stock. Even Callaway has to associate themselves with GM to keep in the good graces of government rules. And that’s just the way the big automakers like it. Choose any color you want as long as it is black still is the idea. Start wanting a lot of customization and the factory scale manufacturing model falls apart. Better to bland-down the offering and what better way than to codify the manufacturing system into law? When the rules say to sell a vehicle you have to supply dozens or more to the government just to get the OK to run it on the road, or install computer systems that Uncle can use to peer into the internals, or be held liable for the owner’s inability to control the vehicle it is enough to keep everyone out of the market, except overseas manufacturers who receive heavy subsidies from their Uncles (and partnership deals with the big US players).

        It’s a nice way to maintain your semi-monopoly on the business.

        • Good comment ReadyKW. I remember my liberal micro econ professor talking about an example of this (was surprised to hear this from a lib). A large mining business purchased a mine in an rural area that also had competing mines in operation. The large mining company was union labor. They starting hiring away the non-union labor from the other mines due to the higher labor rates they were paying. The smaller non union mines had to offer higher wages and benefits but couldn’t compete. The larger mine company offered to buy out the smaller mines which they did at a lower value than previous due to their losses. Then the larger mine re-negotiated the labor contracts back down below the level previously paid by the non-union mines. This is why large industries like regulation and they can put the screws to their upstart competition.

      • The car industry is hostile to itself.

        If it wasn’t it would tell to the government to shove off when it comes to these d*mn electric cars that will bankrupt them all.

    • Ready writes, “I only hope the masses figure out that Facebook isn’t the Internet, because I really like having a way to keep in touch with friends and family I don’t see very often but really hate Facebook

      “http://southpark.cc.com/full-episodes/s21e04-franchise-prequel

      Someone should pitch an EPautos episode to Stone and Parker.

  4. If CR reviewed $6 toasters that would be ok. Or if they looked for stats of old/newly improved things that would be good….but they don’t. Their reviews are biased depending on the reviewer.

    As far as cars are concerned, Toyota could paint a turd and sell it and their fanbois would gush over it and so would the reviewers at CR if the reviewer had had some good Toys.

    Seems like you never hear “Stay away from this model if you want a decent “ride”, “toast”, “ability to pickup up steel balls from the carpet”, “all steel construction makes it too heavy for most”(and durable, which nobody wants now. Throw a big carpet cleaner made from some manufacturer where the expected life is 30 yeas and CR will tell you how it’s just too bulky and heavy never mind the brush bar is warranted for 5 years no questions asked and the motor warranty is 10 years free replacement shipping covered (in the continental US).

    So many reviews, so few worth reading….and they pick on you because you pointed out the elephant in the corporate bedroom.

  5. That’s because these “insiders” are hypocrites, where insider trading is no longer a crime provided your one of the “gang”. There is no such thing as “conflict of interest”, like there was when Pete Rose was publicly humiliated and stripped of his “hall of fame” status for insider betting. These goose-steppers are above the law and are openly flaunting the fact! I put them in the same boat with VDOT, DMV, and every other corrupt, thieving, untouchable band of white-collar criminals out there. Someday payback for them is gonna be a real bitch, and I won’t shed one God-Damned tear!

  6. Hey Eric,

    Years ago I began importing Tune components (a high end end German bicycle parts company) to the US. One of the magazines contacted me and asked if they could review a set of wheels built with Tune hubs, I said sure. I built a set (retail value at the time of about $1,000.00) and contacted them to let them know the wheels were ready. I got shipping details and asked how long they thought they would need the wheels and when they expected to return them. The guy said, “we don’t return the items we review”. “What?”, I said. He replied that everyone understands that the components were kept in exchange for the publicity of the review. I told him that what they did was unethical and rendered the “review” worthless. He told me that they’d been doing this for years and that I was the first person to object. He genuinely did not understand why their policy was wrong. Of course, I never sent them the wheels.

    Cheers,
    Jeremy

  7. I don’t trust consumer reports anywhere near as far as I can throw their magazine. I used to read my grandparents subscription for years and as a guy who grew up around the automotive world, I drove a lot of cars. Very rarely would the reviews add up, especially when it came to driving dynamics. If the car was set up right, it was poorly reviewed. If it understeered like a pig but stopped ok then it was rated well. Seemed like a bunch of old farts were writing the reviews and favored cars that drove like minivans. I also don’t trust their reliability surveys since they tend not to align with other trusted sources. It’s claimed they don’t take kickbacks but it’s hard to see where their biases come from if they don’t.

    • CR is very biased* and their testing methodology is quite poor and the results easily biased by well their biases.

      *I find their commercials hysterical because they imply money is the only reason to be biased. Since when did someone need money to be biased?

      • Exactly, there’s a disconnect somewhere and people now days have a lot of places where they can look for information before buying. CR may have already received the black dot. I know that it would be hard for me to ever trust them again…

    • As someone who’s been involved in auto-related occupations in one way or another for most of my adult life, I’ve always had to laugh a Consumer Reports. They seem to use statistics for their source of reliability info- as opposed to actually talking to people who actually work on the model/family of car being reviewed.

      Thus, back when Buick had that Gawd-awful 3.0 V-6 that would self-destruct at about 50-60K miles, even after the problems were well known, CR never mentioned it, because by the time those motors racked-up enough mileage to develop their bearing problems, they were a few model years old, and or also used in several different vehicles, and or out of warranty- so the statistics didn’t tell the story (Especially considering that CR may be looking at one model, from one year, and not every car of that model and year carried that particular engine)- but talk to any mechanic of the time who ever had a customer that had a 3.0, and they’d all tell you the same story, and warn anyone away from ever buying any car with that motor….but not a word about it in CR- and so too with many other major automotive boondoggles.

      So too with many other things- between their use of statistics, rather than the experiences of experts; and the fact that their writers are usually not experts on the items which they review; I’ve noticed equally horrible reviews from CR on photographic equipment; appliances; etc.

      • The problem is that a car is a capital investment with a fairly long depreciation. What good is reviewing a new product unless the test is over months and tens of thousands of miles? Much like any product. Another good reason for me to buy 20 year old or more cars, the track record is by then quite a bit better and more accurate.

        • Yes, Ernie, true- but in cases where the car isn’t “all new”, but has components which have been used in previous model years of that car, or other vehicles from that brand, where such components already have a track record, that info is readily available.

          What really kills me though, is when people do buy vehicles which are “all new”. Unless they’re only planning on keeping the vehicle for a year or two, they are just paying to be a guinea pig.

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