Have you ever met someone, and had only a short period of time to determine if you like him or not? If you have, then welcome to the world of the automotive press launch.
It’s a fast-paced place, filled with numerous flight connections, hotel rooms, too much food, Power Point slide shows, and then a drive that’s either too short or too long, but seldom just right.
So it’s inevitable that a few first impressions don’t seem the same once you have a chance to slow down.
Once the new model makes it to public sale later on, I often book it for a week’s driving.
And while my impressions are usually about the same as on the launch, I’ve had a couple that I thought were good on the event, but didn’t light my fire after several days with them.
And I’ve had a few that didn’t impress me initially, but which I grew to appreciate with some extra time in the seat.
Exactly how a press launch is done depends on several factors, including which automaker it is, where it’s being held, and how large the event is. In some cases, it can be as small as six or eight local writers who gather at a central location, drive the car to a lunch spot, drive it back to the starting point, and then go home the same day.
I’ve also been to huge launches, with waves of writers coming in from various countries, each staying for a couple of days and then leaving to make room for the next, bunked in goofy-expensive resorts in exotic locations.
And, of course, there is every imaginable type between those two extremes as well.
Now, there are a few writers who never met a car they didn’t like, because they never met a press launch they didn’t like. And there are a few who deliberately trash the car in their reviews, even if it didn’t deserve it, apparently because they’re either determined to prove they cannot be bought by the Heavenly Bed® in the room and wine at dinner, or are hoping to become the next Jeremy Clarkson.
But overall, the vast majority of writers are able to look past the fancy digs, and report objectively on the vehicle.
That’s what I do, and for the most part, my week-long test-drive backs me up. But occasionally, I realize my first impression wasn’t ultimately how I looked at the car.
So how does that happen? Primarily, it’s because I’m human (as are other writers who have confided having the same thing happen.) Once we’re paired up—usually two writers to a car—we’re given a pre-determined route to follow.
Sometimes it’s programmed into the navigation system, but more often, we’re given a route book. One drives while the other navigates from it, and then we switch halfway.
We’re in unfamiliar territory, watching out for other vehicles, paying attention to traffic signals, and looking for turns that are sometimes hard to find. Frequently, there are errors or confusing directions in the route books, so we have to be even more diligent.
We need to find places to take photographs—no picture, no story—and we have to position the car just right, over and over, snapping pictures, while trying to maintain a schedule that’s often made tighter because we have to be at the airport on time, or we have to meet an editor’s deadlines.
In some cases, the routes are so complicated, with so many turns, that I have to pay more attention to the directions than to the vehicle, just so I don’t get hopelessly lost.
And so, when I’m in the car at my leisure, using it for everyday errands and driving it on routes I know, I may find annoyances that weren’t evident on my short initial ride.
I’ll also get the chance to check my fuel consumption, play with all the gadgets in the infotainment centre, see how many grocery bags fit in the trunk, and check it out on rough roads if all the drive routes on the launch were glassy-smooth ones.
This means that, on occasion, a car that initially felt okay turned out to be less so when used for everyday driving.
Press launches have their place, and not just to wine-and-dine writers (and while my friends don’t believe me, the plane rides and the too-rich food and the suitcase living wear very thin, very quickly.)
It’s a “first look” in the oft-lengthy period between the time a new model is driven onstage at an auto show, and then put into showrooms for sale. It’s a chance to give readers an idea of what’s coming, along with a usually-accurate opinion on how it rides and drives.
But “opinion” is the main theme here, and that’s why no matter who’s writing the stories, no matter if it’s a press launch, a short-term review, or a long-term test-drive, everything we write is only one tool in the box when you’re deciding on which car to buy.
Our stories can help you determine what to consider and test-drive yourself, but that’s as far as it goes. We are not the final word in your buying decision, and never should be. It’s all about the vehicle that’s right for you.