PH Blog: PR by proxy

Ah the ridealong story. Brilliantly lampooned today by Sniffpetrol we were among the many in the motoring media to greedily sign up to Jaguar's invitation to Wales for a ride in the new F-Type, ambitiously claimed by some as an exclusive. Which isn't quite as cheeky as claiming a drive story based on an interview with a bloke on Jaguar's payroll who has been behind the wheel, which has also happened.

Sniff Petrol - bang on target as ever
Sniff Petrol - bang on target as ever
Once upon a time ridealongs were the preserve of the journalistic elite and genuine exclusives based on serious amounts of arm twisting and eyelid fluttering. Now it's an accepted part of the pre-launch hype building exercise. One we chose to be complicit in by accepting a seat beside Mike Cross and the brilliantly named Erol Mustafa for a bit of a rag around the Welsh hills in the 'wrong' seat of an F-Type. So, should we accept such invitations? And can we actually learn anything worthwhile?

There are certain cases - F-Type being one of them and Harris's ride in the 918 Spyder another - where a car is sufficiently interesting and exciting that, dammit, we'll shamelessly accept any opportunity to get close.

My trip to the Monte Carlo Historique was another 'ridealong' invitation too but one with wider interest. Seeing a celebrated car being put through its paces by someone linked with its glorious heritage is always a pleasure. Jean Claude Andruet is perhaps not as well known outside of Alpine circles as many but the chance to ride beside him down the Turini was too good to miss.

Sometimes riding shotgun isn't all bad
Sometimes riding shotgun isn't all bad
More interesting was the ride back up, sitting in the back of a Renaultsport Megane with Renault boss Carlos Tavares on Andruet's tail. By their nature senior execs tend to be guarded and non-committal when talking with hacks - my meeting with BMW's Ian Robertson recently a case in point. The creepy resemblance to Tony Blair goes more than skin deep.

But purely by chance - there were loads of cars going up and down the Turini and I only ended up with Tavares by accident - here I was with the boss of Renault in his racing suit and bootees following an iconic sports car up an equally famous rally stage. This wasn't Tavares in a sharp suit delivering soundbites at a motor show. This was the unashamed petrolhead giving it absolute death in one of his own products just for the sheer hell of it. And the guy can drive. To experience that and then sit down alongside the guys who'll be building the new Alpine-Caterham on his watch was accidental but very effective PR in action. I'll have to try and regain some journalistic cynicism before committing anything to publication based on this but, suffice to say, I came away impressed.

The kind of PR that appeals to PH
The kind of PR that appeals to PH
A rare moment and, as later discussions with Renaultsport's Patrice Ratti proved, this is a business based on profits and bottom lines, not rose-tinted romanticism. And that's why we won't be getting a manual Clio 200.

But you have to hope that these glimpses of proper, petrolhead enthusiasm in the business do suggest there are some still on our wavelength. Whichever seat you happen to see them from.


[Sources: Sniff Petrol]

Comments (12) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Ex Boy Racer 04 Feb 2013

    At least you don't need a license for a ridealong!

  • Dan Trent 04 Feb 2013

    There is that...


  • Lowtimer 04 Feb 2013

    I think it's a bit of a cynical PR exercise to draw it all out: you should be able to have a passenger ride and drive the car yourself, both on the same day.

    But you can tell a lot about a car from a passenger ride. Not very much about what it's like to drive, but a great deal about the car itself and especially (obviously when you think about it) about what it's like to be driven it. Which, although we are mostly keen drivers here, should be a concern for most of us, who frequently carry passengers whose opinions matter to us.

    Obviously as a passenger you miss the feel of the controls. But I also believe that when you are driving a car, especially a car that is new to you, you will spot things from the passenger seat that you miss from the driver's seat. You are more likely to assess the ride quality and noise levels well as a passenger. You sit differently in the seats as a passenger. You don't have the steering wheel to brace yourself and, crucially, you are less able to anticipate the car's movement. So you get a lot of additional information about how a car goes down the road if you have both driven in and been driven in it.

    When buying old cars, where the focus is on the specific characteristics of an individual example of the car, rather than the generic characteristics of the type, it is very good to experience the thing from passenger seats. You can trace rattles, and really concentrate on hearing and seeing things that you could well miss with most of your concentration and observational powers being absorbed by navigating, positioning and controlling the car. When I go for a test drive I always ask to be driven part of the distance before I drive the car myself. For me it makes the driving part much more informative.

  • sisu 04 Feb 2013

    It is a tricky situation, some of the best automobile articles have been about everthing other than the car. But they were still written from the perspective of the driver. While I like these articles such as the 918 and the Renault stuff. The Jag one was the automotive journalistic equivilant of a reach around, well technically it was Mike Cross shagging someone and then you guys watching it, then having to explain what it was like and explain the look on his face.

    Do I think Jag are taking the tantric PR mumbo jumbo a step to far - Yes. It is probably doing more harm to them as a manufacturer as normally when they launch a car they control the environment to highlight the aspects they love and mold the image of what the car is trying to be. In reality it should be something they can hand you the keys and say 'enjoy' and everyone wax lyrically about it being what the TVR could have been. Makes you question what they are hiding?

  • Ekona 04 Feb 2013

    If it's a mega-exclusive hypercar that you'll never be given a drive of (thinking One-77 or new Enzo) then I think it's justifiable. The 918 for example, I think worked.

    This is a common or garden sports car that is released to the masses very soon. I'd rather any thoughts waited until they chuck you the keys, rather than play along with their cynical attempts to get the car into the press.

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