The Gravy Train… (or, how to win an iPod!)

Posted on October 5th, 2007 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

Yesterday I reckon I spent more time eating than driving.

I attended the launch of the Hyundai i30 in Sydney, an event paid for by Hyundai. And ‘paid for’ meant flying me down to Sydney from Brisbane (normal class), bussing me to the Sebel Pier One hotel for an overnight stay, giving me breakfast (normal hotel dining room), walking to a reinvented warehouse, watching a presentation on the car, driving it a short way before food and drink refreshments, driving it back to the starting point for a 3-course celebrity chef prepared meal, taking a stretch limo back to the airport, and then flying home.

launch-lunch.jpgI have real problems with this approach to launching a car. If a car company wishes to gather journalists at one location – and there were something like 20 present – then I guess paying for the flights is fine. But for a single day event, surely an overnight stay is not needed. Maybe even the refreshments at the drive stop are acceptable – although it seems to me that if the stop was placed near a shop, anyone who needed food or drink could buy them for themselves. After all, if they weren’t attending a Hyundai new car launch, everyone there would still need to eat.

But I can see no reason for a three-course lunch (In fact, when I think about it, four courses – there were deep-dried dates wrapped in some pastry or other to start with), waitresses at hand, preceded by a spiel from the chef. I think that this clearly falls into these categories warned against in the Australian Journalists’ Code of Ethics:

4. Do not allow personal interest, or any belief, commitment, payment, gift or benefit, to undermine your accuracy, fairness or independence.

7. Do your utmost to ensure disclosure of any direct or indirect payment made for interviews, pictures, information or stories.

And if you think a swanky lunch could not be construed as a ‘gift or benefit’ and certainly not as an ‘indirect payment’, you might also want to know that every journalist that attended the launch was handed, as a gift, a 4GB iPod nano.

So if you’d like to win a brand new iPod nano, tell us below how you think a 1-day new car launch should be run. I’ll announce the winner after a week.

PS: And the car? The diesel version looks like a genuine groundbreaker – and one that we’d like to do a long drive in…

PPS: Read widely and see how many journalists who covered the launch of the i30 disclose the gift…

PPS: When switched on, the iPod shows itself to be empty. However, when plugged into a PC, the full press pack for the i30 appears. But as far as I can see, the entire contents were also on the provided CD…

11 Responses to 'The Gravy Train… (or, how to win an iPod!)'

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  1. Jason said,

    on October 2nd, 2007 at 12:09 pm

    I am really looking forward to the i30.. One of Hyundai’s Engineers was telling a little about this model a while ago and he was certainly singing it’s praises. Whilst he works for Hyundai, I can understand people thinking his support and enthusiasm is purely biased, however I have known for a number of years from his previous role with another manufacturer and he was always quite unbiased and always offered both sides of the story when discussing that brand. he was equally as unbiased with the i30. But I think it will be a great little car from Hyundai.

    Once they start to style all their new models AWAY from the Amerian styling of the previous models, I think we will see just how much more successful they would be..

    As for the New car launch…
    I go to a few of these and agree that it can be quite full on and there is a definite feeling that the manufacturer is going well out of the way to MAKE you like the car.

    This is how I would run one….

    The day would start at 8am with a light breakfast and welcome, followed by a brief run down of the cars involved.
    By 9am the attendees would break into groups of two or three and have the chance to to drive the cars on the road around the chosen venue (in my case, Eastern Creek raceway) with the instructions “be back by 11am at the latest”.

    Once everyone was back at the raceway, I would ask people share their views on the cars, what they liked, what they didn’t – encourage OPEN and HONEST communication about the cars.
    No one should be interupted and the manufacturers staff would be busy taking notes on what people thought of the cars.

    After this (around mid-day by now) I would have the attendees watch a a demonstration of the vehicles handling and ABS/Traction control/stability control etc on the wet skid pan – this would last about 30 mins before a break for lunch

    Lunch would not be what I would call extravagant, but it would be a good selection to cater for most tastes. A buffet style would work best.. – during lunch the manufacturers engineers and marketing people etc would spend time at each table, explaining their job, answereing any questions and use this time to get information ‘one on one’ from those that may have been quiet or not as keen to speak about the car in front of a larger group..

    After lunch, each person would have the opportunity to drive one of the vehicles on the wet skidpan with a qualified instructor offering assistance as required. Afterwards, some laps of the track in the cars ( behind a ‘pace’ car or with an instructor etc to stop the attendees running out of talent) and then a final get together in the afternoon to hand out the information packs / press kits and the other ‘propaganda’ that is offered..

    The whole day would be finished by about 3.30 / 4.00pm and people would make their own way home..

  2. Blair said,

    on October 2nd, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    How to run the launch: Simple
    An airline ticket to a suitable destination, preferably a 1 day drive away,
    Arrive at airport get a car key, press pack and a fuel card, the fuel card could even have a little extra on it for lunch.
    Instructions to drop it of at the dealer/distributor in what ever city is appropriate!
    Cabcharge home.

    A variation could be that every one starts at a single point and the Marketers get to tell you how the car is a engineering marvel, then the serve morning tea and then you get to drive home.
    At the end of the day, it is about the car

  3. Edward said,

    on October 2nd, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    Simple! If I was the coordinator of the car launch I would,
    1. Notify the auto journo’s the new car is available at your local dealer and can be picked up when you’re available (with a full tank). Include a press blurb in the glove box.
    2. Let them have it for a week (or more).
    3. Tell them to drop it off and fill out a survey on what they thought of the car and any issues/problems they encountered.

    Regarding the i30, if Hyundai make the same leap forward as they did a few years back when going from the Excel to the Getz then I think it will be a top little run-about.

  4. Ben said,

    on October 2nd, 2007 at 5:29 pm

    I reckon the flight there and accommodation was a good idea. It allows everyone to have some leeway in departure times, and ensures that everyone is in the same spot at first light, and you then have a pretty good chance of everone arriving at the launch at the same time as well.

    So people would be flown in the day before, put up in a reasonable hotel, and probably have breakfast at that same hotel, in their own style. Press Packs related to the car should be handed out on the trip between the airport and the hotel (or for locals, upon receipt of the invitation).

    At 9:30am they would be bussed (Charter, not public transport) to a venue where a speech would be made. This would include introductions to the important people of the day (Whoever happens to be running the launch, a couple of engineers, the marketing people, and maybe a test driver). These people would not give seperate speeches, they are merely being pointed out so that the right questions can be asked of the right people.

    After this people would be shown to their (individual, or perhaps one between two, so people experience the passenger seat as well) cars, and sufficient time is allowed for the afformentioned important people to be asked all the difficult questions, and for people to inspect the cars. About an hour should be enough.

    People would then be allowed to do what they wish with the cars (save that they remain undamaged/stained) for a couple of hours. A suggested driving course should be supplied, one with a good mix of hills, country, and city driving would be prefferred. The suggested course should be suited to the car, but still include as much of the cars intended roads as possible. At the end of the drive time, they would be asked to meet at a closed course (racetrack is easiest, but not suited to a road car), for the cars to be, well, thrashed.

    At the track, there should be a questions/concerns/answers period of probably another half to three-quarters of an hour, after which a brief safety talk is given, and people are advised of the handling characteristics which are likely to show up during the next period. Which consists of the obligatory track thrash of (initially at least) the same cars that everyone was driving before. A lunch is also supplied during the track testing, during which appropriate people are made available to answer questions. Demonstrations would also be held, by experienced testers, of the car’s ability in adverse conditions.

    After the track time, another meeting of the big wigs is held, during which even more questions are asked, and the day is closed. People would then be flown home. If a flight is un-available near enough to the close of the day, any people remaining should be allowed to further sample the cars until they drive themseles to the airport, where they leave the car, and board the flight home.

    As part of the press pack, a feedback form should be supplied. This is to be handed in at everyone’s leisure, but the end of the day would be prefferable. Results of this survey should be made available to anyone who attended the day.

    Anyway, that’s my One-Day New Car Release, for a car targeted at normal road users. Sports cars, luxury cars, etc would have their amount of track time and road time adjusted accordingly. Also, all cars equipped with an AWD/4WD drivetrain should be shown off-road conditions. This may mean that the base model (ie 2WD) is launched on a different day to the AWD versions, but they have different markets anyway. However all (drivetrain) versions should be made available during racetrack testing.

    Ok, now I’m actually finished.

  5. Philip Armbruster said,

    on October 2nd, 2007 at 8:39 pm

    The money spent on vehicle launch is directly proportional to the number/pay scale of the PR department.
    If you guys think a Journo launch is BIG, have a look at dealer launches.
    The XD falcon launch was at the Opera House. Queensland and Victorian, SA and WA dealers were all flown to Sydney in Chartered planes and put up in good hotels.And the car was revealed in a smoke cloud etc etc.
    Arguably now with multi vehicle franchises it would be MORE important to get dealers enthusiastic about new models so it would be bigger.
    When I was BMW Motorcycle Marketing Manager, I would have a breakfast meeting, and go through the changes, then I would have 10 motorcycles outside with a chase car and trailer. We would go for a ride for a couple of days , changing motorcycles periodically.
    One launch went from melbourne vis Bairnsdale to Omeo to Mt Hotham, then to Canberra, over variety of roads. That was for magazine guys,. then we flew them home and flew in the daily press guys.
    It showcased the motor cycles in a number of environments and everyone had a ball.
    I will always remember the Cop landcruiser which screamed up at a rest stop . Was ready to throw the book at the hoons until he saw everyone was over 30.
    Regards Philip A

  6. doctorpat said,

    on October 3rd, 2007 at 10:00 am

    You have to ask what the purpose of the big event is for. If it is to give journalists the most information about the new cars, then some of the above approaches (especially Edward’s) would be best.

    But in reality, the whole point of the release is to get the best and most glowing coverage. In which case, a luxury retreat somewhere is the wisest approach.

    I wouldn’t choose Sydney or any big city, driving on poor city roads in heavy traffic will show up many flaws in cars (unless it is a zippy little city car, in which case, maybe Hyundai had the right idea). For something like a sports car, choose somewhere with lovely scenery and windy, but smooth and predictable roads where everyone can have a ball, and never be forced to confront the compromises of hard rides and poor visibility in traffic.
    And for a big luxury car, a nice resort area with sunny beaches and wide streets for cruising, but no tight parking or sharp corners.

  7. John said,

    on October 4th, 2007 at 1:02 pm

    It depends what you want, good articles, or honest reviews, assuming for some reason the manufacturer would want the latter, I think Edward has the right sort of approach.

    I know for myself, test driving a car, it’s often a bit frustrating as you spend more of your time concentrating on not getting lost whilst driving in an unfamiliar area, and what I’d really like to do is see how the car behaves on the roads I drive regularly and know well. I think this is well highlighted in many of the Autospeed articles where Julian often refers to the handling capability of a car compared to others on the winding road to his home. If you’re going to give any sort of decent comparison, you need to remove as many variables as you can, and I think this is one of the best ways of doing it.

    The importance of having ‘track’ testing is also highly debateable, even for a “performance” car, I’m not sure how many wrx’s / sti’s / evo’s / hsv’s etc end up being actually raced (at any level), but my guess would be a very low percentage every actually see a race track. Whilst some off street testing is probably a good idea just so performance, handling limits etc can be tested in safety, it really is less relevant to the majority of car buyers than how it behaves in the real world, especially something like the i30 I would imagine.

  8. Julian Edgar said,

    on October 4th, 2007 at 4:01 pm

    I reckon Ben might be winning the ipod so far…

  9. Matt said,

    on October 5th, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    If I were conducting a new car launch, that would imply I was a car company marketing executive. In which case, I’d do whatever I thought it took to get best media coverage, and conseqently the highest number of sales. Cause that’s what they’d be paying me for…

    So it would probably be something similar to what they do now.

    If I was trying to appeal to one particular journalist with a strong sense of ethics, I might do something differently. But until all the media behave like that I’d do whatever was known to work well.

    (PS I have been to the launch of the NC Mazda MX-5, flown to Brisbane, but not given acommodation. An introductory speech, slideshow, overview and talking with various marketing and engineering staff. A simple lunch at a cafe up Mt Glorious (great roads for that car!), and back to town. Was a great day I thought.)

  10. Matthew Allen said,

    on October 7th, 2007 at 9:43 pm

    A car launch for a car that is meant to be a daily driver should include just; a daily drive. Assemble your selected journos, hand them an information pack about the car, tell them to now go jump into the new car in groups of three. Three to force at least one person to sit in the back.

    Instruct the journos to follow a lead car on a journey which will be timed to drive through peak hour traffic and other settings such as the freeway and regular urban roads.

    Break the journey into three parts of say 50km each and have each journo take a stab at driving and sitting in the passenger/rear seat. The stops should also include one stop at a city car park to show limitations of tight city driving and restricted visibility.

    Just for fun have the journos also bring their luggage along to get an idea of boot space.

    All up the car has been driven (and not just talked about) in everyday situations and the perspective of driver and passenger (front and rear) have been considered.

  11. Julian Edgar said,

    on October 10th, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    Further developments, see:

  12. Mark Reyes said,

    on October 10th, 2007 at 2:40 pm

    The activites to be carried out during a car launch would differ greatly between each type of car.

    The first session would obviously be the classroom or the presentation session, where the sales and engineer guys disect the car and tell you why it’s at the top of its class, why it’s such a great car, and why the public will buy into this car. Truth is, the many journo’s and special guests attending will be too busy thinking about the test drive session coming up later on in the day, so it’s best to make this as brief/enjoyable as possible.

    This would then be followed up by a demo session. If you were launching a truck or a van, you would do something novel like show the crowd just how much load can be packed on, and then some. If it’s a small car, get two tall people and show the crowd how comfortable they can sit in the vehicle. If it’s a sports car, the ideas are limitless…

    Now would be about a good time to have refreshments…people get bored, tired and hungry so it’s always good to cater their needs. It’s also a good time for the engineers and sales guys to talk to the guests and gauge feedback on the vehicles and answer any questions the guests may have.

    I’ve always thought it be best to leave the driving session till last…gives the guests something to look forward too! Sure have various different models on hand for the guys to test, but also have a few ace drivers on hand to take some guests for happy laps and ensure that they are trained to talk to the passengers, to highlight the cars benefits/potentials.

    The end of the day is also important. Hand out any promotional packs at this time only, keep it simple and easy to carry. If you can go to the effort, provide a little gift or certificate so that they can be reminded of the day they just had!

  13. lw said,

    on October 10th, 2007 at 4:08 pm

    I thought that after last year’s Sonata debacle (half-price cars anyone?) Hyundai would have learned it’s lesson. But then I have to agree with Matt in that it’s the journo’s responsibility to disclose rather than the car company deciding what’s enough to impress, but to too much…

  14. Blake Parry said,

    on October 14th, 2007 at 3:39 am

    Havent seen anywhere else that divulged the Ipod gift in their reviews….

    Personally, unless a car is track oriented (ie a sports car, or car with sporting pretentions), the test driving should be performed on REAL roads, not billiard smooth race tracks.
    A good test route (as i know autospeed tends to use) is the go, and if journo’s are shipped to the location, then Hyundai should have one scoped out already.

    If its a sports car, then a jaunt on the track is certainly applicable, but again, there needs to be a strong focus on street manners. Despite what people may say, the roads are where cars spend the majority of their time.

  15. Frugal-One said,

    on October 15th, 2007 at 12:36 am

    Well i could have gone for you.
    But i would have required female-company, and a large-bar-tab taken car of.
    Yeah would say Hyundai are the best in the world..LOL NOT!

  16. Julian Edgar said,

    on October 15th, 2007 at 7:45 am

    OK, time for an iPod to be awarded.

    I thought that Matthew Allen’s approach was very good, but it would mean the car was always driven heavily laden, which is not typical of car use.

    For normal cars I think an emphasis on race tracks is not relevent – after all, on the test drive you may as well spend the same amount of time negotiating shopping centre car parks.

    The logistics of leaving cars at airports, dealers, etc is not viable on a one-day launch.

    So I have awarded the iPod nano, courtesy of Hyundai, to Ben. I’ve emailed him for postal details.

  17. Jason said,

    on October 15th, 2007 at 9:43 am

    Congrats Ben !!!!

  18. Ben said,

    on October 17th, 2007 at 10:59 am

    Cool! Now all I have to do is figure out how to plug it into my car. And how to fill it. Has the press pack been left on it?


  19. Julian Edgar said,

    on October 17th, 2007 at 11:01 am

    On the request of Hyundai the press pack will be deleted before it is sent. It’ll go into the post inthe next few days.

  20. Julian Edgar said,

    on October 18th, 2007 at 4:56 pm

    iPod sent!

    Let us know when you have it.

  21. Ben said,

    on October 23rd, 2007 at 10:32 am

    It’s here. It’s a pretty complicated thing. I thought it was just for music… but it can play video and has games on it… Now all I have to do is put stuff on it.