Objects of Desire

December 31st, 2009

Does this car excite you?

I want to share with you a comment that came yesterday from one of our long-time readers. If you’re a regular on this blog, you may recognize his handle, panayoti. His comments are always provocative, to say the least. Sometimes I want to throw a bomb at him.

This time, he takes off on my question about why I put so many German cars on my Best Cars of 2009 list, which leads him into remarks on car journalism good and bad, why cars should be regarded as machines, not objects of desire, and some suggestions as to how we might reposition our editorial stance. I urge you to read his comment here.

German cars indeed are best, says panayoti, so why do we need car mags or blogs to keep telling us so? After all, cars are just machines, and why must enthusiast car journalists keep pumping up reader adrenalin by obsessing over cars that are economically and practically beyond the reach of nearly all buyers?

The affluent will always buy what you guys obsess over, but reality would seem to dictate that covering the “lesser” cars would garner more eyeballs and interest than the exotics you folks like to obsess over.

Well, here’s my take on that. Car writers are almost all “enthusiasts,” meaning that they take pleasure in cars that move away from the mundane, “machine” aspects of transportation. We don’t want to write Consumer Reports reviews or engineering analyses, because we do see cars as objects of desire (which is how many buyers, maybe most buyers, see them). In fact, the industry has been built on the principle of building a value perception on the notion of a mere machine. Otherwise, we’d all be driving Corollas instead of Camrys.

In my 2009 Best Cars List, I limited it to cars under $100,000 and tried to spread my picks to reflect both practicality and desire. But the industry is undergoing a severe transformation (even if human psychology and behavior aren’t), and panayoti has a point to make: More coverage of “lesser” cars might bring us more readers—and more comments.

I don’t know if he’s right about that. Yes, people want good information on what they are buying, but they clearly read car blogs for entertainment, stimulation, and knowledge about what radical stuff is out there. Providing that in a balanced way is what we try to do. He is right about the snotty, PC tone that some auto writers have: Writing about the Camaro, Ezra Dyer of The New York Times said, “An independent rear suspension, up to 426 horsepower and concept-car styling make this my favorite meathead-mobile.”

Finally, I, too, wish we had more comments on our blog. Panayoti pays us some nice compliments and suggests a possibly different editorial stance, stressing more domestic, “lesser” cars to “garner more eyeballs.” I think one key may be to find the excitement and drama in what’s now happening to transform the auto industry. We aren’t going to become a Consumer Reports blog (at least, I hope not), and surely there’s nothing wrong with a little controversy or, as he puts it, a little testosterone.

These opinions are my own, of course, and do not reflect CarGurus’ editorial policy in any way. We welcome your opinions, definitely. Drop us a comment.

—jgoods

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  1. Olivier
    January 7th, 2010 at 21:00 | #1

    I really agree with Panayoti, and your respond. And yes, german cars are not always the best. By far. Look at the old Mercedes benz E class, it wasn’t particularly good looking compared to the competition, and its reliability was poor. The old BMW 7 series was very controversially styled as well! Many people would prefer to have Japanese cars! (Lexus, Nissan GTR, Infiniti’s etc are all GREAT driver’s cars which regularly beat out germany’s best!)

    I understand that talking about these cars is just pure fantasy on the part of most people who read these blogs and post on them. I do agree that covering more accessible cars would be a better idea for blogs looking for more traffic and regular readers. Most people like reading reviews of their own cars (Camry’s, Civics and whatnot. I drive a civic and I love it!)

    However, talking about those cars would turn of the enthousiasts. Look at Top Gear. Top car show in the world (and most popular televised show in Britain apparently) and all it covers are race cars with cynical british humor. It’s great and that show has SOUL which is what makes it a success.

  2. zerrath
    December 31st, 2009 at 14:22 | #2

    Just because a german car is good one year is certainly no guarantee it’ll be as good the next year. However, how many people want to read an “honest” review of an any econobox. It gets good gas mileage, its cheap and comes in nice colors. That would certainly get old.

  3. tgriffith
    December 31st, 2009 at 14:17 | #3

    I read car blogs for a few reasons: catch up on industry news, dream about cars I might never be able afford and escape from the reality of the cars I can. I see panayoti’s point to a degree (especially the part about controversial commentary.) I just think such commentary should extend to all areas of the auto world… from lustful exotics to run of the mill Corollas.

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