Southern Group members know they are a privileged bunch, taken to the best locations and hotels, wined and dined in style, invited to drive the latest cars and generally pampered by our motor industry PR colleagues. But what makes a decent launch? Steve Loader eavesdropped at the launch hotel bar…
What’s the best way to impress the media when a carmaker launches a car? A good test route: that’s the simple answer from most SGMW members.
They see themselves as the eyes and ears of their readers and followers and can’t do justice to that mission, unless they drive a car over diverse routes to test handling, ride, refinement, comfort, and simply living with the cars in different situations.
Of course, that experience – and enthusiasm for the car – is enhanced if the route is fresh and interesting. Amazingly though, many brands don’t prioritise this element and SGMW members ponder why we flog up and down a Spanish motorway, rather than head into mountains so tantalisingly close by?
The reason given for the ‘one size fits all’ approach to route planning is often: “Other nationalities don’t want the variety of driving that you (awkward) British writers want.”
Kia, under Steve Kitson’s direction, traditionally stages UK launches abroad, using excellent locations and well-judged routes – some possibly from the Kitson memory banks from his own time as a motoring scribe. But there is no doubt that UK-based launches are favourite with SGMW members and several brands consistently stage some of the best.
One of these is Mazda where PFPR’s Peter Frater – another ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’ ex-scribe – masterminds launch events and vets the routes.
Peugeot has consistently used imaginative locations and themes married to good routes and, with the recent consolidation of PSA PR under Andrew Didlick, such good practice has spread to Citroën and DS.
Suzuki and top man Alun Parry has also scored highly with recent locations and driving routes achieved, one imagines, on a tight PR budget.
Volvo earns praise too after years when the Swedish brand didn’t have much new product to show off.
At the other end of the scale, some brands aim to wow with locations and venues, but neglect driving routes. Taking us to a city and choosing a route riddled with roadworks is a sure-fire way to wind us up. Hyundai showed how it should be done by staging the Ioniq launch in Liverpool, but ensuring an escape onto great roads in North Wales.
And now to the thorny question of ‘driving days’ – nothing gets members as animated as this one. As originally envisaged, these were regional ‘road show’ gatherings allowing journos to clock in and out to update on a brand’s line-up or facelift model, and PR contacts. Unfortunately, some brands now use them for standalone launches, asking many attendees to make an early start and drive many hours there and back, on top of several hours behind the wheel of the new car – all in a single day. As one SGMW wag quipped: “Maybe they should think about fitting us with tachographs.”
The industry position, quoted to the motoring writers’ regional chairmen, can be summarised: “This format has been requested by journalists who find they are unable to take two full days out of the office due to mounting time pressures.”
True, of course, but some brands make overnight accommodation and train travel available in cases where distance might be a problem.
What they said…
“We had an excellent recent example from McLaren of how it should be done. The brand arranged a road show around the country, offering writers easy access, comfortable accommodation, perfectly adequate meals and a choice of excellent routes – the Goodwood area in my case.
Other recent good examples are Renault in Darlington and Kia in Newcastle – particularly as they kindly sent first class rail tickets. Mazda in Exeter also comes to mind. The consistent stars for launches and routes are: Skoda, Kia, Audi, VW, Mazda, Renault, and Suzuki – which does excellent launches with limited resources.”
“Suzuki’s events this year take a lot of beating. The route into Wales from Cardon Park was brilliant both in content and brevity; the drive around the Great Orme headland was a unique and inspiring experience, as well as being a real showcase for the car (S-Cross).”
“Best recent road route has to be that for the Mazda3 facelift, based in Aberdeen. Mentally, I’m still there… Brilliant!”
“Full marks to Renault, which sorted first class train travel to a launch in Darlington, allowing me to do some work there and back. DS3 at Canary Wharf was pleasant and imaginative.
The Vauxhall Heritage driving day at Luton was a laid-back driving day, with decent routes once away from Luton itself.
Audi launches are always fun with plenty of copy, but the brand earned extra Brownie points for coming out east to Suffolk for the Q2. The test route found roads even I didn’t know. I hope others take heed – I have been banging on about the delights and great roads of Norfolk and Suffolk.
Best driving route of the year? Mazda3 out of Aberdeen.”
“Suzuki Vitara up at Yarm was good, from every driving aspect and the hotel, as usual for Suzuki. The Suzuki Baleno in Belfast was good all round too, while driving the S-Cross in North Wales was one of last year’s best. Mazda3 in Scotland…great trip! Super route, good venue. Ellenborough Park for the Audi quattro day showed the brand on form. The Optima launch in Bavaria was very good, and well done again Kia for staging a UK launch overseas (without the sometimes-dreary international presentation). I don’t mind city driving if it’s appropriate for the car – the Mitsubishi PHEV in Bristol last year was excellent, for that reason. Still on Mitsubishi, I also appreciated the effort and thought that went into the L200 ‘glamping’ gig, even though it was blinking cold.”
“Some great launches recently, with some of that enthusiasm due to the excellence of the machinery, but also some memorable routes. SEAT chose an excellent base in Manchester that, for me, overcame the problems of getting out of the place. Once on roads of our own choice it was good driving. That was followed by the S-Cross event; the route into Wales was great – well done Suzuki. Can’t finish without mentioning McLaren’s jaunt into Fawsley Hall – a memorable conjunction of historic hotel and the stylish modernity and velocity of a 570S. Possibly not the best roads on which to try such a motor, but not an outing I’ll forget in a long while.”
“Possibly the best test route I’ve done recently was Jeep’s 75th anniversary event based in Helmsley, Yorks. A three-hour drive taking in the Whitby seascape, North Yorkshire Moors and an incredible off-road course was breathtaking – almost literally. Full marks for Audi going east to Suffolk for the Q2. Roads quiet and sweeping with outrageous scenery, particularly around Southwold. The Audi A3 European first drive near Munich offered super roads with surfaces we can only dream about in the UK.”