What is Wrong with Indian Auto Journalism?
Updated: Sep 14, 2022
Imagine walking through a massive grocery store, something like a Hypermarket, with more products on sale on the shelves than the number of hair on your head. Every packet/box/bottle of things we could eat or drink have fancy things written about it on large shiny boards, everything is proving the science wrong, everything is trying to be the superfood to give you a breakthrough in health and well-being. The competition is tough, so you choose what shines the most and whose packaging entraps your vision more before it visits your digestive systems.
And in all of this glitter, glamour and contention, tucked away in the one corner that people blind off is the fresh produce, straight from the local farms, grown and harvested with vigour and patience. Sidelined by the lack of funds to propel a fancy and alluring packaging that will massage your ego when you walk through your community with a bag full of them. I write this as I search for a loaf of fresh bran bread and some seasonal fruits at my local hypermarket. I drove till here in my long-termer for many months, a Nissan Magnite with an old-school 5-speed manual gearbox married to a tiny 1-litre turbo petrol engine. It doesn't say NISMO on it, so I should feel a little displeased. It doesn't even have a sunroof! I as a consumer should feel suicidal already, I chose the wrong car. or is it?
My friend just picked up an MG Hector very recently, and he went on chanting about how glorious his car is with a sunroof that can swallow his entire family in the little opening it has, the screen which has artificial intelligence that senses your mood and puts up a song in accordance to that, it even has an Apsara (an angel) which is dressed like a butler and emerges out of glove box to serve you freshly squeezed orange juice. It even has a robot that speaks to you in different languages so that you can discuss your depressive life story with it while sitting with your friend from another state.
We have forgotten the true essence of what a car is. I remember during my earlier days in school, my father used to pick up a copy of Autocar India and Auto India, car magazines available back in 1999, from the book stores and I would read through the emotionally objectified pieces of engineering landing on our shores every month. They would write about Bore and Stroke, Valves per Cylinder, Quality of Seat Cushions, Engine Structures, Crumple Zones and various engineering aspects of the car in question.
But Alas, there are very few such gems left in the industry who still give a spotlight to the reality of how a car is built and how it will affect the way you feel in it. Their respective experiences in the field of motorsports, automotive engineering, design and research could be ascertained by their passion for presentation.
The era of the Millenials and Gen-Z simulated the emergence of Influencers. A breed of pseudo automotive experts who are dressed in high-end fashion and project their beautiful faces, pushing assurances into the eyes of the beholder. Their experience with cars is as insignificant as a calf learning to suck milk off a cow's udder, some of them don't even know how to drive a car properly. Not because they are crippled, but they are only here to attract the eyeballs of the brands with their engagement statistics and puppy faces, that they also make while getting huge cheques written for speaking out the brochure handed to them in the fanciest way.
Everyone with a camera and some money to buy robotic views through SEOs online is getting into what looks like, the fancy world of Automotive Journalism. All of this, without the core knowledge of how a car works. If you had pain in the chest and doubted having a cardiac issue, you would not go to a beautiful actress dressed as a surgeon who appears on your Youtube Feed now and then doing short comedy skits, you would need to advise from a professional Doctor. Similarly, it is a pointless exercise to fathom opinions from a pseudo-Auto Journalist who has nothing to do with cars as a choice of their career or passion.
The emergence of these Influencers trying to be Auto Journalists has reduced the quality of automotive products that land on the roads of our country as well. The sort of demand they create for needless features and aspects, which are pushed down the throat by the respective brands, of course, has created a negative momentum of the true character of cars that get sold off the shelves here. The demand for massive sunroofs, gigantic and bright screens, touch-sensitive drive controls and irritable artificial intelligence onboard is unnecessary, but they are here because a certain influencer / public figure showcased it to make you look good amongst your peers. The act of ego massage is displayed to the max, and the whole nation blindly follows it.
Switch to the how Automotive Journalism functions in Europe, it's a whole different ball game. The league of Chris Harris, Matt Watson, Henry Catchpole, Matt Prior, Clarkson, May, Hammond, Tiff and Vicki Henderson is glorious. Their deep history in automobiles in different genres creates unconquerable confidence as they influence the factual stories over brochures narrations. Hence, the markets in European countries and UK enjoy a greater quality of products as compared to what we do in India. The demand of any market equates to what the industry will supply. And the demand is directly proportional to what the consumers get influenced more by. Social media is a massive culprit in engaging consumers into believing and getting captivated by the pointless embellishments established by these pseudo professionals.
A well-engineered car has a strong engine, and robust suspension setup with takes the beating on the road, seats equating the comfort of a mother's lap, great visibility, reliable after-sales service quality and optimum safety standards and materials, everything else is as good as the sprinkles on a cake. You don't need them. I was appalled looking at how many people have shown hostility towards the newly launched Citroen C3, a car from a brand whose cars don't let a basket of eggs break while you're taking your grandmother to a hospital in an emergency and driving like a drunk puppy. It is one of the most staggeringly comfortable small cars that have been seen in the Indian marketplace. Aryan, our photo editor slept like an infant in the back seat while I was driving over a rough road full of rocks and potholes.
This Industry yearns to have professionals, it demands respect and isolation from surplus intrusion. As a Mechanical Engineer with a brief experience in Motorsports, I hate what is happening to Auto Journalism in India today. Brands have to be blamed too, for they in hunger for eyeballs are giving away their keys to robots. Robots that create a deluxe face of the brand's identity for the public to see but will never help improve their products, rather they speak what the brand wants them to say like a parrot. The yearning for a criticism-free influence amongst the viewers/readers is a toxic behaviour, and I detest a lot of brands that do this.
One small critique about the product land professionals into being bombarded with removal mails and even association bans. Hence the painted lie is what gets projected on the internet at large. A painted lie about a car you will see and make a decision on putting down your hard-earned money for.
The dirty game of numbers, contraband influence and ego massage has led to a lot of brands ending up supplying old trash from across the borders into our markets. An act, which should stop and stop very soon.
All the engineers who have worked extremely hard on making a car handle better, ride smoother, take corners swiftly and feel comfortable on the inside have been discounted to create handy Type-C charging socket consoles, ginormous glass roofs and silly-sized screens for the people in the car. I can tell you the KIA Carnival has the most number of them on the inside, so buy one of those. But you don't need an Auto Journalist to tell you that. An Auto Journalist's job is to comprehend the unmeasurable and based on their experience, they decide on what's the best. An art, very few in this country have embodied.
The vogue of pseudo Auto-Journalists must come to an end, for the truth should evermore be brought to the consumer that reads and manufacturer that supplies.