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Help Us Out Here

Maybe it's a case of being too sensitive.

Maybe it's a case of being too sensitive. Or maybe the logic is incorrect. But I don't think so.

At AD&P we figure that our job is to provide you with information about best practices and new technologies. We've been using the tagline "Field Guide to the Automotive Revolution" for the past few months. By which we simply mean describing the shifting terrain in the auto industry and indicating some of the tools that will make your excursion less onerous.

Now one of the aspects of the terrain involves new product development. Although the words "manufacturing" and "production" still figure prominently in our name, those of you who read the magazine know that we cover design, engineering, information technology, and managerial issues with as much—and often more—consistency.

We don't ignore the interests of those of you who are manufacturing engineers. Nor do we forget that a good number of you are design engineers.

We have no aspirations to become a car buff book, one of those publications where the writers who aren't wielding stopwatches and tape measures are madly flipping through Roget's Thesaurus.

When we write about new cars and trucks, we try to bring out the engineering aspects of the vehicle, not about whether there is a silky smooth shift pattern or whether the vehicle exhibits too much understeer. We let the other guys provide that info.

Near as we can tell, new vehicles are part of the terrain. Which means they are part of what we need to be writing about. New vehicle info is not only important for those of you who work at competitive companies, but also for the supplier community: it is a good thing to see where things are going.

OK. That's the setup. Now here's where I'd like you to help with the problem. Try as we may, we have difficulties getting the same access that other automotive writers get to new vehicles.

The basic routine is that vehicle manufacturers hold events for the press called "long leads." At a long lead, new vehicles are previewed. The writers get to drive the cars. Which helps them determine such things as the aforementioned silky smoothness and push. That is a useful exercise.

But there is something that is more important about long leads. The program manager and the engineering team are invariably there. It has been our experience at the long leads we have attended that the engineers seem to be like the people in the Maytag aftermarket service department: No one talks to them very much.

The writers from the consumer magazines want to talk to the marketing people. Demographics. Psychographics. The ad campaign.

Writers from other trade magazines want to know about how many of the new vehicles will be built, where it will be built, and what was being built there before. You'd think they cover real estate.

No one seems to want to know about what extent, say, finite element analysis was used in developing the structure, or about where aluminum, magnesium, plastic, bake-hardenable steel, etc. are being used to help reduce overall weight.

Those are the sorts of things that interest us because given that you're reading this magazine, they interest you. And so when we go to long leads—as rare as that tends to be—we talk with the engineers.

It occurs to us that if those engineers weren't important to the program, they wouldn't be at the event. But if they are so infrequently queried, their being there doesn't seem like a whole lot of value-added. Unless there are people like us there to question them.

Unfortunately, we are all too rarely invited to be there.

So we write letters to the public relations departments. Make phone calls. Send copies of the magazine with Post-It notes indicating that we don't just write about hydroforming and high-speed machining.

We, essentially, beg. But it works less frequently than it should if we are going to provide you with the information we need.

Case in point: In June, General Motors had more than 60 journalists in Italy at what was called the "GM Seminar." All about new products and new plans. Or so we think. We weren't asked to attend.

Now I don't want this to sound like sour grapes.

But I am annoyed because the message that GM is sending is that we don't count because you don't count. You folks are the tacticians. You make things happen.

So what I would like to ask you to do is to send an email message to the PR person that works in your organization. Ask whether AM&Pis on their media relations list. And if not, why not.

In return, we'll do our damnedest to provide you with the best publication going.

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