andrewnoakes32By Andrew Noakes
Guild Chairman 2016-18

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Over the past few months I’ve had a number of conversations with motor industry PRs which have underlined how they still find cuttings of journalists’ work very useful. Not bits of paper, obviously, but links to news and feature articles you’ve written, or scans of printed work. What I’ve been hearing is that many press offices have had to cut back on media monitoring as a result of budget cuts, and often found the coverage of these cuttings’ services to be patchy anyway. So cuttings supplied by journalists do an important job in informing them of coverage and demonstrating the scope and influence of a specific writer.

Some journalists are very good at regularly sending cuttings of their work to press offices to let them know about coverage. Many of us, me included, wonder where they find the time to do it. So as a response to all this we’ve introduced a new service on the Guild website to make life easier.

If you are logged in to your account you will see a Links and cuttings option in the members' area which will take you to a simple form. All you do is provide a link to your article online, or upload a PDF or a scan of it, and tick the press office(s) you want to send it to. Push the submit button and the system does the rest, automatically sending your article to the right contact at the press office and providing you with a short link to your article (starting gomw.uk/…) which you can share with anyone or use on social media.

The form also gives you the option to update your Guild profile with the link to your article – which you need to do regularly to prove you are still eligible for membership.

andrewnoakes32By Andrew Noakes
Guild Chairman 2016-18

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Barely half an hour after I was confirmed as Guild chairman at the Annual General Meeting in May, I was on the receiving end of one member’s opinion that at Guild events you always see the same faces in attendance.

Perhaps not “always”. A few years ago Bentley hosted our AGM in Crewe, and in addition to the stalwarts who can usually be relied on to turn out the event did attract members who were pleased they could attend because the north of England venue was convenient for them. Just a few weeks ago, at our spectacularly successful Big Day Out track day at Castle Combe, there were plenty of less familiar faces among the regulars (and more than a few non-members).

Moving set-piece events like the AGM around the country helps to give more Guild members the chance to attend, and your committee is already cooking up plans for new types of event aimed at a wider range of members’ interests.

But can we do more to ensure the widest possible participation in Guild events? Your ideas are welcome.

jasoncraig 32 0384by Jason Craig
Guild Associate member and 2012 MSA Motor Sport Journalist of the Year

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Some people say papers and broadcasters are only interested in motorsport when things go wrong – like the terrible loss of rally driver Simon McKinley at this weekend's Clare Motor Club hillclimb.

But there was good news this weekend too. At Rally Argentina Kris Meeke became the first British driver to win a round of the World Rally Championship in more than a decade. Ironically, the last person to do that was his mentor Colin McRae, back in 2002.

I am hoping the events in Argentina might be a force for good, not just for Citroën driver  Meeke and his co-driver Paul Nagle (celebrating above), but the British and Irish press as a whole.

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Meeke wins for McRae

“Everything was fine until we got the end of the last stage. Once we had crossed the line, I was overcome with emotions. It’ll take time for it to really sink in. I didn’t start the rally aiming to fight for the win. I just wanted to have an error-free rally. The seven-week break really helped me. From the shakedown onwards, I felt full of confidence. It was a really difficult race but the DS 3 WRC is a solid and reliable car. All the other guys had problems and we secured a one-two finish. Mads had a fantastic rally as well. I have to thank Yves Matton, who believed in me. He gave me a great opportunity and he has been supportive throughout. This is just the first step in me thanking him for that support. I hope there will be others. This one is for Colin McRae.”  

Lots of positive things have already been reported and said about Meeke’s maiden victory, but the one that stood out for me was made by the man of the moment. Asked at the post-event press conference how he felt after years of trying, the Ulsterman said: “I feel like a 21-year-old again.” And just in case you were wondering, Meeke is actually a happily married 35-year-old.

The significance of the comment is that winning has rejuvenated Meeke and his love for a sport that has been less than kind to him. Going by the news feeds that followed his popular win on Sunday afternoon it’s having the same effect on the media.

Argentina was truly memorable for British motorsport because as Meeke celebrated on the top step of the podium with a tear in his eye, the young Welshman Elfyn Evans was beside him. The M-Sport Ford Fiesta driver secured his first ever top-three finish in the series in South America.

New Zealand ’01 was the last time a pair of Brits shared the podium. Good things come in twos.

On the back of these fantastic achievements my hope now is that the national press has turned a corner as far as their interests in rallying go.

James Locker is a finalist in the 2014 Sir William Lyons Award

Defining a premium vehicle in 2014 is as difficult and confusing as spotting the difference between forty years of Porsche 911's. I envy last years' contestants because I now face the difficult task of sorting through an extra three hundred and sixty five days' worth of new cars all vying for the coveted 'premium' label. Wish me luck...

History dictates a premium car must have premium qualities -specification, comfort, brand exclusivity, racing pedigree and innovation. Yet I find it difficult to think of ONE car that incorporates all of these qualities. Mercedes Benz, BMW and Audi possess four of these traits but lack brand exclusivity which has been sacrificed at the hand of small car production to comply with ever tightening carbon dioxide emission targets and to avoid fines imposed by some European countries. Similarly brands such as Lexus, Acura and Infiniti, luxury subsidiary marques of Toyota, Honda and Nissan have no strong racing pedigree but all feature technology and comfort to satisfy the most fastidious of customers. These elements could be the reason why Lexus has been the number one selling luxury car in the United States since 2000 and also suggests racing pedigree is no longer a factor in defining a premium car.

In the past, the cost of your car would usually determine whether it was premium or not. Ticking all the optional extra boxes was a quick if not expensive way to earn bragging rights over your mates' stock car. Air conditioning now common place on even the most basic of cars was historically regarded as a premium mark. This is a consequence of the trickledown effect initiated by the three German giants. Premium features such as 'lane keeping assist' featured in Mercedes Benz during the late 90's but now, everyday cars such as the Ford Fusion offer 'lane assist' as an option. Adaptive cruise control is another feature which has become optional on relatively inexpensive cars. Every manufacture now has to search for that 'marginal gain' which will catapult their vehicles into the 'premium' echelons whilst simultaneously delivering these technologies at modest prices. Other motives for Mercedes, BMW and Audi's venture into the compact car market is to introduce younger buyers to the luxury marque, an astute marketing ploy to ensure customer loyalty in subsequent years. However, this ubiquitous behaviour from the Germans has tarnished their reputation for prestige and exclusivity, characteristics once used to define their cars as premium.

It seems the criteria defining a premium vehicle in 2014 has changed and a new set of standards must be applied. These being, economy, practicality, price, reliability and safety. As we adjust to the pressures imposed by climate change and stricter carbon emission regulations, car manufacturers are obliged to act accordingly. In Western Europe, cars with zero emissions, hybrid technology and environmentally friendly credentials are fast attracting a premium badge thus explain why Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche have forayed into hybrid technology with their new hyper car offerings, if these cars can't be classed as premium then what can? BMW and Audi have faltered in the premium car rivalry by failing to infiltrate the hybrid market sooner. BMW's flagship I8 model has only been released in the past few months and similar complacency also led to the ousting of Audi's last research and development chief. A brilliant example of new brands, deprived of an illustrious history, advancing in the premium car market is that of wealth manager Louis Alexandre de Froissard who traded his Audi A8 for an Infiniti Q50 hybrid, a far more efficient car emitting only 144 grams of co2 per kilometre, his reason that everybody owns an Audi or BMW so the Infiniti was a much more original choice. Conspicuous consumption is becoming increasingly unfashionable in times of economic autserity, hence the reason we are witnessing a hike in the popularity of compact, efficient, city-friendly cars such as the Volkswagen UP and Renault Twingo. Both cars boast impeccable safety features, enough technology to sink a battleship and cost less to fill than a meal at Weatherspoons. Evidence that supports the change in the global car industry has been highlighted by IHS automotive consulting firm who calculated the combined sales of the three leading German manufactures totalled 4.7 million vehicles, a whopping 60% of the global luxury car market. However UBS predicts Tesla's model S and DS models from Peugeot Citroen are to attain 30% of the premium sales growth throughout 2014-18.

However, premium customers are looking for a premium experience. This extends beyond the vehicle itself to customer service, confidence in the brand and marketing techniques. We all like to feel special, a good salesman makes us feel special- that is a premium experience. Providing a comprehensive warranty is a simple way to inspire faith in the brand. Peripheral but nonetheless seductive to the 2014 driver is the merchandise associated with premium brands. To a greater or lesser extent we are all defined by our jobs, our homes, our cars and also our clothes and accessories. Hence the success of the accessory ranges of luggage, umbrella's, shorts, belts sold alongside their famous marques by Aston Martin, Jaguar and Bentley persuading us that their marque confirms our superiority.

So, the definition of a premium vehicle in 2014 has changed dramatically from outdated notions of raw power and ostentatious design. In 2014 the driver is seeking an unpretentious premium car experience that boasts eco credentials, comfort, high end technology, style, status and still leaves you with enough cash to wangle a few optional extras. Germany's giants no longer occupy the premium car throne; China, the world's leading car market view cars as status symbols, hence no surprise to learn that the most popular brands are there are Buick, Ford, Volkswagen and Nissan, which ten years ago few would have regarded as premium brands. The industry is changing as Jaguar Land Rovers Joachim Eberhardt pointed out, "new powertrains, fresh designs and self-driving technologies are making the auto industry cool again". Prehaps I should replace my Lamborghini Countach poster with one of a Renault Clio Dynamique Medianav dCI 90 Eco2 Stop & Start-or not!

James Locker

Ethan Jupp is a finalist in the 2014 Sir William Lyons Award

Before I embark on the definition of what is a premium car, especially in this age of automotive ambiguity, bipolarity and confused identity, to the aid of that pursuit, i'll define 'premium' itself. As I read it, if a consumable is 'premium' it is something that stipulates an extra financial outlay above and beyond what is asked for a standard product. Premium unleaded fuel: of a higher quality and subsequently at a higher price to regular unleaded. A premium car(?): of a higher quality and subsequently at a higher price. Job done? I feel, both for the sake of the word count and of thorough investigative prose, probably not.

After all, has the idea of the premium car not been around as long as the car itself? The galactic scale of the motor industry can trace closest resemblance to more recent eras gone by and the precipitation of the reputations of brands we revere today. When I think of a premium car I think German. Something wearing a badge a bit more desirable than what might adorn the typical family box or runaround hatch. Those reserved for the snaking motorways and cavernous city underground car parks of UK suit life since the early 80s. BMW, Mercedes and more recently Audi with their D and E segment cars. These are business fleet vehicles that aren't quite the Hollywood glitterati PCH wafting yachts but that do sport some of the quality and technology typical of their larger siblings nonetheless. C and E Class as opposed to S Class in Merc' language. However, in these past ten to fifteen years we have come to bare witness to aggressive product dilution. The segments, their price brackets and the demographics to which they cater are no longer built for and in exclusive faith by the brands with which they would previously be associated. Put simply, in the name of aggressive profit increases companies such as Mercedes which one might consider quintessentially premium are no longer producing only the types of vehicle that earned them their reputation . The traditional E Class now typically shares showroom space with the hatchback A Class as well as the exotic SLS- soon to be replaced. This is now a brand that caters for all, making money from the promise that no matter what you buy inside those four walls, it will have a three pointed star on its nose.

So the big question is obvious. Has the diversification of these executive powerhouses lineups affected their reputation for impeccable quality or their bulletproof badge kudos? In what sense do the more diverse product avenues which they have chosen to take in recent years adjust the definition of the premium car or brand itself? Is the 'premium car' a purely brand defined entity? I have an inkling but i think i'll save it for the concluding thoughts.

As if the likes of the BMW coat of arms trickling down onto the awkward nose of a front wheel drive MPV wasn't confusing enough for the philosophical identity of the 'premium' car, the bottom rung appears to be climbing as the mighty do "descend". The best value most mundane brands and their products no longer purely serve to remind you that you should've worked harder at school when you peer out the window in the morning. Look at the design of Vauxhalls latest Astra- outside and in- its a desirable object. Not to mention the top line VXR being rapid to boot. Hyundai will sell you a leather clad cockpit Genesis executive jet overseas for the equivalent of around £30,000 (with generous lashings of ink on the options list). Thats a lot for a Hyundai but does that make it premium? The jury withholds its verdict for now.

What of the total mass industrialisation of the automobile and the cross pollination of brands? What effect has it had on the task of the man that tries to define the premium motorcar in 2014. The rise of the automotive giant. Thanks to the likes of the Volkswagen Leviathan, in 2014 you have a strong chance of finding that your Bentley and your Lamborghini share DNA with the average Joe Seat or Skoda. Financial and logistical ease of manufacture for VW stipulates a parts bin from which all its subsidiaries may draw. Does that make your Lamborghini less exotic? More pertinently to the question at hand, does it make your Audi less premium, or your Skoda more premium? Or both?

Nowadays attempting to categorise a great many things in the motoring world is a philosophically gruelling task. In terms of a 'Premium product' brands that we would often defer to when considering the concept are diluting their product line up in the pursuit of sales, understandably. Using the badge appeal and rapport that has been built up so over the years whenever someone like me has told the rabid car buying populous where and why to buy. The truth is that our hunger for what one might call premium is more potent than ever. Yes BMW build a front drive MPV but is it built like a BMW should be? Yes. Is it a premium MPV if such a thing could exist? Maybe..

No, a Hyundai is no longer the soviet grade clatter box it once used to be. Is it premium? I'm not so sure. In spite of ours being an industry that is constantly in the business of concentrating on moving forward: refreshing, updating, reinventing year on year, conceptually we remain loyal. If I pulled up outside my brothers house in a brand new specced up £40,000 Golf R he'd say, 'it's still a Golf'. Show him the new S3 in base £31,000 OTR form and it'd be the cheaper Audi that commanded the attention. Whats in a badge? A lot more than we'd all like to admit, I suspect. For now, in some sense, i'd say brands continue to define our notion of a "premium car".

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