Back before the internet, auto manufacturers had it quite a bit easier when it came time to invite journalists for press trips. First the world’s big-book glossies would get their plane tickets, followed by the major newspapers and secondary magazines, followed by everybody else. These days it’s not so cut-and-dried; sure, the magazines still get long-lead invites well in advance of everyone else, largely because it takes longer to put together print publications.
Then come the automakers’ favorite websites, many of which have been established for years and are staffed with those who formerly worked at the big magazines. These days, that list is also likely to include celebrities and “lifestyle magazines,” whose editors know little to nothing about cars and technology, but can dictate what’s cool to legions of trend-humping fashion lemmings, thus (in theory) driving sales of a particular model.
Missing from the invite list are dozens of smaller sites, who know about cars and how to cover them, but who lack the celebrity-name-draw. In the video above, it’s clear to us why Jay Leno got the invite to drive the new IS in Japan and we didn’t; after all, he’s Jay -freaking-Leno, and no one can question his passion for anything with wheels or his wide and diverse fan base.
On the other hand, we think that celebrity status comes with a price; if Lexus is going to fly you to Japan, at least cover the car you’re expected to test in some detail. Tell us, for example, that you’re driving the Lexus IS 350, but that Lexus will also introduce a new IS 250, IS 300h hybrid and IS F Sport, too. Give us a bit more than the fact that the new car rides on a stretched platform and sports a more rigid chassis than the model it replaces. In fact, if you’re driving the car on a racetrack. why not benchmark it against the old one, so we get a sense for how much better the new IS 350 will be?
We have nothing against Leno, and we’re certainly not questioning his ability to review a car when he has the time to do so properly. What you see here, though, is the direction that more and more manufacturers are moving in, and we can see a day when all car reviews will be done via celebrity voice overs and video edited down to digestible sound bites. We may know more about cars, but let’s face it: Justin Bieber reaches a wider audience. That’s the future, and admittedly we’re not so crazy about it.