Anti-SUV book puts heat on carmakers

DETROIT: It's a publishing publicist's dream: a new book that creates controversy within the media, generating repeated coverage and even counter-PR.

DETROIT: It's a publishing publicist's dream: a new book that creates controversy within the media, generating repeated coverage and even counter-PR.

The book is Keith Bradsher's High and Mighty, a diatribe against autodom's most profitable units: SUVs. Gene Taft, director of publicity for Public Affairs Books - which specializes in books of "social criticism" - started the latest skirmish with the customary distribution of advance copies in August.

Positive and negative reviews by automotive writers followed, with some opining that it was merely another round in the decades-old battle between New York and Washington elites and the auto industry.

But the story broke out of this mold two weeks ago when Detroit Free Press business columnist Tom Walsh front-paged it, reporting that the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers had hired Stratacomm to rebut Bradsher's book.

Stratacomm principal Jason Vines, formerly the communications head at Ford, played down his agency's role. "We've been monitoring this situation for some time," he told PRWeek, "and merely provided a report to the Alliance detailing the facts about SUVs." He said his agency was not contacting auto writers - only providing information when asked.

Meanwhile, the book's critique of current American tastes for SUVs continues to generate headlines. The Free Press devoted its Thursday auto section two weeks ago to High and Mighty, with a lengthy excerpt and a counter-critique by Lawrence Ulrich, the paper's lead auto writer. And the Free Press' Living section columnist Susan Ager pitched in with her own admission of SUV ownership.

Last week, Bradsher, a New York Times staffer currently reporting from Hong Kong, started a two-week book-tour vacation, returning to his former post in Detroit for a pitch to the Automotive Press Association, and then on to New York for a September 27 Today show spot.

Taft said he was surprised by "the extreme pocket of local interest" in Detroit, yet contends the book taps into a timely angst between pro-SUV and anti-SUV drivers. "This is an important issue, and we're glad to help further the debate," he said.

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