Media - Car Magazines: Why car titles are driven to extremes - Car magazines had better get their motors running and head out on the highway if they want to reconnect with their readers and halt declining sales figures

Motoring nostalgia is an industry in itself these days. The near-collapse of Rover and the fumblings of our domestic manufacturers since the 1960s are the cause of mutterings in public bars across the land.

Motoring nostalgia is an industry in itself these days. The

near-collapse of Rover and the fumblings of our domestic manufacturers

since the 1960s are the cause of mutterings in public bars across the


In the car magazine market, there’s been a similar struggle, with most

magazines seeing a long-term fall in circulation over the last 20 years

or so.

At Haymarket (which also publishes PR Week), steps have been taken to

halt the decline. It has appointed a new publisher of Autocar in Patrick

Fuller and plans to expand motoring titles Autocar and What Car?

internationally and in the UK to stop the industry-wide rot from setting

in for good. But the publisher faces an uphill struggle.

Seven years ago, Emap launched Car Week, with reputedly the best

motoring writers on the market and spent tens of millions of pounds

trying to boost the title. Unfortunately the public failed to bite and

the magazine shut after a year. This development came as no surprise to

industry professionals, who point out that the UK has the most motoring

titles per head of population of any country in the world.

’For the magazines the market is getting tougher,’ says Simon Pearson,

partner at Landmark Consultants, a unit of Bell Pottinger that handles a

number of motoring clients, including Michelin and the London Motor

Show. ’There’s something like 30 to 40 motoring magazines in the


I’m surprised people still try to launch.’ He does point out that the

national newspapers are cutting back on their motoring coverage, or at

least have done so over the last few years.

’The Daily Mail no longer has a weekly motoring column and the

national’s motoring correspondents are no longer dedicated only to

motoring. This makes it harder for motoring PROs to be sure of newspaper

coverage,’ he says.

The industry does have good relations with most titles, although Top

Gear is seen as something of a maverick. It’s a thorn in the side of its

rivals as well, who complain that the mag’s free adverts on the BBC

distort the marketplace. There are sporadic attempts to persuade the

Government to regulate against the BBC’s advantage, but there’s no joy

expected and no real momentum behind the campaign at the moment.

Meanwhile, there’s one weekly title that’s strengthening its


Auto Express has built readership around its high profile campaigns to

force changes at car manufacturers and service agents. The suggestion

being that, to get ahead, you need to make some noise.


Patrick Fuller

Position: Publisher

ABC: 73,783

(July - Dec 1999)

Frequency: Weekly

’I’d been editor of Autocar for three and a half years until last month

when I was made publisher and my deputy Rob Aherne became editor.

This was because Autocar had shared a publisher with What Car?, another

Haymarket title, for years and we’re planning expansion both overseas

and here so it was felt that Autocar needed its own publisher.

’We’re a weekly magazine for car enthusiasts, which means our reader is

your mate in the pub who you turn to for advice if you’re thinking of

buying a new car. This means they know their stuff and we can write in a

slightly more specialist way than a pure consumer title. For instance,

we can use technical terms like torque rather than phrases like engine


’Our readers are quite upmarket, with a keen interest in both the latest

Fiesta and a dream performance car. The motoring year for us is based

around new plates in March and September and the Motor Show in


We also do well in January when a lot of people decide to buy a used


’The PR industry is incredibly sophisticated in motoring, although we’re

starting to see them take on lifestyle titles too. We may get the new

Rolls Royce one week but then you’ll see it in GQ and FHM the following



David Johns

Position: Editor

ABC: 94,475

(July - Dec 1999)

Frequency: Weekly

’The market is very tough but we’ve done very well out of our move from

the Express Group to Dennis Publishing. We’ve been owned by Dennis for

three-and-a-half years. Since coming here, for instance, the upper end

of the car market has started to take us much more seriously.

’The motoring PR industry has always seen us as being close to the

general motorist, but the top end has seen that as a disadvantage which

is changing.

We’re a very news-heavy magazine. The front has new car news, while the

features always include road testing.

’We’ve also been doing some special supplements, so we look at brakes or

security, for example. The safety supplements tend to come later in the

year, in the autumn, while we do a big ’best of the new buys’ around the

time of the March plates. We also have our own awards for new and used

cars, which are treated pretty seriously by the industry.

’Our campaigning staff tend to link up with other motoring organisations

and choose subjects that we think we’ll get the Government or

manufacturers to listen.

’This year we’ve examined drug driving, and deaths caused by the

practice, and we were shortlisted for the PPA Campaign of the Year

Award. We’ve also looked at car pricing and importing recently.’


Kevin Blick

Position: Editor

ABC: 178,116

(July - Dec 1999)

Frequency: Monthly

’When we launched seven years ago, we launched at the same time as

Emap’s Car Week and a monthly called Complete Car. We were the only one

to survive. We did this by writing about driving cars for the enthusiast

but with humour and with a greater bias towards generally interesting

features than some magazines.

’We don’t cover the kind of stuff the industry would like us to cover,

such as sector performance or segmented markets. Instead, we’ll send

someone down to the tenth annual motor caravan rally to live in a motor

caravan and write a howlingly funny feature about it.

’We do follow the season to some extent but, like all magazines, we are

trying to set our own agenda as much as possible. That’s why we set up

our own Top Gear Awards with the television programme in March this

year, and we also run the JD Power supplement in May which looks at

customer satisfaction with used cars and the reliability of


’Of course the television programme is a help, but the two bodies are

very separate. Jeremy Clarkson still writes for us because, even though

he’s left the show, he’s still very much a BBC man. However now that

Quentin Wilson has left to join Virgin’s car site he won’t be writing

much for us anymore.’

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