Between the Lines: The New York Times Advertoralizes on Car Design

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This image was lost some time after publication, but you can still view it here.

BTL salutes the New York Times. The Old Gray Lady s automotive department boasts the industry s most stringent ethical guidelines. Not only does the NYT refuse manufacturers junkets and shun any writer louche enough to suckle on the proverbial tit, but the section pays for its press cars. The cynical amongst you may attribute the papers late-out-of-the-gate reviews and curiously bloodless copy to these policies, but we re glad that the Times still sets — and upholds — the standard for journalistic integrity (in this at least). Unfortunately, the barbarians are at the gate .

This Sunday s New York Times Magazine featured a ten-page spread: Automobiles as Art: Designers on Design. Although it was clearly labeled a special advertising supplement, we would again point out that the practice of blending editorial and advertising is only slightly less reprehensible than a Catholic priest displaying a worrying familiarity with choirboys. The advertorial s existence pollutes the purity of the Times car coverage by association. It s a classless rebuke to the integrity of the NYT s honorable auto scribes. And, of course, it s crap.

That said, this supplement offers a special kind of crap. Car designers are founts of unintelligible, unmitigated bullshit. For reasons related to the auto industry s lack of self-confidence/irredeemable pretentiousness, a great proportion of a car designer s livelihood depends on his or her ability to say things like You have to combine the beauty of form development with the relationship to the automotiveness of the vehicle. In that sense, the Designers on Design advertorial is like lawyers on law: a laugh riot of hagiography and intellectual obfuscation.


I won t trouble you with the intro, penned by the curiously elusive [links please] Rich Taylor of Taylor-Constantine, Inc.- except to say that the words rock stars, single-handedly, icon, design leader, superstars and artistic brilliance feature heavily. From there, it s straight to Diane Allen; Design Manager of Nissan Design America.

Ms. Allen is responsible for the quote above, and, apparently, drawing inspiration for the current Z car from a cat s abdomen (PETA take note). Her profile also informs us that the QX56 s xenon headlights sit low in the grill to avoid dazzling oncoming drivers. This accounts for the bit of sheetmetal above the headlights, which gives the somewhat-less-than-fuel-efficient SUV a sinister look, sort of hunkered down, like a bull ready to charge. Huh. Ms. Allen states that truck buyers desire to stay with an acceptable vernacular prevented her team from creating something more modern. The mind boggles.

A two-page Infiniti ad separates Ms. Allen from some first-person rambling by Audi s Manager of Exterior Design, Claus Potthoff. The divine Mr. P shares an early career epiphany, when he decided it wasn t enough just to make a nice looking car (God forbid). Potthoff now digs beneath the surface to express the functional roots from which the design grows. Quite how Potthoff s inside out approach manifests itself in the ungainly Q7 (pictured in front of a maximum security prison— I mean modern office building) is anybody s guess. He s too busy claiming credit for the SUV and the A6, and blaming his boss (Walter De Silva) for Audi s inexcusable new snout.

In case, we missed our invitation to celebrate Audi s Bauhaus chic [sic], a full-page ad opposite offers us a black-and-white shot of the A6 and warns You may need to build a Bauhaus garage. Sam, call my architect!


Andreas Zapatinas is up next. A portrait of Subaru s Chief Designer is positioned next to a front three-quarter view of Scooby s flying vagina (a.k.a. Subaru B9 Tribeca). In a move echoing Harry Potters colleagues disinclination to say the word Voldemort, Zapatinas never actually refers to the B9 by name. But we do get a thinly veiled defense. The quote reveals that Zapatinas handiwork represents a great landing — in the wrong universe.

There is a common understanding of beauty that transcends all cultures. I take this as a positive impetus, that I am designing in a universal language that can be understood around the globe.


At least the B9 in the facing ad has the humility to hide its pudenda. And then, finally, we come face-to-PR with Peter Horbury, Ford s Executive Director of Design for North America. Horbury is equally unabashed in his opinion of his own work, claiming to have created a whole new design language for Volvo (based on a chair, if memory serves). Horbury gives us insight into his overall approach: identify brand-specific design cues and graft them onto rubbish motors. OK, I made up that last bit; but the British designer is definitely a flag-waving, my-paycheck s-in-the-details kinda guy. Very.

Americans are very optimistic, very outgoing, very direct, very open, very friendly. Look at the front of our new Zephyr sedan or the 2007 Lincoln Aviator crossover wagon. The Zephyr has a formal waterfall grill; the Aviator has a sporty egg crate grill. But they both have great smiles! That s very American.


The ad for the Zephyr opposite asks us (without a question mark) Why coast through life when you can corner it. Corner life? Where's Nelson Bunker Hunt when you need him? Anyway, it s a question that the New York Times itself should address. Why are they content to coast through their automotive coverage, and allow BS like this supplement, when they have the resources to corner the country s best automotive writers?

[Jalopnik s Between the Lines column parses the rhetoric of the automotive industry, and the media that covers it, from the point of view of that kid at the back of the class with ADD, a genius IQ and a thirst for mayhem.]



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