What a soul-destroying job it must be, lying to people. And no, I don’t mean journalism. In fact, being a journalist is more about being lied to than it is about making stuff up. If I had a dollar for every time a car company has stood up and told me a bare-faced lie, I’d be able to pay cash for the new, front-wheel-drive 2 Series Active Tourer that BMW swore it would never, ever build. Because no BMW would be FWD, never ever.
It’s possible that on some of the occasions the good, honest Germans told me this, they really meant it. Perhaps the decision to go FWD hadn’t been made the first time I heard them claim that “the ultimate driving machine can only be rear-wheel drive, so no BMW will ever be driven through the front wheels”. I’m pretty sure that was at the launch of the original new Mini, in 2001, when it seemed a pretty obvious question to ask, considering what they were unveiling under a sister brand plate.
But the fact is, car companies make their product decisions years in advance, and they kept up those denials – “sheer driving pleasure only comes from rear-wheel drive” – for a long, long time. Long enough that the people telling us it wasn’t going to happen knew damn well that it was.
But such is the job of a car-company spin doctor.
One of my favourite experiences of watching these truth-dissemblers at work was when a woman I’d worked with for years quit a job at BMW to move to Audi. Suddenly all-wheel-drive cars were no longer inferior to the one true God of rear-wheel drive. And front-drivers were actually pretty good, after all.
It’s not just the Germans, of course. I’ve looked right into the eyes of a PR person for Mazda and seen not a flicker of doubt as he told me what I absolutely knew at the time was a lie. Mazda was launching a new generation of MX-5 in 2005 when we asked whether they were considering a folding a hard-top for the venerable roadster.
“No way, absolutely not, never,” he wailed. “Our car is all about light weight, shaving every gram. It would be too heavy, it’s not something we’re even considering.” The whoppers were flying faster than in a Burger King kitchen, and yet the folding hard-top that now graces most of the MX-5s sold in this country duly arrived in 2006. As we damn well knew it would.
So why do they lie?
On the one hand, there is justification in keeping a little mystery. Porsche played games for a while about whether it would build the Macan, and what stupid name it would come up with for it, but it’s fair to try and keep the punters interested by playing a bit of a guessing game.
And both VW and Porsche were coy about whether they would or wouldn’t build an MX-5 competitor together. A fair enough tactic, because they really hadn’t decided. A Porsche exec recently conceded that the plans were made, and were still in a drawer somewhere, but it had been decided not to go ahead.
Speculation that might harm the company or disappoint the customer is something the PR minders would be paid to quell. But flat out lying about plans for a folding hard-top, when everyone else in the world was already building them and it was clear Mazda would have to? That seems like lying because you either enjoy it, or you’re so secretive you have mental problems. Or perhaps it’s just a Japanese thing.
For BMW, the big lie about going FWD now becomes a real spin challenge. If a front-driver can’t provide ultimate driving pleasure, as they’ve been telling us for years, why should anyone buy a 2 Series?
It will be interesting to watch them come up with an answer. Or a new lie.