Thought leadership in the automotive media – the academic argument

A few days ago I posted an opinion piece questioning the role of the automotive media in perpetuating the role of the privately owned car in society against a backdrop of transformation in the mobility sector. Some of you may be interested in the academic thinking behind it.

I wrote 2000-word critically reflective essay around this time last year as part of an assignment in my journalism masters at Edinburgh Napier. It was part of an introspective of my own practice within the automotive sector over many years, but also from the position of outsider. My lecturers obviously liked it, too, as they marked it with a distinction. Here’s the link to the pdf.

I’ve never been part of the automotive media pack. Not that I didn’t want to be. I simply didn’t fit in. Part of it was that I am not sufficiently passionate about or dedicated to the “product”. And that made me feel like a bit of a fraud. I have long said that my relationship with cars is purely professional – platonic, if you will. Most of my peers, however, have a far more committed relationship with the automobile and are probably willing to fight a lot harder for what they believe in.

I ultimately found myself ploughing a different furrow. Part of it was driven by biology (the birth of my daughter) and part of it by opportunity. The latter was in the form of specialist corporate writing, editing and translation for automotive communications agencies and publishers. It brought a triple benefit 1. I didn’t have to travel as much when my daughter was little 2. It gave me a lot of insight into the mechanics of the industry from the corporate side 3. The pay is a lot better.

However, the shift away from fossil fuels and the emergence of ideas surrounding alternative forms of individual mobility, in the interests of sustainability and facilitated by technology, has transformed my interest in automotive. Because it shouldn’t all be about the product.

I wrote this essay as the Covid-19 pandemic was gripping the world in late winter/early spring 2020, and didn’t take account of how a profound shift to digital events could impact the dynamics of the relationship between the automotive media and carmakers. Nor, indeed, did it address the way consumers may feel about shared mobility models versus individual, owned vehicles in a post-corona world. A couple of pieces I have written since offer perspectives on both of those. I wrote an item for my corporate blog on “Covid car launches and digital makeovers“. And another for a Scottish branding agency on the branding implications for the car sector and future mobility. I also interviewed three experts to gain their insights on the practical and psychological aspects that bind us to our cars. I distilled those interviews into a radio package, and have yet to write a long-form article – but I’ll get there (honestly).

Matters continue to evolve, and there are a lot of interesting developments on a broader socio-economic and political level that will also feed into this. One interesting report published recently is the so-called “Dasgupta Review“, commissioned by the UK Treasury and led by Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta of the University of Cambridge. His 600-page report entitled “The Economics of Biodiversity” makes the case for a radical shake-up of a global economic system that does not account for the inherent value of the earth’s natural resources. It’s a weighty tome, and one that I have read only in part so far. As a non-economist, I struggle to understand some of the more technical content. However, it represents an openness at policy level to consider a shift in thinking that has the potential to strike at the heart of many traditional industrial sectors – automotive among them. And Sir David Attenborough wrote the foreword – so that gives it star value in my book. The UK Treasury has sloped off into a corner to consider the review’s findings and has promised to provide feedback “in due course” (whatever that means).

Bearing in mind that the UK is playing host to the postponed COP26 climate summit in November 2021 in my home city of Glasgow, there is nevertheless an expectation for the UK Government to show some leadership in this respect.

Photos: by the author

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