Spotlight goes on the awards
Campbell Spray is delighted for Citroen but warns that the IMWA must act as more than messengers for car industry
ALTHOUGH I felt a bit uncomfortable for reasons we shall come to later, there was a good buzz at the Continental Irish Car of the Year awards last Thursday despite moving out of the Dublin Convention Centre and back to the Crowne Plaza at Santry.
The vibes were that the recession is beginning to ebb and that people were thinking about treating themselves to a new car. Most distributors were reporting that footfall into showrooms was up, orders were coming in and that 2014 would be a lot better than this year. There is also some movement in the second-hand car market. The early Budget was a definite help to give some certainty.
Ford chief executive Eddie Murphy was also being buoyed by the fact that van sales were greatly improving, especially among owner-operators and "more importantly they are getting finance".
My colleague Brendan O'Connor was the MC for the lunch and he did a good line in taking the Mickey out of the motoring journalists and their often very pampered lifestyle as well as some of the car brands. The joke about the difference between hedgehogs and Range Rovers went down particularly well.
Brendan, who had actually won a Ford Marketing Scholarship to do a Masters Degree in Cork some 20 years ago, also hit the button by telling his audience of journalists and car distributors that he might be the only person at the event who had actually bought his own car.
There was some surprise that the Citroen C4 Picasso won the overall Car of the Year award along with its category of Compact Family Car. The Picasso pushed the Volkswagen Golf – which was my choice – into second place, which may have shocked many as the Golf has already been named European and World Car of the Year.
My colleagues in the Irish Motoring Writers Association, who ran the awards backed by Continental Tyres, probably wanted to show they couldn't be taken for granted. Not that the Picasso isn't a good car. It is – and is one of the best specced and most versatile MPVs available. It just isn't as refined as the Golf, which is the car into which I would put my own money and encourage friends, family and colleagues to do the same.
That said, I am delighted for the Citroen team, especially marketing manager Louise Murphy, who is one of the nicest people in the business.
Putting out a positive side as always, Simon Elliott, group managing director with Volkswagen Ireland, said that the five brands in his group , VW, Audi, Skoda, Seat and VW Commercials, have advanced orders which are up 20 per cent on this time last year.
He said that the growth of Personal Contract Plans was helping sales. More than 80 per cent of Audi sales are now on PCP agreements with the group average at 30 per cent.
There was some consolation for Volkswagen in winning the Performance Car category with the Golf GTi. Despite the jokes, Range Rover deservedly won the luxury category. The very drivable Mazda6 came third overall and took the family car category while the Peugeot 2008 won the small car category.
There is hardly a year that Peugeot marketing manager Emma Toner doesn't go home with an award. This is the seventh Continental Irish Car of the Year accolade for Peugeot in five consecutive years.
The company is hoping for sales of around 300 next year but I think the car could do better. In fact, the car has already been a big success in the markets into which it has been launched and the Irish sales projection is less than half a day's production at its manufacturing plant.
While the event is the highlight of the IMWA year, it is important that motoring journalists are not just seen as car reviewers and definitely not as people who will deliver the car industry's message, "albeit with our opinion attached" as was stated. In fact, the sooner the better the IMWA stops being an organisation that tries to limit its membership to only people who have very regular review slots. There is the odour of a closed shop about this.
The organisation is trying to change but it must be more forthright, transparent and vocal. There is a lot it, and its members, are saying and should say about motoring, which is more important than writing up a review so they don't disappoint someone who has given them a car to test.
I left last Thursday's lunch feeling slightly dejected. I'm not sure as an IMWA member that it had really been of benefit to consumers; sure, we have given manufacturers some titles they can put on their marketing, nearly 30 journalists got another reason for demanding a car every week to test, but did we really help the man or woman in the street?
IMWA chairman Gerry Murphy talked about us being the messengers for the industry. Even with his "opinion attached" caveat, I don't agree. We have to know where our priorities are.