Motoring: Boomin' and bustin'. Or how to flog a car mag

Whatever happened to the motoring magazine, the original blokes' lifestyle publication? Niche marketing, that's what.

THERE IS no delicate way to put this - are you an "enthusiast of boomin' and cruisin'"? Do you belong to a clique who believe Gordon Murray is a minor deity? Or is "Sideways Steve" Sutcliffe more your man?

Car magazines were men's lifestyle magazines before we had them. The lifestyle was monotheistic, blokey, knowing and never involved TV poppets getting their kit off amid arty lighting. Car magazines were first with product previews, heavy on road tests, technical explanations of Perbury transmissions, Grand Prix race reports - good, solid, specialist stuff. Next week, there was always an in-depth analysis of the Morris Marina Estate.

Car magazine changed everything. Car didn't cosy up to the automotive industry, but carried scoop shots of prototype cars and long features centring on driving a Porsche Turbo flat-out across Germany, inevitably written by a no-nonsense Australian called Mel or Gav. The magazine was tough, passionate and oddly sexy. Its rivals noticed. Car became the market leader. In its 1999 incarnation Car has dispensed with Aussies, replaced erudite maverick LJK Setright - who has gone on to spar with Brian Sewell on Radio 4 - with Alexei Sayle and is outsold by something called Max Power.

Nowadays, fresh car information arrives first from television, from newspapers, from cable or satellite or Internet. So even weekly car magazines deal in old news as company car culture has commodified the mid-market saloon. No longer does a potential purchaser mither over his Car or Autocar in a haze of specification data. The car comes with the job. Vectra or Mondeo? Who cares - a perk's a perk.

In response, the automotive magazine market has stratified. In Britain there are more than 100 automotive publications on sale, which the Audit Bureau of Circulations breaks down into eight key sub-species: classics, 4x4, sporting, trucks, performance, general plus buying and selling along with, inevitably, caravanning.

Narrowcasting predominates. The writing was on the wall for EMAP's Performance Car in those months when it was outsold by Performance Ford. PC did exactly what it said on the tin, eulogising speedy stuff from Fiat to Ferrari, Proton to Porsche. PF simply explained to the Dagenham faithful how to make Fords go faster. A decade ago PC was the first magazine to give serious exposure to a sharply funny columnist named Jeremy Clarkson. Clarkson went multimedia, Performance Car went downmarket and closed.

Most of the Performance Car staff reappeared on the newest contender, evo, founded by farmer, Maserati owner and PC loyalist Harry Metcalfe. Before evo (a magazine to which I contribute), car magazine launches had been big budget failures. In the Nineties, the general motoring title Complete Car bombed, and EMAP's CarWeek never found an enduring audience.

"At face value, it's impossible to launch a car magazine in Britain today," says evo's Allan Pattison. "You have to be a total genius to spot the niche. Then you have to find a team to write it, know what the audience wants and, crucially, have the contacts to make it happen."

Evo - named after the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution series, dream machine of streetwise car cultists - has celebrated its first birthday, with an editorial stance which is Performance Car for grown-ups. Sales are steady, profits undisclosed, but vital signs are good.

There's no boomin' and cruisin' in evo. That's the province of Max Power, which celebrates the bass-bins and blacked-out windows soundtracking suburban Friday nights. In a world where the Fiesta XR2i remains a status item, Max Power has an average monthly sale of 176,000, shadowing Top Gear Magazine's market-leading circulation of 182,500.

Top Gear Magazine was supposed to capitalise on the mass-market enthusiasm shown for the BBC2 programme, which pulled an audience of 5m. If only 10 per cent of viewers could be bothered to troll down to WH Smith's, suggested the business plan, Top Gear Magazine would set new sales records for a car title. It never happened. All that subtle BBC cross-promotion in the spare minutes before 9pm on a Thursday night simply proved there's only a limited number of car enthusiasts who buy car magazines.

"Any car magazine with a circulation today of more than 100,000 is doing good business," says evo's Pattison. His title has a way to go, but the biggest threat to car magazines comes from mainstream publishing houses who believe there must be a massive untapped market for automotive reading because 28m cars clog British roads. There isn't. (If popularity of a domestic appliance guaranteed a captive readership, Performance Kettle would be a media sensation.)

To prosper, car magazines continually refine their focus and invent heroes. Steve Sutcliffe is Autocar's tame driving ace, responsible for all those cover shots of expensive engineering wreathed in clouds of tyre smoke. His readers adore him. In the latest Car, Gordon Murray, Formula 1 World Championship-winning race car designer-turned-columnist criticises the "occasional ignorance of car magazines" and "ignorant motoring journalists". That's fine. But what does Gordon Murray know about boomin' and cruisin'?

Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

    £12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

    Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

    Day In a Page

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders