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'?

News
people
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVBain and Armstrong have presented their unique view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
footballMan City manager would have loved to have signed Argentine
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
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

    Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

    £40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

    Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

    £22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

    Design Technology Teacher

    £22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

    Foundation Teacher

    £100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

    Day In a Page

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
    The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

    Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

    Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
    Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

    What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

    Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
    A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

    Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

    Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
    Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

    'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

    A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

    Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

    The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
    Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

    Paul Scholes column

    Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
    Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

    Frank Warren column

    Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
    Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

    Adrian Heath's American dream...

    Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
    Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes