Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

A good 500 years went by until the res publica became the great Imperium Romanum.

500 years elapsed until the res publica became the great Imperium Romanum.

… nor has the VW Empire popped up over night

Rome was not built in a day. It grew from humble beginnings, founded by the twin brothers Romulus and Remus on the banks of the river Tiber, or so legend has it. And in time, a magnificent city developed on the seven hills.

Similarly, Volkswagen AG – like so many other success stories – harks back to rather small and uncertain beginnings. In fact, the company’s existence is inextricably linked with one name, that of Ferdinand Anton Ernst, nicknamed Ferry, Porsche, the legendary sportscar engineer whose son Alexander, better known as F.A. Porsche, was to design the legend of legends, the Porsche 911, now celebrating its fiftieth year of existence.

Test driving the prototypes in the Alps, 10th to 17th September 1936.

Test driving the prototypes in the Alps, 10th to 17th September 1936. (Porsche archive)

Very early in his career as a highly gifted engineer in his father’s modest design office Ferry Porsche had the idea of constructing a German People’s car, the “Volkswagen” – later lovingly dubbed “Käfer”, i.e. “Beetle”. The car, officially called Volkswagen Type 1,

Anything but child's play: The "Volkswagen" project. But someone with the name of Porsche does not give up: Ferry Porsche with his wife Dorothea in the second Volkswagen prototype ("V2") on Tübingen Market Square in 1936. Photo: Porsche Archive

Anything but child’s play: The “Volkswagen” project. But someone with the name of Porsche does not give up easily: Ferry Porsche with his wife Dorothea in the second Volkswagen prototype (“V2″) on Tübingen Market Square in 1936. (photo: Porsche archive)

was produced for incredible 65 years, namely from 1938 until 2003. During which time 21,529,464 cars were manufactured. In spite of the car’s phenomenal success as the longest-running and most-manufactured car of a single design platform worldwide, its beginnings were very shaky. As Porsche historian Dieter Landenberger points out in his book “Ferry Porsche – 100 years”, published in 2009, for the centenary of Ferry Porsche’s birth, insufficient  money had been allocated for the project, which was carried out in Nazi Germany. As Landenberger reports: “Later, Ferry Porsche was to refer to the development of the Auto Union racing car as ‘child’s play’ compared with the task of completing the first Volkswagen prototype. (…) The designers economised wherever they could. For instance, assembly of the first experimental cars took place in the garage of the Porsche villa in Stuttgart.” 

And how about “The Press”?

What is true for world powers and industry, is certainly also true for successful journalism and blogs. Just think of “The Huffington Post”. It took the hugely successful blog several years to catch on and become a phenomenal commercial success. auto motor und sport,

First edition of "Das Auto", later to be called "Auto Motor Sport".

First edition of “Das Auto”, later to be called “auto motor und sport”. (photo: Paul Pietsch Verlage)

the car magazine that nowadays is published all over the world and in many different languages, started in an abandoned shed in Freiburg in the Black Forest during the aftermaths of WW II. Together with two passionate race driver friends, Paul Pietsch relentlessly pursued the idea of founding a magazine. “The three of us wanted to run races again. Debating how we could finance our passion, we came to the conclusion that we had to sell something. And I said to myself: What shall I sell if not my know-how in motor sports?” Pietsch clearly was the driving force behind the idea of the car magazine.

However, the French thought this to be a bogus idea. In those days, one could not do anything without the approval of the occupying forces. The French told Pietsch there would never again be enough cars in Germany to raise real interest in a magazine on that topic. But Pietsch would not give up. He undertook several visits to the offices of the French armed forces in Freiburg and to the “gouvernement” in Baden-Baden.

And he succeeded. In summer 1946 he was allowed to present the zero edition of “Das Auto” (The Car) to the armed forces. The first edition was soon to follow, and the 30,000 copies, for 1.50 German Reichsmark each, were sold out instantly. Pietsch had managed to hit the right journalistic tone and was proved right in his assessment of a great hunger for reading and widespread interest in the motorcar.

A modest man with a positive outlook on life: Race driver and publisher Paul Pietsch. He died shortly before completing his 101st birthday. (photo: Paul Pietsch Verlage)

A modest man with a positive outlook on life: Race driver and publisher Paul Pietsch. He died shortly before completing his 101st birthday. (photo: Paul Pietsch Verlage)

1948 saw the beginnings of the motorcycle magazine “Das Motorrad” (The Motorcycle), plus of a number of other successful magazines. Soon the shed proved too small and the publishing house moved from Freiburg to Stuttgart, where the “Motorpresse” still has its headquarters. With unfaltering dedication and zest Pietsch established an empire within the motoring press; there was nothing comparable in those days.

Where have the good manners gone?

The majority of success stories take their time for a breakthrough, and a good many of them start from unassumingly humble beginnings. In the case of journalism, it can only thrive, good articles can only be written, if these people are properly fed with information. It sometimes makes one wonder what portion of today’s employees on both sides of the table, be it at Motorpresse Stuttgart, Volkswagen AG, Daimler AG or numerous other industries, are aware of their history and the philosophy of its founders. These founding fathers had a vision which they pursued, they did not think of their positions as managers in the first place. So why and where did that philosophy get lost?

Good manners among those working in Communications in the automotive industry and the press should be a matter of course. It is a story of give and take, in which Communications is to supply the journos with the information they need. And in which pompous behaviour on either side is a no go.

Good manners among those working in Communications in the automotive industry and the press should be a matter of course. It is a story of give and take, in which Communications is to supply the journos with the information they need. And in which pompous behaviour on either side is a no go.

Too often, the character of service in today’s Press Departments has been replaced by the attitude: “And who are you to disturb us. After all, what are you but a little journo writing for a publication that does not interest us, because the circulation is not high enough, the relevance of aggrandising our brand is minimal.” Or thoughts to that effect. Having written my PhD on codes of conduct and courtesy, I find such behaviour highly disturbing.

Frequent situation: The journalist waits for a call back or for an answer to an email. Unless (s)he happens to be editor of a handful of publications on the “A list”, he or she might well be waiting forever. But as Shakespeare has King Lear say: “Nothing will come of nothing, speak again.” Or even worse, rather than nothing, a shitstorm might arise – as in the case of the furious Chinese who had his brand-new Mercedes SLK destroyed with a sledge hammer, because it had to be taken to the workshop five times within a year. Apparently this was his own fault, because he allegedly filled it with the wrong kind of fuel. Be that as it may, the man managed to have the media on his side to spread the news, which clearly was brand bashing and certainly did not help to further the image of Mercedes-Benz at all. Surely enough he found followers, as in the case of another furious Chinese man, who had his Lamborghini Gallardo destroyed because he felt disappointed with the brand:

Only recently, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche announced a new focus on “client orientation”. He would be well advised to introduce an orientation towards service in general. Or take Volkswagen AG: Is ‘”omniscient” VW boss Winterkorn, who generally claims to know what is going on in his company, seriously aware of what is happening or rather not happening in his press department?

Winterkorn: "I say: CHINA." – Therefore in the press department: “Here’s to the CHINESE press. Welcome.”

Martin Winterkorn: “Yummie! I  say: CHINA.” – Hence, the automatic echo of his disciples in the press department: “Here’s to the CHINESE press. Welcome.” As for the rest …

If I had a hammer …

No, Globaliter Media will not take recourse to such methods. But what this article in a roundabout way leads us to say is that the blog “En route with Susanne” on Globaliter Media, has only been here for five months. Most success stories however do take time and rely on the goodwill of others, in this case the active exchange with the automotive industry.

The good  news with or without the support of the car industry is that this blog is already getting encouraging feedback on a regular basis. Just to quote a few recent mails (most of which are hidden behind the photos in the texts rather than in the blurb): 08.09.2013 um 8:06 pm, It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d without a doubt donate to this brilliant blog! 06.09.2013 um 6:14 am, Hi there, I check your new stuff like every week. Your writing style is awesome, keep doing what you’re doing!, 05.09.2013 um 3:06 am  Great blog, thank you!, 04.09.2013 um 11:03 pm Your style is unique compared to other people I’ve read stuff from. Thanks for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I’ll just bookmark this page., 02.09.2013 um 5:03 pm Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you penning this article and also the rest of the site is also very good., 28.08.2013 um 3:14 pm Thank you, I’ve just been searching for info on this subject for a long time and yours is the best I have came upon so far., 27.08.2013 um 10:22 pm I truly enjoy reading your blog and I look forward to your new updates, etc.

China on their Minds

Considered the remedy against all ails in the automotive industry ...

Considered the remedy number one against all ails in the automotive industry …

A definite China craze can be observed in the German car industry. Consequently, the press departments, too, heavily focus on Chinese media. If one queries certain attitudes, the automatic answer that is usually heard: “We are cutting down on the number of European journos for workshops or car presentations. They can feed themselves on our press releases.” The reason behind it? The answer is also automatic, as if learnt by heart: The European sales figures for cars are declining, European journos no longer really are the core focus of attention. In other words: Bang, bang, OEM’s silver hammer’s coming down on our heads. Bang, bang, OEM’s silver hammer’s making sure that we are dead  – as far as reporting is concerned. Honestly, what but trite and frequently bland information can one glean from frequently lack-lustre press releases?

Globaliter Media, therefore, is warning of hype. After the e-mobility hype, which has turned out very disappointing – a development that could really have been foreseen –, this time it is the Chinese hype. China is heralded as remedy against all ailments. Globaliter

Not really a sensible solution.

Not really a sensible solution…

Media furthermore takes the view that OEMs should not burn their bridges before crossing them. After all these European journos have been abandoned, the question begs to be raised whether they will come back just like that. Besides, a blog like ours is international. So why are we gauged as a German journo, i.e. a negligeable entity? Germany is still the heart of the automobile industry, and international contributions should be highly welcome …

To sum up: We are optimistic that more readers will become aware of our blog. We are also living in the hope that even the echelons of certain press departments of the OEMs might just conceivably reach the conclusion that “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, and that it is up to them to provide us with valid information, and yes, even let us drive their precious cars now and again:

“You” = press departments, “me” = the aspiring blog “En route with Susanne”, harmony is not essential, however polite dialogue between “you and me” is a sine qua non.

Susanne Roeder


PS: As the song version above seems to have been banned, here is another interpretation of the song. Sad, because the video above was very appealing with a beautiful Morcheeba. So here she goes again – live:

PPS: China is no doubt important, also as an OEM in its own right, just think of Qoros. And Volkswagen has opened yet another plant, as can be read in today’s Press Release. Here is the gist:Wolfsburg / Ningbo, 24 October 2013, Volkswagen opens new plant in Ningbo, south eastern China:

  • Production begins at Group’s 105th plant worldwide and 16th factory in China
  • New production technology based on the Modular Transverse Toolkit (MQB)
  • Annual production capacity of 300,000 Volkswagen and ŠKODA models
  • 5,700 new jobs.

Nevertheless: Never burn your bridges before you come to them. This also regards the journos in comparatively small Europe.

22 Gedanken zu “Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

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