It feels weird how press conferences have turned digital.
Every single day, I come across this term multiple times. Zomato & Swiggy call ‘Contactless Delivery’ as the new normal while wearing PPEs in my clinic is the new normal, Zoom calls are the new normal, wearing masks is the new normal but I am not going to talk about all this. We are going to talk about the new normal when it comes to the automobile industry. Aariz already spoke about the new digital buying experience in his column a few weeks ago. In todays column, I am going to discuss the ‘new normal’, from the automobile journalist’s perspective and believe me it is rather depressing but given the circumstances, there is no other option.
A few days ago, Mercedes-Benz launched their new AMG duo, the AMG GT R Coupe and the AMG C63 Coupe via a video broadcast. This broadcast was only for journalists and not really a reveal for the outside world. Here I was sitting on my couch, in the comfort of my home, thinking about the 1000+ horses on offer. No doubt, Mercedes-Benz had done a fabulously job with the launch and had ensured all the meticulous details were present in the presentation. Moreover, the PR team had sent the press release almost immediately after the launch with the details and photos. This was the new normal of launching a car in COVID times but it was something which would take a long time getting used to.
Normally, we would have driven both the cars way before the launch, sometimes under embargo so that all other publications get fair amount of time to file stories and edit videos thereby putting everyone on a level playing field. The lockdown ensured that this didn’t happen. Secondly the thing I missed the most, there is absolutely no comparison in watching the launch online and attending one personally. The feeling of checking out the car in person from all angles, getting inside the cabin and holding the steering can only be remotely related to the feeling you get while checking out your crush from the corner of your eye. But alas, this is the new normal.
There were times when I used to travel all the way to Delhi, sometimes 3 times a week to attend the launch of a new car. I have drastically reduced such day trips purely due to lack of time. A recent trip to Delhi is what comes to mind purely from another angle I want to highlight. There was a luxury brands launch in Delhi at 12 pm and I had a 7 am flight for the same. It so happened that my flight got delayed to 11 am. While most of the other journalists were on a different flight, it was just me and another journalist who were stuck in this situation. I called up the brands Corp Comm team informing them that there was no real point flying to Delhi as I was inevitably going to miss the launch of their car.
Surprisingly, they told me to come as I hadn’t met their team for a long time and I obliged. By the time I reached, nearly 80% of the people had already left. What followed was lunch and some informal conversation with the team. Why informal? Well, being in the industry for more than a decade, you end up making friends with PR and Communication people. So was the whole day worth a coffee and lunch? Not for the meal maybe but definitely for the conversations but this won’t happen in the new normal. Many times at launch events, we end up meeting senior officials from the product development or R&D team who end up sharing confidential information purely on the basis of trust. Many times we know about what’s cooking in the factory even before the same company’s PR team and its difficult not sharing this information with others but believe me, our lips are sealed.
These days instead of interviewing the senior management one on one, we end up doing it through a video call or on Instagram live. Though this is definitely a good step forward in the prevailing circumstances but nothing comes close to a one on one in person. Usually after these interviews there some informal banter which somehow doesn’t happen online. While we still connect with PR and Communication people, we just don’t end up speaking to or communicating with fellow journalists from other publications. Previously we would meet over a meal at the airport, maybe sit together on the flight and discuss the the Indian automobile scene. Believe me, these conversations are endless.
I recollect a funny incident as I say that. A few years ago, I happened to sit next to a fellow colleague from another publication on the flight. Both of us get along very well and have a lot of common interests like comparing notes on the industry, Formula 1, Xbox games and so on. Due to professional limitations, we never actually end up calling each other over the phone but conversations are usually endless when we meet in person. So here we are sitting on a flight to Jaipur and we are talking just as usual. When the flight lands in Jaipur, the women sitting directly in front of me swings around and she goes like ‘You guys are worse than girls, yapping continuously since the last 2 hours’ and both of us are just looking at each other, dumbfounded. The gender bias was truly uncalled for.
It looks like these old days are gone and the ‘new normal’ is here to stay for a while. Like it or not, we will have to adapt ourselves to this for the greater good. The industry is trying its best to stay afloat in these testing times. With the economy suffering & jobs at risk, it certainly is not the best time for the automobile industry. Question is how long will this last? Nothing is permanent and surely this shall too pass but unfortunately, nobody has a definite answer to that. We can only move forward hoping that things will be the ‘old normal’ sooner or later. For hope is a very powerful thing, they say.