Ferrari accused of 'hotting-up' press cars
by Joshua DowlingMcLaren, Porsche and Lamborghini won't comment on Ferrari's predicament, but say they are squeaky-clean
Italian sportscar maker Ferrari has so far refused to respond to accusations this week that it builds special hotted-up cars for media evaluation -- but in wake of the controversy, three of the biggest names in the supercar world have defended the integrity and performance of their vehicles.
UK-based freelance motoring writer Chris Harris, formerly of respected industry journal Autocar magazine, wrote a column that spilled the beans on a widely known industry secret.
In a lengthy comment piece entitled 'How Ferrari Spins', published by the oddball but widely-read US-based motoring website Jalopnik, Harris outlined numerous instances where Ferrari had supplied two cars for magazines to test -- one for straight-line performance and another for track use -- and how adjustments were made to vehicles between timed runs.
He also told of instances where customer cars were curiously slower than those supplied by Ferrari -- and that Ferrari regularly intervened when journalists attempted to borrow customer cars for road tests. The imputation was that Ferrari would not supply vehicles for comparison tests if there was a risk it would not be deemed the superior vehicle in the outcome of the story.
In part, Harris wrote: "The whole thing stinks. In any other industry it wouldn't be allowed to happen. It's dishonest, but all the mags take it between the cheeks because they're too scared of not being invited to drive the next new Ferrari."
It may sound like sour grapes but Harris, who is wealthy from several successful business exploits -- not motoring journalism -- is one of the few writers in his field to have owned more than a dozen supercars, including a number of Ferraris and Porsches and at least one Lamborghini.
Harris continued: "What Ferrari plainly cannot see is that its strategy to win every test at any cost is completely counter-productive. First, it completely undermines the amazing work of its own engineers. What does it say about a [Ferrari] 458 if the only way its maker is willing to loan it to a magazine is if a laptop can be plugged in after every journey and a dedicated team needs to spend several days at the chosen test track to set-up the car? It says they're completely nuts -- behaviour that looks even worse when rival brands just hand over their car with nothing more than a polite suggestion that you should avoid crashing it too heavily, and then return a week later."
The spokesman for Ferrari in Australia told the Carsales Network he was not permitted to comment on the story.
But other supercar brands, while not wanting to comment on the allegations leveled at Ferrari, have sought to clarify their press car policies in case they are tarred with the same brush.
The spokesman for Porsche in Australia, Paul Ellis, told the Carsales Network: "The cars we provide journalists and the cars we provide customers have identical performance. Cars we provide journalists are not fettled to provide superior performance over a car that we would supply to a customer.
"We are very conservative when it comes to quoting acceleration and performance figures and, in our experience journalists are easily able to match or beat the official performance claims we make -- without any supervision or assistance."
The Australian distributor of Lamborghini cars in Australia, Andrew Smith, told the Carsales Network: "I am 100 per cent confident in the performance and consistency of our vehicles. I'm happy for anyone to pick a car at random and test it. The cars we supply to the media are identical to cars off the showroom floor -- because they come off our showroom floor."
McLaren's regional director for the Middle East, Africa and the Asia-Pacific, Ian Gorsuch, in Australia this week, told the Carsales Network: "We have complete trust and confidence in our car and the journalists we invite to test drive it. We believe in total transparency and honesty. People who buy these cars are savvy people. The experience they feel must be equal to what they were expecting, based on media reports. They will not settle for anything less."
He said the McLaren MP4-12C had undergone 1 million kilometres of real world testing, from the heat of Death Valley, to the humidity and dust of the Middle East, to below-freezing conditions in the arctic.
The warts-and-all comment piece, in which Harris assumes he will never be invited to Maranello again, concludes almost apologetically: "[Ferrari's] cars are so good it doesn't need [to doctor them]".
In Australia, media test drives of Ferraris are few and far between -- and usually come with restrictions on their use, and/or a companion representing the company.
Although I have driven four Ferraris in the past five years, in my experience Lamborghini and Porsche are more willing to make vehicles available for unrestricted and extended evaluation (ie: more than one day).
However, Ferraris have at least been more readily available to Australian media in the past five years since distribution was taken over by European Automotive Imports, a division of Ateco, the company that also imports Citroen, Fiat and Alfa Romeo cars.
Prior to that, under the previous distributor, Ferrari test drives in Australia were almost non-existent and seasoned journalists with decades of experience could count the number of their encounters on one hand -- or indeed had none at all.