03.17.2010 - by Plug In America
Media Watchdog Just Licking Its Balls

There’s a lot of money being thrown around in the direction of electric vehicles these days, and where there’s money, there are scammers and quick-buck manipulators. One of the jobs of journalists is to protect us by checking out information before passing it on. Last week, much of the media earned a great, big FAIL.

Have you ever heard of Aurica Motors? I hadn’t either, until the company issued a press release last week and a radio reporter called me asking about them. Numerous “green” media outlets and more traditional journalists gorged themselves on the press release from what they called the “stealth” EV company that’s “flying under the radar,” and basically regurgitated its contents with little or no digestion.

Essentially, the press release said that the company wants federal money to take over the NUMMI car manufacturing plant in the San Francisco Bay Area that Toyota is closing, so that Aurica could make electric cars. (Hey, I’d like federal money to do that too! Why didn’t I send out a press release! ) Combine the general excitement around plug-in vehicles with a desperate desire to find something — anything — positive happening around jobs and the economy, mix it up with a lazy press, and presto! You’ve got what’s probably nonsense being spread around like it’s news.

Aurica_car I’ve been a reporter and editor for 30 years, but you don’t even need to be a cub reporter for this story to start smelling fishy. The Aurica Motors website doesn’t tell you much about the company or give a way to contact them. It’s short on a lot of details. And really — does this image of their car (the only one on the company’s website) inspire confidence? The copyright on the website points to Aurica Labs, whose website is even more comical.

There — did that take long? A few clicks? Apparently, that’s too much for most of the journalists and bloggers who reported on Aurica. Motor Trend, Autobloggreen, Green Car Congress, and Gas 2.0 all posted credulous reports. The Gas 2.0 post got picked up by MatteR Network and by Reuters. The “Shifting Gears” blog on The Big Money, a Washington Post-Newsweek site, went so far as to criticize The New York Times for not devoting space to Aurica. And those are just the hits on page one of my search results.

Kudos to Richard Read at The Car Connection, who kept a healthy dose of skepticism at hand. And with the magic of the InterWeb, it’s easy to find insightful discussion outside the mainstream media, such as this thread in a forum on SomethingAwful.com.

Count me among the skeptics. Of course, I’d love to be proved wrong, and have Aurica turn out to be a wildly successful (if extremely discrete) company with a world-changing EV that will employ thousands of people in the NUMMI plant. I’d also like to sell you a bridge.

— Sherry Boschert (@sherryboschert on Twitter)

7 comments on “Media Watchdog Just Licking Its Balls”
  1. FWIW – I was on the EVCAST last Saturday and we discussed this story. I was able to give some local color about the plant but when we found the Aurica Labs site the discussion turned immediately to questioning just how much of a joke (or worse) this is. I furtively started to send an email to the their contact address with the intent of writing an article about the project. But eventually talked myself out of it with the thought that this was an obvious scam and that my journalism time would be better spent writing stories that are truly important. I suppose any laziness I possess about this is not seeing the need to expose the obvious scam, and not following through with that. With any hope this story will die on its own but I suppose it’s possible Aurica will find a way to keep it alive for awhile.

  2. dG — Read about the EVs that will be available later this year in Plug In Americas 2010 resource guide, http://www.pluginamerica.org/downloads

  3. dG says:

    For Heaven’s Sake – we want an electric car that someone with 30K can buy RIGHT NOW…

    That is what is causing all the fuss. Imagine if Apple had annouced the iPhone three years ago for release in Q4 2012!!!

  4. sherry.boschert@gmail.com says:

    And while I’m giving props to journalists who did their due diligence on this story, let me also mention John O’Dell and the crew at Edmunds.com Green Car Advisor, for one of the best reports: http://blogs.edmunds.com/greencaradvisor/2010/03/would-be-ev-makers-plan-to-save-nummi-auto-plant-a-long-shot-at-best.html
    — Sherry

  5. Richard, you read my mind. In fact, I was debating whether to use the current headline on this blog post, or another — Watch out, Zap! Youve Got Competition.

  6. I am glad that blogging is taking off and we aren’t just reliant on old media anymore, but this is one definite disadvantage. Some bloggers explicitly use “we aren’t reporters, we don’t have to research this stuff” as a defense. And unfortunately I think even some old media is switching to more of a blog model just to save money, because blogs are squeezing them.

    I don’t see a good answer other than better blogs that point these things out–like this one.

  7. I don’t know what you see wrong here, Sherry. Aurica is following ZAP!s proven formula:
    1. Make a pretty webpage (make sure to include a page for suckers..er investors.
    2. Publish breathless press releases
    3. Live off investor largess

    Seriously, though, Aurica is offering $1,200 prizes for amateur designs of their four models. Never mind how they’re able to promise a laundry list of features when not one of their models has been designed yet.

    I hate coming down hard on companies like this, but every investor that gets burned by companies like this is one less investor that will support real electric car companies in the future.

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