DRIVEN 10th anniversary: How it all began
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An early response to the first issue of DRIVEN came from an Australian who’d picked up the NZ Herald from Auckland airport on his way back across the ditch.
"DRIVEN looks as good as anything we've got over here. And our car market is huge compared with yours. Great effort," the email read.
New Zealanders liked it, too, including one prominent New Zealander who welcomed – and encouraged – DRIVEN’s arrival was motoring industry veteran Sir Colin Giltrap.
Over the years, Colin had watched the NZ Herald deliver consumer-focused Newspaper Insert Magazines (NIMS) like Viva, Canvas and Herald Homes (now OneRoof), and often asked me when the Herald was going to do something similar for motoring.
The resulting Saturday DRIVEN was born on April 30, 2011, with the first mid-week Wednesday edition coming five days later. Both replaced a long-time, twice-weekly motoring section within the main pages of the NZ Herald.
Driven wasn’t the first regular motoring insert in the NZ Herald. The monthly Automotive News had been running since 1997, and the mid-week Superwheels appeared soon after. But both, in newspaper speak, were stand-alone add-ons.
DRIVEN was designed to be the paper’s motoring jewel, with designers from Canvas and Viva to help me put it together, and signed off by then NZ Herald editor Tim Murphy.
The first issue pledged to continue with industry and new vehicle news and car reviews, particularly the future of automotive and the fast-developing digital technology.
Driven quickly thrived: advertisers including the Giltrap Group lined up to support it. The Global Financial Crisis (2007-2009) had been and gone and the NZ economy was beginning to breathe again.
Registrations of 84,640 new cars and commercials in 2011 were up 5 per cent on 2010 and 22 per cent on 2009, when the crisis bit deep in New Zealand and the market plummeted 28 per cent. House sales in New Zealand in 2009 were down 20 per cent.
New Zealanders still bought sedans and hatchbacks in 2011. The top three sellers were the Toyota Corolla, Suzuki Swift and Holden Commodore, a celebrated nameplate now gone but not forgotten.
Of the top 15 sellers back then (Ford Falcon was ninth; it’s gone too), 12 were cars and three were SUVs. The Toyota Hilux, Nissan Navara, and Ford Ranger headed the ute segment, but trailed the three passenger cars in sales, while Audi and BMW continued to dominate the luxury segment.
Ten years on, everything has turned turtle: 13 of the top 15 passenger cars are SUVs, and the top three utes – Ranger, Hilux, Mitsubishi Triton – outsell by a country mile the top three cars. Mercedes-Benz now heads the luxury segment. The Corolla and Swift keep on keeping on.
Driven had something that first week in 2011 for Mother’s Day on May 8: “Carmakers are looking for selling points that aren't linked to burning fuel,” we said.
Automotive designers and engineers were tailoring interiors with women in mind, especially after an all-women’s team from Volvo built a ‘what women want’ prototype SUV. One example: ergonomic door handles that didn’t risk breaking women’s longer nails.
We added: “Luxury companies are adding internet and smartphone access to their vehicles as environmental concerns and consumer addiction to mobile devices shift the emphasis to high-tech gadgetry from horsepower.”
It all seems very much dated now, but carmakers then were slow to link their cars to the internet because of concern about safety and allowing unfiltered data into vehicles. The proliferation of mobile devices like the Apple iPhone changed that.
Driven quoted one US automotive analyst: "Customers are accustomed to having these connectivity benefits in their everyday life. There's no reason why, when they get into their car, they have to be isolated from what's happening around the world."
The digital revolution – especially in the past 10 years – has disrupted pretty much every traditional business model known to man. It has changed the way cars are built. It has changed the way they are maintained and repaired. It has improved performance and efficiency. It has made exhaust emissions cleaner. It has made cars safer.
It was only 60 years ago that a General Motors engineer told a US Senate inquiry that there was no need for seatbelts in cars. It was in the days of bench seats. “If I have my three children in the front with me and I sense an imminent collision, I only have to extend my arm across them to keep them safe.” He obviously knew very little about physics. How times change, 60 years, or as little as just 10.