Long-term judge and journalist walks out after publisher fakes his score
Publishers of Caravan World, Emprise Group, have been dealt a serious blow after one of their judges walked out amidst a sea of controversy. Fallout continues to surround a recent caravan awards competition, sparking further debate about the integrity of some media outlets.
The annual Best Aussie Vans event, run in 2018 out of Moama, NSW, involves caravans from various Australian manufacturers in a week-long trial that subjects the model entrants to supposedly rigorous scrutiny by a judging panel made up of journalists and commentators. The competition has been running for many years and built on a solid reputation under previous stewardship of several publishing houses. While the view from outside may be one of trust, the value stakes change when it’s taken into account that the entrants aren’t selected on merit, or by simple invitation, but gain entrance on uptake of a sponsorship package with the media house responsible for publishing the results. This can cost up to $15,000 and offers varying amounts of resulting coverage.
In itself, that’s not unusual, and not to take anything away from previous winners, it’s that the results in this year’s event have provided a background of a little coercion. While to many who may have read about it on social media, it’s no secret that two entrants from the Coromal stable left by means of a tilt tray due to mechanical failure. One of these models, the Pioneer Evolution 6325 XC, despite “brake failure”, still went on to win the category of vans between $80,000 and $100,000.
The Windsor Coromal nameplates were bought by Apollo Group from Fleetwood RV in 2018, amid financial and quality troubles enveloping the then WA owner. Sources close to the action at this year’s event told RV Daily of heated debate about the mechanical integrity of the Pioneer caravan, which was recognised by the Apollo representative, national brand manager, Simon Kerr. Indeed, Kerr has been quoted recently as acknowledging the failure in the comp and that Apollo realised that the vehicles supplied (to the competition) were less than ideally prepared. These vans originated from Fleetwood stock.
This fact raised the ire of elements on social media as to the trust that should be extended to the Coromal products but Mr Kerr has stated that Apollo warranties would cover the affected vans where issues are identified by buyers, in addition to in-house quality control on unsold units.
During the Best Aussie Vans competition, however, the controversy arose because following a judge’s complaint and resultant 1/10 scores in areas affected by the Coromal anomalies (the lowest possible score), the publisher requested that a rather more positive opinion and scores were awarded. Strong correspondence followed, however, the judge’s content was highly edited, and the score on the critical “Towability” criteria changed by the publishers from 1/10 to 9/10 with a byline “Due to the stub axle failure, John “Bear” Willis missed driving the RTV. The score shown is an average of the other three judges.” Note that he in fact missed driving the RTV as it had already failed as predicted.
The question remains that how can one judge recognise the suspension faults before an incident rendering it untowable, among other major faults, and the other three judges give the same caravan glowing references?
It’s this element that has raised the most concern. It might be little known in public that these events are pay to play, however, they do cost money to stage and there has been no denial nor cover-up from the manufacturer concerned.
But to publish the result based on highly edited critique and manipulated scores, the publisher is creating a serious case of misrepresentation. In an arena already hot with accusation of collusion and cash for comment it doesn’t help the industry for the manufacturers, the media and/or the public.