The day has finally come. CarAdvice is no more and Australia’s largest new car editorial website is dead.
It’s a decision that for motoring fans in Australia remains elusive and confusing almost a year on from when Nine announced it was shuttering CarAdvice and moving its automotive resources to Drive in October 2020.
For those of you who are new to CarExpert, you should know a lot of us came from CarAdvice. In fact, myself and later Anthony and Paul were the original founders of CarAdvice and watched it grow to become the best editorial automotive website in Australia.
Having left in very late 2019 and started CarExpert in early 2020, the reasons for our departure may now seem obvious. It would be interesting for some of you to know not a single executive there when Nine took over completely remains at CarAdvice today.
This is not an article to berate the corporate powers that be for the decisions they make – even when they defy all logic, their audience’s wishes, and the demands of the market at large. Instead, this is an article to reminisce on some of the most amazing memories from CarAdvice.
Firstly though, thank you for coming over to CarExpert. We are the true new underdogs of the Australian automotive media landscape. While we may have been around for a while, we do not take your patronage for granted.
Our traffic growth since our inception in April 2020 has been so astronomical we sometimes can’t fathom how we got here in such a short time. We have a long way to go though, and we will continue to bring you the best content by the best people without any intrusive display advertising for as long as we can.
CarAdvice started in May 2006 and its sale to Nine took place in September 2016, with the earn-out settled by September 2018. During the 10 years leading to its sale, enough hijinks took place to fill a book.
In fact, there is a book coming from Anthony, Paul and I titled Fast Cars & F*#k ups – the untold story of CarAdvice later in 2021.
For now though, let’s take a look back at top five moments we felt defined our memories of CarAdvice.
Doing what we love against all odds
The one thing connecting the three of us and all the early staff at CarAdvice (now at CarExpert) was that we all love what we do. We talk about cars non-stop and give each other endless crap about how wrong we are about certain cars. The laughter that comes from making fun of each other in the process has led to plenty of tears of joy.
It’s the ultimate corny expression of doing what you love, because we really do. We all work extremely hard (even Tony, sometimes) but we have a hell of a lot of fun in the process and if it wasn’t for that, we would have crumbled in the face of the challenges the industry and competing larger publications threw at us (and continue to do at CarExpert).
Trust us, there are still a lot of challenges. It’s not cheap running a site employing more than 20 full-time staff. Raising the money to do that as a global pandemic hit and markets retracted was a feat in itself.
Ironically, at CarAdvice we got baseless legal letters from the likes of Drive on numerous occasions when the ‘masterminds’ at then-Fairfax (now Nine) had finally realised we were a serious threat to their automotive publishing arm, but it was too late.
There is a great book called Killing Fairfax that if you’re interested, you should read.
The support (and lack of support) from car companies
When we started CarAdvice, the internet was not what it is today. 2006 was a long time ago – Facebook was only two years old, Instagram was four years away from starting, and most people saw the internet as a nice thing to have… but nowhere near as crucial as it is today.
It was a different time in the media landscape, and newspapers and magazines were still the order of the day. The likes of the Drive section in the Sydney Morning Herald was highly regarded.
This created an interesting dynamic for us as the old-school public relations managers at car companies treated internet publishers like some sort of new plague with no authority (or respect for that matter).
To some of them, we were a pest that needed to go away. In some cases, it took us years to get cars from certain brands. One PR manager (who’ll remain anonymous until the book is released) even said “CarAdvice is where people go to learn how to steal cars, not how to buy them”, such little understanding there was of the importance of the web.
There were plenty of early supporters too, the ones who saw our potential and realised ‘this internet thing’ wasn’t going away. Over a long period of time, they all eventually came around. Not before we got banned from some car companies or had cars cancelled due to politics.
Ultimately, the car companies were all wooed by the fact when their own customers Googled their car, CarAdvice (and now CarExpert) would show up and help form their opinion.
Our First Supercar/Full Throttle trips
It would be a lie to say we did not dream of testing supercars when we started CarAdvice. Who wouldn’t want to do that?
Unfortunately it’s a trap many in this game fall into; getting desperate to test Aston Martins, Ferraris, and Lamborghinis and forgetting people buy normal cars and the buyers of these exotics don’t care what a motoring journalist thinks.
We fell into that trap too, but if you lose your passion for cars, you may as well go work at a corporate media entity. We managed to find a good balance, eventually.
To that end, the first supercar we test drove and reviewed was a beautiful gated manual Lamborghini Murcielago coupe. I took a day off from my then normal job at the University of Queensland (which has since made me an honorary adjunct professor and entrepreneur in residence) to fly to Sydney, where Anthony picked me up.
I have to tell you, nothing in the world can replace the memory of the Murcielago pulling up into the passenger pickup zone knowing it was there for us. They say you never forget your first real supercar – I still remember it like it was yesterday.
From there we decided to do a ‘Full Throttle’ trip to Europe, where we lined up the Bugatti Veyron, two Lamborghini Gallardos, and an Aston Martin DBS. There you had ‘three muppets’ (as the industry no doubt referred to us at the time) in Europe driving the world’s fastest car. It was truly glorious.
As well as driving the car at well over 300km/h, we became the first media company to film the Bugatti factory. That video lives on YouTube today, and was featured by YouTube on its front page.
It was also picked up by Discovery channel and ran in one of its programs about supercars on repeat for years.
I urge you to watch it, if not just to laugh at the oversized pair of pants Tony was wearing.
The success of the first Full Throttle trip led us to plan another with a deal to release a DVD and have a full series production of us reviewing supercars (remember that bit about falling into a trap?).
We got sponsorship from Etihad, Pirelli, Nitro Energy Drink, and Sinn Watches to back it, and headed overseas to enjoy what became one of the most memorable three week trips of our lives.
Alas, the videos never made it out of the studio due to politics, the Global Financial Crisis, and a change of CEO at CarAdvice at the time. Rest assured they are not lost and in particular, our video of the Koenigsegg CCX and Wiesmann live with us. We hope to release them soon just for the sake of nostalgia.
As a side note, we lost more equity (shares) in the business doing the second Full Throttle trip (having to raise money) than it would have cost to buy most of the cars we drove, combined, when it came to selling the business to Nine.
A good lesson there.
Global Financial Crisis and the near death of CarAdvice
From the outside looking in, it may look like CarAdvice rose to the top on a natural and easy path. The reality is different. We nearly went bankrupt on numerous occasions, and came extremely close to trading insolvent.
The Global Financial Crisis hit us hard and our ad revenue at the time sunk to levels where we were bleeding cash with no end in sight. Anthony, Paul, and I went through a period where we took no salary, we worked endless hours for nothing just to keep the lights on because ultimately, we believed.
We believed in what we were doing.
That belief paid off because as we came out of the GFC with the best auto site in the country, we began to see the fruits of our labour. CarAdvice’s traffic never took a step backward for almost a decade that followed.
The sale to Nine, and why we left
The sale to Nine occurred in 2016 as part of a two-year earn-out. At the time it was a monumental moment for the staff and the founders of the business. After all, we had Australia’s (now) largest media company buying a business we had worked tirelessly on for over a decade.
For us, it felt like the beginning of a new and very exciting chapter with Nine. We felt with Nine’s reach and help, we could take CarAdvice to the next level and become a household name. From a television show to radio, to being on Nine’s mastheads, the cards all stacked up and the plan to execute was all there.
Unfortunately, for reasons you will find out in the book (which comes out after our two-year non-disparagement agreement) none of those plans eventuated and the decision was evidently made to turn CarAdvice off.
Thankfully, it led us to leave and start again. Unencumbered by legacy issues and with the ability to move fast and innovate, CarExpert has given us the opportunity to once again do what we love, laugh along the way, and reconnect with our readers both digitally and also in the retail environment thanks to our successful experience centre.
So while CarAdvice may have died a slow and lonely death, the people who started it, grew it, and made it successful are here and not going anywhere.
While CarAdvice may be dead, the staff move over to the Drive brand. We wish them all the best.
We thank you for joining us on this new journey. Although we are small, our efforts have already been recognised. CarExpert has been nominated for four Mumbrella Publish awards, the Oscar equivalent of the publishing world:
- Website of the Year
- Editor of the Year: Paul Maric
- Launch/Relaunch of the Year
- Event or Virtual Event of the Year: CarExpert Experience Centre
We have some big announcements to make in the coming months which will further cement our position in the market. As we continue to grow and expand, we want you to know you can always get in touch and provide your feedback (via comments below or using the contact form).
We absolutely do take it on board and value our audience’s input greatly.