Scurrying around at Geneva, from my lowly position near the floor, I couldn't help but notice how the journalistic art is becoming a strange and whimsical trade. Don't get me wrong, the business has always been an intermingled affair, with access to senior industry figures and the latest info on the latest model controlled and manipulated for the companies' interests. But it seems that in the last few years, both the journalists and car companies have entered a destructive spiral where one refuses to really probe and criticise and the other produces product entirely geared to pleasing these most unreliable of judges.

Let's be honest, if it hadn't been for the journalists, do you really think that such hopeless heaps as the Renault Avantime and MG ZT260 would ever have seen the light of day? These simply dreadful cars weren't produced for the consumer, but were created simply to impress the writers, who, because they never pay for their cars, can't help but have a warped view of the world.

Knowing they would never have to live with one, why shouldn't some journalists praise the Avantime ideal, because for one trip a year the Avantime would be ideal and they knew Renault would happily lend them one. As for the 260, well that was a peculiarly English joke, with a few of the specialist magazines writing such wonderful things that you started to think they were on the payroll. So an article along the lines of "The door handle fell off, the car broke down and it drank fuel like water" would always be hidden in a mist of clotted cream tea hyperbole about the joys of owning a great British V8 sports saloon. If I'd just bought one of these unreliable heaps (I once met a breakdown recovery man who assured me he was on first name terms with all the MG Rover board) I'd be speaking to my lawyer.

In fact the MG Rover fiasco helps underline another facet of the Auto scribe - their dreadful capacity to ignore the bloody obvious and write with incredible naiveté about the companies that build the cars. One reason is often that they have a jingoistic affection for the company or country, the worst offenders being surely those extraordinary French journalists who will completely ignore every howling fault of a mind-numbing piece of junk like the 607 because it's French. And they will claim it the best car in its class because its trunk lid hinges are bigger than those of the 5-Series and the E-Class!

Another reason for blindingly kind copy is that the hapless journalist has become completely potty trained by the company. MG Rover had a wonderful way of ingratiating the specialist UK press, by ensuring they got lots of access to the senior engineers so they felt they were getting an inside track. In fact, whenever there was pessimism shown in the broadsheets, MG Rover would take a pet journo to one side and reveal the latest secret project. They even got a mag to publish photos of a new coupé despite the project having been killed months earlier and the fairly obvious problem of the mid-engine vents frying the occupants of the car. Yet the mag published the pictures and ran the story because they had a scoop!

This need to be loved by the car companies ensures that even when the whole sorry mess faces extinction in MG Rover's case or financial crisis like Ford and GM - the specialist journalists remain loath to put the boot in where it should go because they might need their 'special' relationship again. Time and again they had the opportunity to warn their readers away from MG Rover, but instead they wrote stories extolling the great new cars that year after year never came and reported verbatim the latest "saviour" story.

Of course I should apologise right now to those writers who are genuine and honest and have never paraphrased a press release. There are deeply thoughtful and often worryingly probing journalists who are incredibly good at describing the car companies and their issues for broadsheets like the FT and industry papers like Automotive News (though Grandpa Keith's outrageous and nausea-inducing hall of fame does his able team no favours!). But there is a secret to this. The sort of journalists who really understand and write about the car companies well are almost always deeply talented journalists or analysts rather than enthusiasts who happen to be hacks. These are the real writers who can assimilate data, check sources and verify the truth. Because they could as easily write about the stock market, there is just no chance of fobbing them off with an artist's rendering of the next W22 hyper car to cover a black whole in the finances.

But more typically, scarce funds that should be spent developing simple, wonderfully reliant transport are spent on developing ludicrous power and rock-hard rides. This whole horrid mess was summed up to me by a car I've recently driven (not bad going for a pooch) which was inept in so many ways that it should have been panned in every press report I read. To remove a few more euros from the build cost the whole interior had been stripped to the bone with even the centre armrest removed and a hopeless radio fitted. All should have roundly condemned the company that built it - with its finances in a mess and corporate strategy in tatters - but instead it was praised and lauded for building interesting cars.

Mercedes was renowned for basic but solid cars that lasted a lifetime - but encouraged by the journos, we now have techno marvels with crappy interiors and sub-Chinese build quality, that receive a great press because they have back massagers and 600 p.s.. What rot, and Mercedes is paying the price of pandering to these fools.

And I'm sure that for many journalists there is the thorny issue of money, with more than a few cowed to silence by the fact that their wages are paid by the car companies: how impartial can you be when a whole page advert will pay your mortgage for a month?

Of course some companies have ignored all this - and been soundly insulted by the journalists. Take that silly little company called Toyota, whose cars have seemingly always languished in the middle of a road test field. Dull we are told, not sporty enough, lacking in the finer things like sports suspension and loud exhausts. But the consumer loves them, as they used to love Mercedes - boring perhaps, but they drive on a motorway not a back road, take the kids to school and won't have the chance to throw it around on the Cote d'Azur. So for those companies that have concentrated on consumers (many of whom, let's be honest, have probably never read a car magazine in their lives), rather than impressing the scribblers, the real customer simply votes with the chequebook and marches to their door.

Building cars for enthusiasts is all well and good but the truth is that most people simply don't care, and for those that do there are superb companies like Caterham who pander to their masochistic needs; or Ferrari whose products by any normal measure would be considered poorly engineered and ludicrously maintenance-intensive heaps, but are ideal for massaging the ego of both the pandering journo and their often childish customers while they drive slowly and fearfully up the Kings Road or the Champs Elysées.

For me, the specialist journalist's connivance in the extraction of money from the hapless punter and investor is fully displayed by the cars they drive and the things they say once they cease to be scribes. Suddenly the companies are horrid, the managers idiots and the driveway has become the home of a Corolla. Like sycophantic and pontificating leaches they prowl the motor shows and auto launches, spewing forth their thoughtless wisdom and causing a disservice to their readers, the industry and anyone who has ever desired to buy a car.

- Big Dog

The strong views expressed in this column are exclusively those of Big Dog and are not necessarily reflective of those of the publisher, editor or other members of the just-auto editorial team. just-auto gives Big Dog an occasional platform (and dog biscuits).

Auto market intelligence
from just-auto

• Auto component fitment forecasts
• OEM & tier 1 profiles & factory finder
• Analysis of 30+ auto technologies & more