I think every member will be glad to see the back of 2020.

It has destroyed many lives, businesses, overturned accepted social norms and events. It has also brought a lot of us closer together, removed veils and opened eyes to what is happening in front of them.

As a writers’ group of like minded individuals it completely disrupted our plans to meet, to hold what many regard as the motoring PR event of any year – the annual Driving Day – and even saw us hurtle into the 21st century with our first video conference annual general meeting. Despite a few hiccups that worked and some have said they would like to have more meetings conducted like that, but it’s not ideal if you struggle with a poor internet link. We’ll have to see how 2021 pans out.

What the last 10 months has taught us is that socialising and engagement is important, after all you cannot road test a new model without driving it and a face to face interview breaks down the barriers of conducting one on telephone or via a shakey video conference. Some manufacturers have managed to stage driving exercises of sorts but these brought new regimes and protocols.

The familiar wipe over of a test car has been replaced by a hygienic and sanitized clean which has meant fewer drives are possible and this has led to curtailed mileage on an event. It may be the way ahead if such events continue but no one pretends it’s ideal or fair on a driver or vehicle as both are heavily restricted by time.

You learn only a little bit of what a new model can do and such short acquaintances leave a distorted view for the better or worse.

The future of overseas trips is also in the balance for now with last breath quarantine likely once you disembark from an aircraft and mixing among participants is discouraged or banned.

At home, the regular testing diaries have been thrown up in the air and replaced by shorter loans or gaps between them and this has impacted on press garages and testers alike. Some loans were cancelled at short notice or amended but others managed to adapt to the changed world on wheels and even showed themselves very proactive in providing products to test.

While one manufacturer pulled a large slice of their fleet, another pushed out more and has seen their coverage widen.

On the events side, it is probably wise for manufacturers to work more closely with writers’ groups such as The Western Group and even the Guild of Motoring Writers to ensure there are specific opportunities to reach the core correspondents and writers. Driving days are likely to become more important and get greater support if they are localised for the participants to cut down on travelling in these restricted time zones.

The clearing of two vaccines will considerably help the situation but the reality is this is unlikely to happen until well into the summer in the UK and even then some hygiene protocols will continue to remain so we may see a return to what we did before but with changes taking place.

This is likely to impact on The Western Group PR Driving Day 2021 and we are talking to several parties about what can or possibly could be done. We have not discounted moving the event along the calendar towards autumn when the picture should be even clearer, but our colleagues can be sure we will keep them informed.

Despite all the gloom, there has been a bright light and our own Maxine Ashford is basking in being picked as a judge for the Women Writers Car of the Year panel. It has meant some long days’ testing a succession of newcomers to produce her opinions and decision and that will be made known very soon, but in the meantime, well done Maxine. The selection of Maxine shows that regional journalists are no longer regional but do infact contribute a lot to the national motoring scene thanks to the internet and far from being the end of the road for them it can be the beginning of a new journey.

Happy New Year and I hope you’ll stick with The Western Group in 2021 and enjoy our journey.

Robin Roberts


Western Group of Motoring Writers

Photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash

Robin Roberts
Robin Roberts

Robin is the longest serving chairman of The Western Group. He’s been vice chairman or chairman for over ten years and oversees the annual Western Group PR Driving Day each summer assisted by the group committee and supported by group members.

He contributes to a number of outlets in Wales and the UK, including the Driving Force editorial syndication agency feeding the biggest regional news and feature publishers in Britain.

Robin specialises in the Welsh automotive sector and motor related businesses with interests in Wales and publishes WheelsWithinWales.uk which covers news, features, trade and motor sport in Wales.

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