I am an avid car enthusiast. After several years of hustling at some of Turkey's best schools, I eventually chose a path that required no part of my education and became an automotive journalist. Aside from my reviews and articles published in the magazines I worked for, most of you know me from the YouTube videos I shot between 2010 and 2017.
Of course, while I was chasing my dreams, I too was inspired by others; if it weren't for the era of Autocar's digitalization under Chris Harris or the legendary Top Gear trio, maybe I would have been a contractor too. However, I did not break away from YouTube while producing content myself. And in the last 14 years, I have seen that although their terms and mine are very different from each other, our dead ends were the same.
During this time, many automobile channels and initiatives emerged in the international arena. Most of them were led by auto journalists/influencers with millions of followers around the world – so none of them actually started 'from scratch'. Let's remember and pay our respects to some together:
• Driver's Republic: After leaving Autocar in 2008, Chris Harris' venture with Evo editors Richard Meaden and Jethro Bovingdon was way ahead of its time. Driver's Republic, a digital automobile magazine, was also publishing test videos on YouTube. It lasted 1 year.
• The Drive: Founded in 2005, the platform became the fastest growing automobile channel of its time with the contributions of Matt Farah, Mike Spinelli and its founder JF Musial, in addition to Chris Harris. In 2018, they moved their content to NBC Sports due to financial concerns, but this adventure also came to an end after 1 year. They haven't released almost any videos since 2020.
• Chris Harris on Cars: Having established his own channel after leaving Drive, Harris reached half a million subscribers and 50 million views in 3 years with only 75 videos. Despite all his success, Chris Harris, who survived on his pocket money and Patreon donations, was eventually promoted to Top Gear host and nearly closed his YouTube notebook.
• DriveTribe: Launched in 2016 by former Top Gear, current The Grand Tour hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, it was by far the most invested auto platform – making a full $16 million loss in just the first 2 years. DriveTribe, which is basically a networking site for car enthusiasts, promised its members to continue interacting through social media channels by closing its doors in 2022. Their YouTube channel is still active and this is the only platform where we can watch these folks other than Amazon.
• XCar/Carfection: Founded in 2012, the channel produced some of the most artistic videos about automobiles, especially with the poetic presentation of Henry Catchpole, who later joined the team. Nevertheless, they only reached 1 million subscribers in 10 years and raised the flag of surrender at the end of 2022. Catchpole is currently pursuing his career at Hagerty.
• Motor Trend: USA's largest automobile magazine. Founded in 2006, their channel is still active, but they ended their immensely popular content (hosted by Jonny Lieberman, Carlos Lago and Jason Cammisa) on YouTube by moving it to their paid service MotorTrend On Demand in 2017.
These are all institutional examples; not to mention the hundreds of individuals who started making car videos on a whim and unplugged their channel a few months or years after spending loads of money and effort.
Everyone enters this market thanks to the irresistible appeal of the following statement:
I'm going to earn money by driving all kinds of cars, sharing my thoughts, and filming it!
Not so fast
Let's break this highly professional business plan down into its components and talk about where things went wrong:
❶ I'm going to drive all kinds of cars...
When your channel is new, you know that no one will send you a press car. In fact, no matter how big your channel gets, no one will send you a car unless you meet these conditions:
- Not to criticize excessively,
- Getting to know one of the companies' PR departments or senior positions personally,
- Relentlessly sending hundreds of emails of test car requests,
- Advertising brands for free by posting irrelevant press releases on your site.
Therefore, you will first shoot a video by 'testing' your friends' cars. Do you have such company, especially in this period when automobile prices are soaring? Maybe you're going to try to rent a car for filming – don't! The risk of this aside, you will have to wait years for your channel to cover such an expense. These paths will also be blocked after a while, and if your channel has not grown enough by that time, you will be left with the stress of "regular video posting", which is the first condition of growing a channel.
❷ ...I'll share my thoughts...
You can make a difference and grow your audience in three ways when describing a car:
- Objectivity – can you clearly express your criticism about a matter you don't like? (Can you foresee the obstacles this will throw in your way, and are you ready to face them?)
- Humor – can you entertain others? (Do you need someone else with you to do this; if you do, do you have such a friend who can accompany you from time to time without expecting anything back from you?)
- Eloquence – can you describe the feedback of a car in an elaborate way that makes the audience experience it? (and can you capture and relay details that no one else notices?)
If your main goal is not quality but quantity, i.e. to be watched a lot, you can reach your goal in the following ways without having any of the above skills:
- Posting the first video of a newly released car,
- Finding and posting cars that have never been filmed before,
- Finding extreme cars and shooting them with absurd themes ("I got a hitchhiker with my Ferrari" etc.),
- Expressing controversial views with conspicuous cover pictures.
Again, you will appreciate that none of these methods are sustainable for most of us.
❸ ...I'll film them...
If there's a more demanding type of production than auto video, it's probably shooting ships, planes, or a jaguar in the Amazons. But you're probably thinking right now:
A second-hand GoPro 5 and a microphone are enough, I can handle it myself.
Such equipment will only be sufficient for you if you meet all the above requirements and have no trouble finding a test car. Otherwise;
- Minimum two action cameras, a main camera, preferably drone, their memory cards-spare batteries and suction cups-tripod-lens etc. accessories, two microphones,
- At least one cameraman,
- At least one video editor,
...are needed. Aside from the salaries of these people, you also need to live close to each other so that you can quickly perform procedures such as file transfer and post-edit preview & revisions. As for the 'filming' itself...
- The best time to shoot, both to catch the ideal light and to get away from the congestion, is sunrise.
- When you start at a later time, you lose time and morale in traffic until you get to the filming location, and your job becomes much more difficult due to other vehicles and noise during the shooting.
- Do you know of a shooting location within a reasonable distance from your home, with low traffic, smooth roads and a beautiful background?
- If you decided to shoot at a location 50 km away, did you add the fuel you would spend for each filming to your expenses?
- Shooting from car to car is almost essential for a nice car video. So what is that 'other car' and who will drive it? Does the driver have the experience to follow the test vehicle in inches?
- It is almost impossible to shoot a car on a rainy day. Have you checked the weather forecast?
❹ ...so I can make money!
If you still think that you can make a profit in the short or medium term despite the expenses we have listed above, it is worth emphasizing the following:
YouTube has an algorithm that pays based on the number of views, not rewarding quality content.
More importantly, automotive is a very niche type of content, watched by a limited and selective audience. Each of your videos that you struggle with, edit and publish for hours or even days, and spend thousands of dollars on its production, will most likely be watched less and bring less income than the unedited video of a child who lost himself while playing in his room. Are you ready to digest that?
Of course, YouTube doesn't have to be your only business model, you can also make money by 'placing products'. However, for this, you need to reach a certain level (the magical number of subscribers). Plus, even if you have hundreds of thousands of subscribers, at the end of the day it is still personal relationships that turn on the tap of companies. Do you have such a social cirlcle and the qualities of a businessman?
By the way, if you are in a position to make a sponsored video, you must also have a corporation in order to issue an invoice, and the obligations and additional costs that will come with it are the subject of a separate article.
What about dozens of famous Vloggers?
If you're not into poetic and critical auto-testing and your role model is Shmee150 rather than Chris Harris, then you're more likely to do your own thing and make your content more appealing, thus monetizing it. But I don't think that you can read this article so far and fit in this profile.
So when does this work?
If you have a startup related to cars – this example is not limited to automotive, but can be adapted to any industry – it is a very reasonable move to start a related YouTube channel to promote your brand to a wider audience. Steerr is a good example: Every video I post on our channel encourages viewers to download and use the app. Even if they don't, our brand is etched in their minds. After each video posted, we recieve dozens of new users registrations on the platform, and on top of that, YouTube pays the company every month – a fantastic win-win situation.
Despite all, there are still three channels that are financially viable and do their job properly: Carwow, Hagerty Media and Throttle House. If you notice, the first two implement the 'feeding the parent company' business model that we have just described above.
When Matt Watson left Carbuyer and moved to Carwow in 2016, he was already a famous journalist with access to all kinds of press cars; therefore, although its success can be exemplary for you, it is not repeatable.
Hagerty is an American classic car insurance company and the world's largest name in its field. The Michigan-based brand is also active in Canada, Germany and the UK. I think we can exclude Hagerty Media from the assembly because of this enormous financial support behind it.
But Throttle House, hosted by Thomas Holland and James Engelsman, is the chairman of this assembly. Two Canadian boys have been doing wonders since day one on their channel they founded in 2012:
- They complement each other perfectly (they're funny),
- Their narration is very clear and appealing to a wide audience,
- Although their production quality is not on par with the corporate examples above, they are still far above the 'vloggers',
- They are objective, and do not hesitate to criticize in the harshest way when necessary,
- But most importantly, they do their job with love, passion and willingness.
...are you still willing to?
Happy for you; unlike most of us, you have found your purpose in life.