What is The Virtual Driver?
Originally conceived as a site that would review driving sims and games in the late 1990s, TVD has been resurrected to become an eclectic mix of opinion, analysis, technology, vehicle reviews and lifestyle items of interest to the motoring public.
Out-of-pocket funding currently limits our ability to break news or be the first with the latest review. That’s fine. Speed is highly overrated. The staff at TVD would rather get the story right or impart knowledge that comes from spending time with a vehicle or product. This includes things that ultimately are important to buyers, like usability, flexibility, and warranty information. Things you don’t get with the typical “one-night stand” reviews found on most speed-driven web sites.
Technology is important to the modern automobile industry, but so is an understanding of its usefulness, limitations and cost. So while we will cover technologies we believe are of interest to our readers, we also will keep an eye on what its adoption does to the bottom line. Technology is good, but not if it makes your next vehicle unaffordable — or less fun to drive.
Our opinion and analysis pages will let you know what we think about the things happening in the industry, motor sport and other areas of interest.
Occasionally, we’ll also take a look at the automotive “lifestyle”. Whether reviews of books ("Road Reads") that will make your road trip more enjoyable and your knowledge base more complete, or products aimed at the modern motorist, you’ll find it in our Lifestyle section.
Finally, we have what we believe will become our most popular section, Tirades. Join Al Vinikour as he dips into the unending depths of his vitriol to excoriate those people and things that drive the modern motorist around the bend and up the wall.
Check back often, and let The Virtual Driver take you into the weekend. It promises to be an interesting ride.
Christopher A. Sawyer
Sawyer began his career at AutoWeek in the middle 1980s before moving over to Automotive Industries, one of the leading industry trade magazines of its day. Finding himself tiring of the daily grind to find something new to cover, and the self-importance of an industry that could, in his opinion, use a good strong enema, Sawyer took an offer from Dearborn-based Campbell & Co. to, among other things, become the Communications Director for Lotus Cars USA in late 1996.
What followed was four-plus years of incredible frustration and exquisite joy as Lotus struggled from near-bankruptcy to ownership by Malaysian automaker Proton. During his tenure, Sawyer went through three CEOs at Lotus Cars USA, four managing directors of Group Lotus in England, and numerous plans to sell more than just the Esprit V8 in the U.S. He created an e-mail push PR strategy starting in 1997 that brought global engineering, technology, motor sport and vehicle news to U.S.-based journalists, and recast the Esprit V8 as a technology leader, not an aging and expensive sports car with a new engine. He even created a “Simply Brilliant” marketing and advertising campaign for the on again/off again launch of the Lotus Elise. In addition, Sawyer collaborated on a global product planning document that included his idea for a mid-size, high-performance four-door sedan powered by the then-new Lotus V8.
Concurrently, Sawyer convinced Ford to scrap the domestic stand-alone launch of what would become Visteon Automotive Systems, and replace it with a technical symposium built around the 1997 Frankfurt Motor Show. This highlighted the new company’s global reach and technical achievements against an international background. His duties expanded to overseeing Visteon’s motor sport PR programs after the launch.
In addition, Sawyer wrote the brochure for Panoz Racing’s hybrid-electric race car, and helped polish Ford’s environmental credentials by overseeing the synopsizing of the 1999 Greenbrier Conference on Sustainability, replacing the planned paper documents with a dedicated Internet site.
From late 2000 to early 2009, Sawyer was Executive Editor of Automotive Design & Production magazine, an industry trade journal. Together with Editor-In-Chief Gary Vasilash, Sawyer helped AD&P move from an also-ran to a leading magazine in the automotive industry. Quoted in USA Today and an interview subject on the Travel Channel’s Extreme Concept Cars, Sawyer helped increase the magazine’s visibility during his eight year tenure.
In early 2009, Sawyer joined Cars In Context as Executive Editor/Associate Partner, and proceeded to create much of the content on the site. However, creative differences led to his departure, and disappearance, from the site in early 2011. He and long-time colleague and friend John Clor have restarted Cars In Context as a television show on Grosse Pointe (Michigan) cable, with the hopes of one day making the hosts the auto industry's equivalent to the ubiquitous Rachel Ray.
The Virtual Driver is Sawyer’s latest text venture.
Al Vinikour has worked in marketing, sales, public relations and journalism since 1968. The first 2/3 of his career centered on aviation, aerospace and defense, working on major weapons systems when funding battles emerged. This often meant going aloft in order to become acquainted with the combat systems, and gave him many hours at the controls of iconic airplanes like the C-130, B-52 and B-1B. Not surprisingly, some of Al’s fondest memories include mock bombing runs over competitors’ houses and places of work.
At the time Vinikour also was the President of Derus Media Service (DMS), a Chicago-based mass distributor of filler material to suburban dailies and weeklies throughout the United States. Unfortunately, DMS folded not long after Vinikour left the company to turn his attention to other ventures, but the lessons learned there served him well in his next career.
A sharp decline in the number of military projects forced Vinikour to gravitate toward automotive writing, which was something of a homecoming. While growing up in Northwest Indiana, his family owned several automotive junkyards and this background, coupled with his writing experience and a stint as Aviation Editor of the Chicago Daily News, created a new career as an automotive journalist. He has received numerous awards for his writing.
Vinikour lives in the Detroit-area with his wife Donna. They have three children and twin-grandsons.