Steve helped establish Coventry University's postgraduate degree in auto journalism and contributes to the course as a visiting professor.
He has won the Headline Auto Award Feature Writer of the Year. One judge described him as 'one of the top five most important journalists in the world'. Whilst another said 'The ultimate journalist in every way - professional, personable, sharp as a razor and a beautiful scribe'.
He has built up a loyal readership and in his own words' as much in love with cars today as he was on day one, and not just the car, but the industry that makes 'em.'
Blue Pencil spoke with Steve at this year's Geneva Motor show for his insight into some of the milestones and challenges facing the automotive industry, and the future of motor journalism.
You have compared the Vauxhall Ampera as a motoring milestone in the same league as Sir Alec Issigonis' Mini. Will the Ampera help break down the public's perceptions and prejudices to non fossil fuel cars?
This year's Car of the Year the Vauxhall Ampera needs to be, or I hope will send a message to the motoring public to be open-minded. Many of the motoring public are not open-minded, and need to see the advantages of range extenders and give it ago. I have driven the Ampera, and I am impressed; it feels good, feels strong and resolved as well comfortable. It is a question of breaking down prejudice; Skoda for instance, had to break down prejudice. It can work in reverse; for instance if Ferrari produced a car not totally up to standard, the public will still believe it to be marvellous as it is a Ferrari.
Mark Adams has described some of the problems of reconciling car design with meeting the demands of the legislators. What is your take on matters?
People like Mark Adams at Opel do a wonderful job. The motor industry is set a standard and they clear the bar by two feet. There is no evidence of the motor industry failing to meet standards, and are capable of making great progress. The manufacturers find solutions. There was shock in the early 1970s when California introduced clear air legislation. The buying public understand that things have to improve, look at airbags. The world understands that progress is necessary.
Over the years there have been various attempts at manufacturers creating the world car whereby one product fits all markets and tastes. Where are we at with the concept of World Cars?
The World Car has been spoken about for years and the pendulum swings, but as a concept it is sensible and alive. Manufacturers such as BMW, Mercedes and Audi show that it can happen. Ford is working hard for their Fiesta, Focus and other models to sale in the USA. There will always be cars that are at the margin. For instance you would not sell many Ford 150 Pick Up Trucks in the narrow streets of Rome!
Mainstream cars can be world cars and allow more money and the best teams to be committed to the design of a vehicle for different markets. The most difficult car to design is a 'supermini' as it has to meet so many functions, but still be affordable and reliable.
Great Britain remains a major player in car manufacture and also in research and design. Do you think enough is done to promote the industry and encourage entrants into the industry?
I do not think enough is done to promote the role of Britain in automotive manufacture, design and research. In respect of design, Britain is pre-eminent.
It is difficult to know how to encourage the young in to the manufacturing or design side. Often there are 6-7 schemes running in parallel and need to be focussed. Autocar runs a scheme to encourage young people into a job within motor manufacturing. We have an angle, as we want to be seen as doing a good job and being ethical. If there was 'The Jeremy Clarkson Award' this would attract attention as he has a very wide constituency.
Is there a role for car journalism and do you have an influence on the industry?
Magazine such as Autocar appeal to about 3% of the motoring audience and we are aimed at the enthusiasts. Journalists from newspapers and so on read us, and this influences what they write, whilst people tend if they know a friend or someone in the family who are keen on cars, to ask them for their opinion before buying car.
The manufacturers read us and tend to know of a problem before we have raised it with them, but they hate us for confirming. Of course, they love it when we praise them!
Over the years, as a consequence of what we have written for instance, bad management has been replaced, component difficulties have been highlighted, all kinds of stuff; as such we do have an influence.
For instance, Great Britain has some of the most unique roads in the world and as such it is difficult to set up a car's suspension. Does Autocar work with the industry to help improve their products?
A lot of manufacturers come to the UK to test their vehicles. VW once or twice a year bring maybe 50 engineers to the UK and 20 different prototypes to test on UK roads. Likewise, Ford takes a lot of trouble.
On occasions, we at Autocar have taken out engineers from manufacturers including VW and Mercedes and driven them along our test roads in order to demonstrate the problems with a particular car, and periodically they have been surprised as they did not realise the problems existed. As such, Autocar has helped to bring about improvements.