The JN learns how Detroit native Tamara Warren became fascinated with journalism, which led her to develop Le Car, a mobile car-shopping concierge.
Photos courtesy of Tamara Warren
1. You shared excerpts from your travel journal back in 2000 in the JN called “Opa’s Odyssey,” detailing your experience traveling to your grandfather’s hometown of Dresden, Germany. What inspired you to delve into his life and experience as a Holocaust survivor?
I was 23 at the time. I had done a project on my grandfather in college, and began working on a larger project — I moved to downtown Detroit to be closer to him. My grandfather never spoke publicly about the Holocaust, and I was the only one he talked with about it. We were very close — I was his first-born grandchild. He was this incredibly warm, awesome man.
At James Madison College at Michigan State, I met a professor, Ken Waltzer, who was a huge mentor to me when I was a freshman. He created this whole independent study, and I went and visited the concentration camps where my grandfather was. Ken trained me to be a critical thinker.
We made a short film and we took it to a couple conferences. I continue to write about it and it’s still part of my work. It really launched my writing career.
2. As you worked on the project about your grandfather, you became enthralled with journalism. How did your career blossom from there?
When I moved to Detroit to work on the project about my grandfather, I landed in the middle of the cultural arts center of Detroit. I knew a lot of musicians and I helped them with projects like writing liner notes and planning their tours. In the process, I met people overseas who were interested in music, and started writing columns about Detroit techno, music and art around that time. I love probing and getting the story, and I love telling stories about people who didn’t always get an opportunity to tell their story.
I didn’t care what I wrote about, it was just the idea of the challenge and thinking about who the audience was. It launched me on this crazy journey. When techno really exploded in Detroit, people started to recognize that I started writing weekly for The Detroit Free Press on music.
3. How did your career shift from primarily writing about music and art to the automotive industry?
Things were drying up in the media in Detroit along with the rest of the economy, but I was dead-set on staying with writing. My dad had worked in the car industry, yet I had no interest. But I am also of the school of old-school journalism where I believe that a great exercise as a reporter is to take on subjects that you’re not necessarily an expert in and dig deep. I took an internship at Auto Week, where I was taking on projects where I was totally out of my league and just learning. I thought it would be short-term thing and I would move on and find a staff job back in the arts.
Around that time I moved to New York City. I kept writing about art and design, but I was becoming more comfortable with cars. It was just this incredible connection back to Detroit. Even though I didn’t grow up as a typical gearhead, I became really excited about the industry’s impact.
4. What has been your career trajectory as an automotive journalist?
I had regular writing gigs for Vibe magazine where I was a car writer. I began to write more for traditional car and automotive media sites as well. I had a car blog for awhile and I wrote for The New York Times for five years for their automotive section. And meanwhile, I’m going to race car driving school and test-driving cars!
Once I got so deep in it, I felt obligated to keep telling the story. The recession came and The New York Times times shutters their car section, but in the meantime, some of the tech publications started to think about transportation and technology. Vox Media has site called The Verge, so I was the first transportation reporter and then I ended up being the transportation editor. I was new to tech, but I used the same approach as I used for the other things I’ve covered. I learned even though journalism has gone through so many ups and downs, it has been a great way for me to stay creative.
5. How did you develop the idea for your new business venture, Le Car?
A few years ago, I felt like my impact as a writer wasn’t what I wanted it to be, and I wanted to think about the audiences I wanted to serve. Essentially, I wanted to think about empowering people, and thought, “what if we shifted the idea of how we create information to serve the individual?” It’s back to that idea of audience. When you understand who you’re talking to, you can give them better information.
Le Car helps people buy their perfect vehicle based on their wants and needs, drawing from automotive journalism. People, especially women, spend on average 75 hours shopping for a car. While I think the industry is complicated and there are so many levels and reasons that it is this way, I felt maybe I could add a unique perspective and serve content to people in a way that was not so traditional that could help them — and make something more joyful and empowering.
What I think is most important to people these days is their time. If I can simplify that process, that’s my goal. When I was in Detroit, we were chosen for Techstars (a mentorship-driven accelerator for businesses). We are in the early stages of launching. We are doing testing and rolling out to a number of users, and understanding how we can better serve them. We’re beginning to see where we fit in and how we can shape a better experience that draws from journalism, education and research.
My co-founder is my mom, Henriette Warren. She retired from an agency called Detroit Central City where she was the COO and vice president. She has always backed and supported my ideas. My other partners are data scientist Saul Lee who used to work for General Motors, and Melody Lee who was the director of brand marketing at Cadillac and the director of BOOK, their car-sharing app.
6. When are you officially launching Le Car, and what can users expect?
We will be launching around the beginning of 2020, but people can test it out now in the app store. We went mobile first because we found that is how people are shopping and researching.
It’s different than anything else out there and is meant to be fun. There are questions about how you think — the psychographic mentality of someone shopping and what that means. It really is bringing storytelling and technology together and using a creative approach, but drawing from an objective, well-thought out experience.
7. What are some interesting facts about you?
I have an 11-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter. My husband, Lee Quinones, is an artist in New York City, so that’s why we live here. He’s a true New Yorker.
I am very happy to stay connected to where I grew up and that I’ve found a way to incorporate it in the next chapter of my life. I’ve spent every summer in Detroit since I’ve moved.
And my grandfather is still pretty cool — we just found out that in Dresden, where he’s from, there is a tribute for his business. We also have a scholarship at Michigan State University for Holocaust studies in my grandparents’ name. Click here to learn more about the scholarship and to donate.
Tamara Warren is the founder of Le Car, a mobile-first personalized car shopping concierge. She has written for over 130 publications including The New York Times, Car and Driver, and Vibe. She is the former transportation editor and senior transportation reporter at The Verge. Tamara is a current juror and former US director of the World Car of the Year. She has appeared as a guest on ABC World News Tonight, CBS, CNBC, Too Embarrassed to Ask, Cheddar, The History Channel, the TF1 network and the documentary feature Autonomy. The Detroit native divides her time between New York and Michigan.
Find Tamara on Twitter @tamaratam and Instagram @tamarawarren
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