Lotus Elise
Lotus Elise (iStock)

“My dad’s point of view on cars, and the stories he told about them, made them more interesting to me than just a pile of metal and leather. They were about people, at the end of the day.” 

Since the first car ran down Woodward Avenue in 1896, Detroiters have been obsessed with automobiles. The metro area is, after all, known around the world as the “Motor City.”

This moniker was earned early in the 20th century when Detroit produced more cars than any place on Earth. Today, as a global automobile research and technology center, Metro Detroit still deserves its nickname.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
Alene and Graham Landau Archivist Chair

As much as the Motor City represents the manufacturing of automobiles, however, it is a city where car culture may be the ruling culture. A driver’s license is a right-of-passage in Detroit, not quite as important as a bar or bat mitzvah, but not too far behind. Most of us fondly remember our first car (mine was a tiny, used 1965 West German-made NSU Prinz that cost $250). Some of us also spent a lot of time working on our cars, whether an antique car in a heated garage, or while lying on the driveway beneath our heaps, trying to make them faster or cooler, or just operate for another week.

Many of us also dreamed of owning a fast and flashy piece of iron, whether a Ford Mustang, Pontiac GTO or Dodge Charger, or a BMW, Ferrari, Jaguar or Porsche. In fact, just a drive in a really exotic automobile might be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

2022 Mustang Mach-E
2022 Mustang Mach-E Ford Media

Some of us, however, get to live and breathe automobiles every day, drive all sorts of exotic cars and write about them for our “work.” Metro Detroiter Eddie Alterman is currently living this dream, and, yes, many car-lovers like me are very jealous!

A somewhat typical Detroiter regarding automobiles, Eddie grew up with cars and with people who loved them. Born and raised in Huntington Woods, he is the son of Mickey and Sharon Alterman. He graduated from Cranbrook High School and earned a B.A. in English from the University of Michigan. 

Eddie, 50, of Franklin, is married to Kari Alterman; they have two daughters. You may know Kari from her work with the American Jewish Committee and the William Davidson Foundation, among many other activities around town, including being a founding board member of the Detroit Jewish News Foundation.

Kari and Eddie Alterman
Kari and Eddie Alterman

In 2009, Eddie was named editor-in-chief of Hearst Magazines’ Car and Driver, the world’s largest automotive publication. Ten years later, he became the Chief Brand Officer of Hearst Autos. In that position, he helps shape the editorial and business strategies for such publications as Car and Driver, Road & Track and Autoweek. This year, Eddie launched a new podcast: Car Show!, a collaboration with Malcolm Gladwell’s Pushkin Industries.

Eddie Alterman, The Car Guy's Car Guy.
Eddie Alterman, The Car Guy’s Car Guy. Luke Dickey

Obviously, Eddie has had and continues to have a very cool career. I had to know — how did this happen? So, I asked him a few questions:

JN: Any family members in the auto industry? If so, was this an influence upon you?

EA: Not in the industry per se, but my dad was and is a huge car enthusiast. He had lots of projects going on in the spare bay of our garage on York Street in Huntington Woods. This crept into our relationship in the best possible way. I was always interested in what he was driving, whether it was a Porsche 356 or a big-block Corvette, and he loved telling me about why he bought what he bought.

Embedded in the stories of the cars was always some important story about life. Cars like his 1950 Buick, for example, belonged to his adolescence and memory, and expressed his ambition and optimism. His Jag E-type was a story about racing heroes, the folly of the English car business and how great design could overcome even the most finnicky Lucas electrical system.

My dad’s point of view on cars, and the stories he told about them, made them more interesting to me than just a pile of metal and leather. They were about people, at the end of the day. 

JN: How did you get into a career as an automotive reporter?

EA: I always wanted to write about cars, but the first step entailed me walking into the offices of Automobile magazine at 120 E. Liberty St. in Ann Arbor and begging to work there. I became a “motor gopher” — my job was to wash and gas test cars, and sometimes deliver them to editors in far-flung locations.

I thought it was the best job in the world. I still kind of do. Imagine it — a 19-year-old gets the keys to a brand-new BMW M3 or Lexus SC400 and gets to drive it all over the place. My dream had come true. It continued from there.

Cadillac Celestiq EV
Cadillac Celestiq EV

JN: What do you consider to be the most important benchmarks in your career as an auto writer?

EA: My time as a copy editor, in the trenches at Automobile, taught me how a story comes to life. Starting mph magazine in 2004 taught me how to build something from scratch and how to lead talented people (mainly by getting out of their way). Writing for the New York Times taught me the power of great editing.

Getting the editor-in-chief job at Car and Driver taught me the responsibility of speaking to a huge audience, and the importance of the grand gesture. Starting the podcast Car Show! with Malcolm Gladwell reinforced the importance of trying new, often scary things, later in life.

JN: What important attributes do you possess that have contributed to your success?

EA: Curiosity, mainly. I think my need to understand how and why things work has forced me to ask the deeper questions. I also credit the great education my parents and mentors gave me.

JN: Did your Jewish heritage have any impact upon your career?

EA: My grandmother always said that self-praise is no recommendation, so I’m not saying I’ve achieved full mensch-hood yet. But menschlichkeit has always been a strong concept in our family, and I’ve tried to live it in the business world. It’s gone a long way toward helping my career.

JN: Tell me about test driving cars. Is it as fun as I think it is?

EA: It’s probably even more fun than you think it is. Imagine being able to drive a Lotus Elise behind a gravel truck and not worry about the paint! Or fill the bed of a pickup truck with muddy ATVs in the name of science.

I’m kidding, somewhat. We don’t abuse our test cars. But I will say that cars remain the best way to get anywhere, and discerning the differences between models is a delightful way to earn a living. 

JN: You were editor-in-chief of the leading auto magazine in American history — Car and Driver. How did this experience impact your career as a journalist and as
a car guy?

EA: It was nothing but a blessing. I got to work with the most talented people in the field. I got to air my crazy theories about cars and the car business. And I got to speak to the smartest audience in the category.

My job now is to oversee the editorial strategies of three great American magazine brands — Car and Driver, Road & Track and Autoweek. I’m not sick of cars yet. Must get that checked out.

Hearst Autos

JN: You engaged with online reporting and websites early in your career, perhaps, earlier than most auto reporters. How and why? What are the challenges in the digital age? 

EA: The challenge, to me, has always been to take the values of a given brand and apply them to new platforms. For example, Car and Driver, in print, always stood for fun, for hardcore car testing and for being on the reader’s side.

How do we transfer those values to the digital realm? Well, we used our testing, our engaging writing and our respect for the audience to help people shop for cars and demystify the increasingly complex retail environment. 

JN: What is the future of auto reporting?

EA: More lone wolves. When I started out 30 years ago, if you wanted to write about cars, you had to land a rare job at a car magazine. Now, you can just hang your shingle out on YouTube or Apple Podcasts or TikTok and learn how to build an audience. It’s wonderfully egalitarian.

But I can’t say enough for the value of deep reporting, getting the facts right and smart presentation — all those things make a given piece of media trustworthy and, ultimately, worthwhile.

JN: What was your first car?

EA: Let’s say my 1988 VW Golf and leave it there.

JN: Which car was the most fun to drive?

EA: Hands down, the Ferrari LaFerrari.

JN: If you could own just one car and money was no object, what would you have?

EA: The 1962 Ferrari 250GT Short Wheelbase. Maybe the coolest car that ever was. Perfect proportions, that great V-12 engine and still drivable in traffic today (but you’d have to be nuts to take an $8 million car down a crowded freeway).

JN: Is there a singular event or person that you consider a defining memory?

EA: My cup runneth over when it comes to defining memories. Driving a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing in the Mille Miglia Storica in Italy. Taking Land Rover Defenders through Wadi Rum in Jordan. Driving Mount Fuji in a right-hand-drive Nissan Skyline GT-R.

Meeting heroes like Richard Petty, Stirling Moss and Denise McCluggage. It’s all been more than I ever could have asked for back when I was washing and gassing cars in Ann Arbor. 

JN: Thanks, Eddie! Now, I’m really jealous!! 

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