Hachette Parks Auto Titles in In-House Ad Net

Having spun off five of its enthusiast magazines and slimmed down its management ranks, Hachette Filipacchi Media is turning its attention to its car books, hard hit by the U.S. auto industry meltdown.

Sales of Car and Driver and Road & Track will be combined with Jumpstart, the vertical online ad network that Hachette bought in 2007 for $84 million, under the umbrella Jumpstart Automotive Group. It will be sold by a single sales force that will be paid on their total revenue haul, regardless of medium.

Steve Wilhite, an automotive marketing vet who ran Jumpstart, will be CEO of the new group. John Driscoll, vp, group publisher, will become senior vp, chief brand officer for the titles, mirroring the approach that Hachette chief Alain Lemarchand applied in March to Hachette’s women’s and shelter mags, including Elle and Metropolitan Home.

Driscoll said the changes formalize efforts to cross-sell the print titles and their Web sites with Jumpstart’s network of sites like Consumer Guide and Vehix. And with auto advertising down 47.5 percent in print in Q1, per Publishers Information Bureau, the car books could use the help. Through July, Car and Driver’s ad pages fell 20.7 percent to 451, per the Mediaweek Monitor (rival pub Automobile was down 34.1 percent, to 289). “Things have been paralyzed a little bit with what’s been going on in Detroit,” Driscoll said.

At the same time, 1.3-million circ Car and Driver and 723,245-circ Road & Track will  upgrade their paper stock and downplay news in favor of features like Focal Point, a new photo spread in Road & Track which will be sold online. Both titles also will relaunch their Web sites this summer.

Still, speculation persists about Hachette’s intent to keep the car magazines and, for that matter, the rest of its portfolio.

People knowledgeable of the company say that Hachette French parent Lagardère Active has little vested in those titles because they’re not broadly licensed overseas and unlike most of its portfolio are male-aimed. Even so, the auto books are said to be highly profitable, and their new organization could make them more saleable, which would free money to bolster the company’s remaining magazines. Some expect Lagardère to eventually exit the U.S. market but continue to publish the U.S. Elle, an important source of editorial content for overseas editions, under a licensing agreement.

Lemarchand maintains he’s committed to investing in and growing the remaining assets, and is said to be on the hunt for digital sites to bolster those groups.