Seeing the USA in a Van

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By Paul Wimsett of the U.K. Desk

It seems madness to live in a van, but the caravan has had a long history. But when it comes to taking a road trip across America it surely is the only way to travel.

Although many people do own camper vans outright it takes out so much of the hassle to hire them instead.

Companies such as Campervan Hire USA feed off people’s wanderlust to see the sights around the USA. (Although Campervans are used abroad the idea of hiring a campervan for a limited period seems to be an idea confined to the USA. It may have something to do with the narrowness of roads elsewhere). You have a choice of traveling from A to B or taking a round trip. You need to be over 21 to drive a camper-van and you need to have had a license for more than 12 months.

Luxuries…

car-3314753_1920.jpgWhen it comes to luxuries you have a short list: a stove, clean bedding, pots and pans, table and chairs and a fridge. Presumably the fridge has somewhere to store frozen goods, which can be a matter of controversy. You hope for quite a substantial spot but many only have a tiny “most cold corner of the fridge.” There’s nothing like travelling all day to make one want to snack.

Technicalities…

What might worry people is if they pay to go on a trip and they do not take the whole journey. Do they still have to pay the same amount of money? No, because it all comes down to the recorded mileage. If you are traveling from another country you can even get a reduction on your flight.

Special Types of Camper-Vans…

With all these hire firms there are number of pick up centers throughout the USA. As well as general campers, it is possible to hire what is known as an “A-Class Motorhome”, also known as a RV. Opinions vary on what an A-Class Motorhome is, but the consensus is that it’s an RV built on a van frame that doesn’t require altering the basic shape of the vehicle. Class A’s do accommodate larger groups – for instance four adults and two children—where a typical caravan is better suited to a couple of surfers and their boards.

Pre-Trip Prep…

If you’re from a place like England traveling to America it’s important to remember that even though the culture isn’t radically different, some of the climates you encounter are quite different. Do you have the right clothes for the climate? That’s the first question, you’d ask for a trip to a location, but this is a touring holiday. If you plan to explore New Mexico for instance and you research weather in New Mexico, everything will indicate that the place is generally warm. Then you learn how close you are to the Rocky Mountains and you decide its worth a few hours just to say you’ve been there. Well if you don’t want to pay tourist prices for a jumper it’s vital to plan ahead.

The Trip Itself…

roadtrip-4087903_1920.jpgThere are a number of things you need to remember such as booking the campsites. You also need to check they have all the amenities you need.

The big shocker for those of us from small, but populous places like Java, Japan, or Great Britten is the distances in America. It feels strange just how far apart things are. And while petrol seems cheap compared to home, if you want to explore the West coast and go from Phoenix to Seattle that’s 1441 miles. No matter how cheap price per liter its a hell of a lot of diesel.

The right tool for the job…

We’ve spoken a lot of Class As and simple caravans, which are more dissimilar than we’ve perhaps described. Here’s why it matters. The motorhome/RV is no good in urban areas but comes into its own in the country. If you have in mind, hitting the world’s longest yard sale in but you also want to hit the statue of liberty then you have an issue on your hands. The better vehicle to navigate the streets of “The Big Apple” is a small camper van, but a Class A will provide more comfort on the open road.

The answer any American will give you is to fly into New York and site see for a couple days, then get out of the city to pick up a descent sized Class A and start traveling. Almost any direction you go will provide mind blowing things to see and neat people to meet.

Where to go…

boat-1834837_1920.jpgWe can’t include it all here, but assuming you started in New York, you could drive North and see Niagra Falls, Boston where you can’t throw a crate of tea without hitting a bit of history, then head to main for some lobster. Or, you could head south and go to the nation’s capital where you’ll catch as many museums as America has to offer in one town. (In America 17 museums in one city is a lot, so try not to bring it up London’s 250.)

If you head west there is so much to see but you’ll learn just how spread out America can be. It’s truly impossible see it all if you had a year, but go ahead and throw a dart in the map, you’ll find adventure and friends wherever you go. The most boring state will take more than a day to explore and you’ll never be bored. (I confess that Yanks love our accent, which helps you make new friends and if you speak engine, well, good like buying your own pint.)

Resources…

The websites will refer to “tumbleweed deserts” to “palm lined” roads, but it’s important just to see these as brochures. See if you can find someone online who has actually taken a trip and can inform the best ways to enjoy the trip and stay safe.

By the way, the English version of an ugly American tourist is to say you’ve been to the states and then confess you’ve only been to Walt Disney World in Florida. However, instead of a scowl or good withering look, a yank will smile in amusement. They take for granted that we’ve all glanced at a map and noticed that Florida is one extreme corner of the country and the park is built for fanciful amusement. Expect a follow up comment along the lines of, “Ahh, well your seen it all then.”

But the unexpected truth is, real America is shockingly more amazing than the place they built to escape reality. So what are you waiting for? Explore what’s out there.

 

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A Look Ahead To 2019—for Commuters at least

 

car-3866120_1920Trying to predict the future of the automobile is like trying to predict the weather. There’s the farmer’s almanac method which examines the last century of trends and cycles, then mathematically predicts what’s most likely to happen. Then there’s the meteorological method which involves Doppler radar, satellite imagery, and computer models. In this method, well-educated experts analyze the data to produce a percentage chance of an outcome—usually, something like it will rain or not, odds are 50/50.

There’s a third method that involves Granny Clampett and a beetle she keeps in an old matchbox…but in all seriousness natural observation can’t be completely discounted. It’s maybe odd that the first two methods don’t involve stepping outside and looking up.

So let’s take a look at the automobile, it’s industry and environment in 2019 from all three viewpoints.

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The Market/Industry

The automotive version of the Farmer’s Almanac might be the Cox Automotive Dealer Sentiment Index. It says that the fourth quarter of 2018 was not as profitable as it could have been and the market may be heading south.

The meteorological approach would see a number of new tariffs for the market put there so that we might compete with China for manufacturing jobs. This includes all the pieces which make up a car, the engine, the tires, the transmission shafts and so on. But manufacturing jobs will be hit hard by automation in 2019.

Fewer imports mean less crude oil burnt to bring goods from China, but a bigger cut to fuel consumption is coming from electric vehicles. This is where we get some conflicting indicators. GM is closing plants because it gambled on hybrids that no one seems to want to buy. So fuel economy may not be the single biggest driving force in market decisions. And the current power grid and generation level can’t handle charging all those cars, so it’s not likely that electric cars (EVs) will quickly supplant traditional ICE Cars (internal combustion engine).

If EVs are truly more reliable and the cost of fuel, which has come down, is the big car consumer driver then we’re heading for a big oil surplus in three to five years, along with cheap used cars, and almost no new ICE Cars being purchased. This will mean a temporary boon for repair shops as the driving public buys cheap surplus used cars to exclusion of new cars (unless they’re EVs). For more on that theory see our post from 12/28/18.

The tariffs won’t hit for a couple months into 2018 and then we’ll get a better idea what the impact might be.

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Financing

The Almanac student would point to the fact that new cars price tags have gone up and up. Some of this could be that EV’s are in development phase more than really in the production phase. Companies like Tesla have released their luxury versions first because it’s better able to absorb the high cost of buying something so new to the market. Even as Tesla moves on to more consumer-friendly car models their price won’t fall until they get into their second and third rendition (where new the new model uses the old assembly). Also, more EV manufacturers will enter the market and need to go through the same cycle.

If we exclude EV’s entirely we still see a trend to more expensive new car prices as the amount of mandatory safety features increases every year. However, it’s likely that the big driver of cost in cars is that makers aren’t able to sell as many. The reduced demand should bring prices down, but not if automakers believe that the people opting to not own a car are a cheap car buying people.

In other words:

  • Generationals aren’t as interested in driving
  • Jobs are concentrated in population centers where parking is scarce, gas is expensive, and mass transit is an option,
  • While baby-boomers are staying in the job market longer, they’re finding other ways to get around.

With young and old not buying cars, that leaves only the more affluent of the smaller generations to market to and they’re not as afraid of a high price tag.

The car meteorologist would notice the number of creative financing options popping up. (Whoever heard of an 18-year house loan, right?) Well, if manufacturers think the answer to their woes is to sell fewer, but more expensive cars, then it’s likely we’ll see longer term car loans. Many experts are predicting that your FICA score will become more volatile as technology can now track your income and debt down to the minute. It puts the whole subprime loan process into a new light.

Assuming all the above is true we’re looking at a giant used car market coming, which could see lenders sending consumers to car inspection services, to verify the condition of their next purchase as early as June 2019.

One way dealerships and automakers might partner to respond to changing conditions are with leases and cashback services. The idea is to make cars more like cell phones where you buy the car but the trade in value follows the market better when you return it to the maker’s official dealership. Then you can turn it in toward the new model. One could imagine it coupled with levels of extended warranty so that after a year you can upgrade at a good trade-in price and the next buyer would get a special extended warranty based on mileage. This might sound like what already happens but it’s not. This plan would take some of the sting out of the new car depreciation but offer people more flexibility that they have with a lease.

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Type & Trend

The car meteorologist says there is a host of new EV and hybrid models coming out, including the Lexus UX HUV and the Jaguar’s i-Pace. There are also new manufactures entering the market. A startup called Rivian (https://www.engadget.com/2018/11/27/rivian-electric-truck-suv-r1s/) is going to enter the market in 2019.

The car almanac reader says it’s a bit too early to tell if EVs area fad or a revolution. Most of the time cost of operation is a major influence and power rates may not always be cheaper than gas and diesel. Many new technologies have false started a few years before they actually took off. The more expensive the item the slower it’s adopted.

As for dealerships, CarMax has become the number one used car dealership in the world based on volume. But their system isn’t perfect (you can’t get it inspected pre-purchase) and just because they have a lead doesn’t mean they won’t get competition. There’s no barrier to entry for their system. In fact, it’s likely that they’ll get at least one big competitor in 2019.

Certainly, the appeal of new models means new car dealerships will thrive, but what about long-term? It seems that optimism is declining in both new car sales and used car sales. The optimism for used car dealerships is down to about 57% from 60%, according to the Kelley Blue Book. It should mean that when new car dealerships are declining that used car dealerships pick up, but that doesn’t seem to be happening and it’s not clear why.

One thing is likely, 2019 will see hybrids start to fade as European clean diesel and longer range EVs start to take market share.

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Car Design Trends (Mid-engine Mainia!?!?)

The car meteorologist points to sudden interest in mid-engine design. Mid-engine cars aren’t new. In fact, it’s basically the first design for cars (see 1901 autocar). It’s common sense that placing the heavy engine closer to the back wheels increases torque and evenly distributes the weight. It’s become quite the rage in sports cars where performance is more important than a back seat. But Chevrolet is gambling on a mid-engine Corvette in 2020. (Note that cars stated as 2020 are sold in 2019. An advertising gimmick, but it confuses some people.)

A mid-engine just means it has an engine located centrally between the axles. Confusingly, there is also a rear-mid engine type car. It’s possible that automakers who embrace EVs will go to a low engine/battery compartment that sits entirely below the seats and between the wheel wells. This might enable them to build all their car lines on the same base frame and engine platform. Imagine a thick car-sized surfboard with wheels attached that you can just attach seats to and then add a body over.

The car almanac reader says that certainly, the SUV fashion will remain. At least Ford is banking on it by bringing back the Bronco. The last Bronco was manufactured in 1996 but in order to compete with jeep, the design has been rejuvenated. In many ways, it looks more like the Ford Ranger than the 1996 Ford Bronco.

 

afterfx-custom-jeep-2774671_1920In Conclusion

Is there a devastating storm brewing that will leave the American auto industry in turmoil or is it just shifting from ICE cars to EVs?

The car meteorologist would say that apart from giving cars a facelift and what appears at concept car shows is relatively unchanged from past shows.

The car almanac reader points out that new trends move slower with expensive items (like cars) and the current power grid won’t sustain an army of electric cars. Unless the government does another round of incentives it’s unlikely EV’s will grow their market share drastically in 2019.

So the net answer is the American Car Maker should be able to ride the storm if there is one, but no one really knows, except perhaps Granny Clampetts weather bug. The weather bug has rolled onto it’s back and started wiggling its legs, so 2019 will ease in deceptively slow, but big changes are coming in the spring.

PS if you thought we’d update you on autonomous driving cars…well, the weather there changes by the minute. Look for stretches of long desolate highway in the southern Midwest (Arizona/Texas) to be upgraded with paint and electronic location devises so that driverless semis can be tested. The shortage of drivers and brutally boring sections of road with relatively stable weather conditions make it a good place to implement automated driving. Market forces will power this so it will happen, but maybe not 2019.

But Granny’s weather bug remains convinced that we’re five or more years away from regular use of AVs. That’s a controversial opinion these days, but Granny stands by her bug.

Could the Christmas Car Traditions Be Under Threat?

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You might not immediately associate cars with Christmas, but how else do you visit malls and other stores? Driving home has become a tradition. In some cases, we’re driving home from a tree stand with the corps of a perfectly good conifer shedding needles all over your interior of affixing pitch to your roof. In other cases, it’s the dreaded winter road trip to Nana and Pops. The drive there is hallmarked by your children brimming with the excitement of presents you hope you got right. The drive home is equally invigorating as your kids have just ingested a year’s worth of sugar.

There will be 100 million cars on the road this Christmas, according to Reuters. But will this number be the same next Christmas? Shopping on eBay and Amazon might damage the tradition of shopping on the Mall and Skyping your relatives may soon replace driving home. And Christmas traditions are the ones we least like to change.

Sure there are good reasons not to travel at this time of year, but let’s face it, most of our favorite holiday traditions are inseparable from a degree of misery. We certainly need the company of family and even the sociability of shopping in the Mall (though it might not feel like that at the time.) The key to success here is remembering where the car was parked.

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Some cars might be less suitable for shopping than others. You’re going to need a car with a fairly large trunk. The same thing applies for driving to and from the relatives. The key to success is when you should pack the car. It’s a good idea to pack the car the night before to save you dealing with the darkness. (I know most of us to forget and struggle out with heavy loads in the darkness.) Another trick is to take regular breaks during a long journey and bring some food and coffee to sustain you.

Another tradition that people have, though it is by no means widespread, is traveling to your nearest and dearest delivering cards and wishing them season’s greetings in person. E-mail and text message are a poor substitute. Sure you’ll catch some folks off guard but if it’s someone you only get to see once a year then do it personally? They will be glad to see you.

There are two good reasons you might want to take an Uber or taxi to and from your Christmas parties. Of course the first is if you’re intending to drink. (Let’s face it you’ll be stuck around your family all evening—your going to drink.) The second little bonus is that your family can actually track your approach or verify that you’ve made it home. See there’s one upside to the modern age.

Another new technology you might incorporate is using an Alexa, or similar device, to come up with a playlist to keep you busy on the journey. Be sure to include songs for you as well as the kids. It reduces stress if you do this sort of things beforehand.

One technology we’re not recommending? There are new devices being advertised this year, that simplify the use of video conferencing so that it’s easier for seniors. To this, we say, “roads converge for a reason and that is surely so we can meet up.” Skype is hardly the same thing. Contrary to the commercials out there, anyone over forty can’t have a meaningful conversation with someone over Skype.

Seniors merely pretend to like Skype conversation, something just doesn’t feel right. And how is a Skype visitor going to eat Christmas dinner or unwrap presents? It’s a bit of a confusing “visitor”, all-in-all.

We’ll stop short of calling it a piece of technology we don’t really need. If you want to give that device at for Christmas so your family can engage more richly and more often than they have been, great! But it’s not going to replace a visit for Christmas.

So, why shouldn’t you get your car out of the garage this time of year? Well, obviously do not drink and drive. But in general, Christmas celebrates the spirit of giving in the middle of dismal winter. It’s the inextricable paradox of giving when it hurts. Christmas traditions remind us that hard work and fun are married and the people in our lives are the presents we really want.