The Secret Parts of Cars (part 2)

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From the UK desk…Paul Wimsett

In part 1 we discussed some of the neat secret parts designers work into a car to help it appeal to a consumer, but Mercedes-Benz has included a secret part strictly for its own good. Location circuitry which can be used to invade privacy and spy on you.

Not disclosing that a car has spyware that pinpoint its location seems controversial. We are talking 170,000 cars in Britain and it could be further afield too. Apparently according to Mercedes-Benz, it is not about permanently tracking customers, though the same equipment could be used that way so it is hard to see how it would not work like that.

secret-2725302_1920It should come as no surprise that this is illegal according to the laws in Britain, should it be used in that manor, which again is not what the car maker claims the circuits are for.

It is not known how long these “sensors” (trackers might be a better word for them) have been in operation. The fact that Mercedes-Benz didn’t tell anyone about their built-in tracker makes it seem more suspect. The fact that no other car dealer factory installs such trackers also makes it seem more suspect. It seems that Mercs are on their own when it comes to this practice, Land Rover, BMW and Volkswagen confirmed that they do not use similar techniques and as far as I know the same is true for other car companies.

Company -owned fleet vehicles often have tracking built in which that company can use to determine the location of property they own, which seems reasonable. Police cars and government owned vehicles also have built in tracking in case someone steels them. Citizens can have “lo-jack” equipment installed into their vehicle to aid in recover for the same reason. And of course, you can often use Sat-Nav to locate a lost vehicle. But all these things are intentionally installed “after-market,” and the people who can access this information are the legal owners of the vehicle.

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So why is Mercedes-Benz doing it? The idea is it should only be used when customer has breached the financial agreement and hasn’t made other arrangements. The ability to repossess a vehicle in America is limited to it being parked on a publicly visible location. Certainly, it would assist agents of the lender to know exactly where a vehicle is, and perhaps even when it will be at a location it might be more easily seized.

This is a big grey area for many of us. It relies on an interpretation of a person’s rites under the law, that is based on the notion a car is stolen when you are far enough behind on your payments.

Presumably other terms of sale could be made, or bailiffs could be brought in? And the fact that the cars are tracked 100% of the time is a reason to worry. We’ve only the company’s word that they only check the location when they need to take the car back.

The customer should know when they are being spied on and not disclosing this feature until it was discovered independently deprives consumers of their rites in my opinion.

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The Secret Parts of Cars (part 1)

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From the UK desk…Paul Wimsett

Leaving the controversial secret car parts for later, let’s start with the fun ones. Let’s begin, instead with the “not exactly hidden” feature. For instance, the “Curry hook” in a Nissan. This hook, about the height of your seat, allows you hang a bag containing your curry. This will make more sense when if you know that the British “pop out for a curry” the way Americans order in Chinese when they’re going to binge-watch their favourite show on the telly.

Then there is a gear stalk for the Volkswagen Golf in the shape of a golf ball. Again, these are maybe not exactly secret but just hard to spot.

brake-2026820_1280Now for some that are truly not visible. The Murano has a technique which is ideal for the driver either of less than average height or of greater than average height. It’s the ability to move the pedals both nearer to you and further away than you. It’s certainly a plus if you’ve ever got into a car and thought “These pedals are not designed for me.”

The secret vase in a Volkswagen Beetle is quite an attractive addition. Who doesn’t want flowers in their car? Quite a few people, now I think of it…

You might not expect to find sand in a car door but it can be discovered in early Lexus cars. This is used to deaden the sound of the radio, though it is debatable how much sand in a car door would fix this problem. An innovation which seems more complex than the problem, in my mind.

bmw-m3-e30-2995003_1920.jpgIf your hood gets stuck there’s an addition in the E30 which allows you to enter a screwdriver and make sure that the hood is released. This one seems so simple; you should be able to adjust things easily after all.

Not all secret parts are hidden or practical. The Spatz cars have additions which might cause a bit of confusion. Designers found they had room for a number of clocks on the dashboard. But instead of just having clocks they decided to paint on several analogue faces, just for design’s sake I suppose.

All this goes to show that the secret parts might help to sell a car, or alternately, confuse a potential buyer.

Keep a sharp eye out for the part two in this series, because there is a car out there with a secret feature that’s not strictly legal…

Lightweight Cars

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Caterham 7

“Lightweight” is a subjective term but many cars, usually sporty varieties have special techniques to get the weight down. Reducing the weight can increase road performance, cost to manufacture and fuel economy. Lightweight can refer to hardcore sports cars and many of the mass market cars as well. The challenge is to have the same horsepower as a more built up car in the lighter model.

There is the Caterham 7 for example which only weighs 1,201 lbs. They market themselves as “less is more” and with good reason. The tubular steel chassis is apparently important to make the car so light. Should you have the opportunity to see it on the racetrack you’ll be impressed with the Caterham’s fantastic top speed–155 MPH.

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Ariel Atom

On the other hand, the Ariel Atom might resemble driving a go-cart. The light weight is accomplished through what the company calls Lightweight Innovative Flexible Technology, which is car jargon for a “double unequal length wishbones” which is really just o a pair of flexible components which slightly resemble a wishbone. The suspension doesn’t just move up and down so dump that Y Shape in your mind’s eye and picture instead thick strands of hair. We’re assuming there’s still something wishbone-like about the design.

The way the Lotus Elise Sprint managed to shave off the pounds was by substituting carbon fiber for the metal used in making the car. The designers couldn’t just leave it at that, so they also redesigned the interior and added a new instrument panel with Bluetooth. It seems it’s not just about being light with Lotus Elise Sprint it’s also about creating a brilliant experience while you drive.

210300Another car which uses carbon fiber is the Noble M600. It is given the description “Superlight” by its marketing team. There are three different types of M600; the Coupe, the CarbonSport and the Speedster (the original version was the Coupe).  Perhaps the most unique feature here isn’t the weight but the fully bespoke interior meaning you have to design it yourself. Clever marketers call it an “unlimited color palette.” Could you design a car’s interior? Yeah, us neither.

mazda-1296295_1920.jpgAnother popular example is the Mazda Miata. In common with the Noble M600, it comes in three different trims; those being Sport, Club and Grand Touring. The Grand Touring price tag weighs the most. Despite the lightness in weight they still have both back and front suspension as well as power assist. Many of the cars above skimp on the power steering, but to be fair, lighter cars don’t need as much. Perhaps the Miata targets a crowd with a smaller physical stature.

ktm-x-bow-gt-photos-and-info-news-car-and-driver-photo-503669-s-originalThe KTM X-Bow GT may look like a racing car but it’s still a brilliant car to drive on the streets. The most unusual item that the X-Bow comes with is a luggage system, but it does have some additions which might suit a racing car, a center console, sun visors; a windshield with no actual frame and so on. The design calls to mind Tony the Tiger, but it sort of pulls it off, if that makes sense.

This is by no means an exhaustive list…there’s no end of light weights, and that’s okay.

The First Car Buying–Sage Advice Part 1

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Op-Ed by Paul Wimsett and A.R. Bunch

Let us talk directly to some of you on those of you late teens for this blog, with the voice of a couple car experts instead of your over-protective parent…which I’m sure have already weighed in.

There comes a point in your life as a teenager where you have “come of age” and require your own mode of transport. Though you may be tempted to look for a sports car, or even something like an SUV these aren’t recommended. Just like your “rents” have been preaching, the best type of car is a simple, late model, mid-size passenger cars. Here’s why…

This is about more than just trying to break away from being ferried around by our parents. It’s bigger and more symbolic than that; it’s a machine which can take you (within reason) wherever YOU want to go. Instead of, stand here at this time and I’ll get you, it’s be home by a certain time. The subtle difference is huge because now you are responsible for everything it takes to hit the mark and all the free time that responsibility creates. Therefore, the fastest way to more freedom with your car is to impress your parents with your car buying decision.

Making a good choice in purchase:

What you might not immediately consider are airbags but if you are learning to drive, they are definitely a good idea. Go for side air-bags as well. You might also look for an anti-lock braking system, just to be on the safe side. When you voluntarily pick a safe car, it signals your parents to worry less about you.

The first car might be one that we stick with quite a few years. After all, how long will it take before we can afford a new one? That being the case you can’t just buy the cheapest car you see, chances are that it will only break down. No, it needs to be relatively inexpensive, but operable.

You can avoid a lot of haggling with pros (car dealerships) by shopping private sales online. To avoid scammers, robbers, and worse kinds of creeps, mention that you’re going to have the car inspected by a mobile service like Tire Kickers. Be ready to pay in cash to make the purchase a simple transaction and bring someone with you who has some life experience. (Aunt Sally the x-marine will do nicely).

Obviously, never digitally hand over a deposit for a car you haven’t seen, just because the guy says he’s had a lot of interest—there’re actually a lot of decent cars out there so don’t worry.

Here are two pieces of advice that will serve you well in life–Don’t show your fear & haggle a little. There seller probable has more experience buying/selling cars that you do, but they don’t know that for sure until you open your mouth. Just nod and agree with what they say, and if the amount’s too high and they won’t haggle, the best thing to do is move on. Always haggle a little, because it actually reduces the remorse after the fact—wondering if you over paid. Just because they’re asking more than the car is worth doesn’t mean they need to come down in price, they might fail to sell it to several more people before coming to that conclusion. Sales fall through for dumb reasons all the time. Don’t let it get you down, just move on to the next car.

You’re probably noticing a theme to this section—don’t fall in love with the car before you buy it. That’s literally the job of a car salesman at a car lot—get you to fall in love with it before you talk money. So think logically about your car until you own it, then fall in love with it.

Is color important to a car? NO! go back and re-read the last paragraph! Holy cow, did you already forget the lesson. If you’re excited about the color you are not buying right. Look at the engine, the interior, the acceleration, the fuel economy, how suitable a car is for your needs. Then you can work out if it is the right color or not. (One exception: you can turn a car down if the color is too awful.)

What your Parents Aren’t Thinking:

Most teens assume that their Mom or Dad is primarily concerned with price. They don’t want you to overpay, but they don’t want you to drive an ancient gas guzzler either. Sometimes you might have to adjust your ambitions. Don’t worry about your parents; it’s probably you who will have to keep up with payments.

I know we just said to pay cash for the car, why are we talking about payments?

There is a way to finance a car and pay cash if you can pull it off. Some of the smartest teens we’ve interviewed were able to make an arrangement with their parents. They worked and saved up most of the down payment for their vehicle purchase. Then they looked around for the general type of vehicle they wanted and went to their parents with an offer. Match the down payment and co-sign a personal loan. This sort of loan isn’t tied to the vehicle. If you stop paying your parents will have to make the payments. Many banks won’t consider an unsecured loan because they want the title to the car as collateral, but with your parent’s signature and a sizable down payment some of them will. This allows you to take the amount of money you need out of the loan to buy the car in cash.

Paying cash gets you the best price on a car, usually, and by owning the title you can potentially reduce the cost of your insurance.

The key here is picking a car that your parents are impressed that you chose and try and keep to any agreed budget.

Good luck in buying your new car and here’s to safe driving out there.

PS if your parents don’t agree to help you buy a car you have only two recourses. 1) find ways to get better grades, a promotion at your job, and act more responsibly. 2) use your down payment money to buy a motorcycle…your parents will change there mind about the car…

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Gears and the Gearshift (for Youngsters)

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Op-Ed by Paul Wimsett and Andy Bunch

The old joke among generation X and Baby Boomers is that you can completely handicap a millennial by taking away their cellphone, giving them a manual transmission and writing the directions in cursive. Well, if you are want to understand gearshifts but don’t want to appear foolish by asking about it, here’s the skinny. Sorry, here’s the 4-1-1.

Those of us who grew up with gear shits are united by a common memory having the driver reach over and invade your space every time they needed to change a gear—which is pretty much all the time. The worst was the pickup trucks, which often had bench seats. If you had to fit in three people, and you lost the ro sham bo, you had to sit in the middle and move your legs all the time.

steering-801807_1920When car makers developed the automatic transmission, they moved the gear selector to the steering column which improved life immensely. As car makers increasingly started installing bucket seats in the front most modern cars have a “gear selectors” which looks like a gear shift, but instead of manually operating a physical gear box the way a manual stick shift does, it merely selects the gear for the automatic transmission.

(On a side note: some high end sports models allow for a manual operation of the automatic transmission by adding functionality to the gear selector.)

But by far, the biggest difference between manual and automatic is the amount of time it takes when first learning to drive a car.

To Operate a Manual

Since we know all of you can already drive a stick I know you’ll all be skipping this section, but just in case you don’t know how…

In order to engage the engine the driver must depress a pedal on the floor, called a clutch pedal. This disengages the engine from the drive train which powers the wheels. With the clutch depressed the driver must select a gear and slowly release the clutch while applying some gas to keep the engine from dying while it must re-engage the drive train. It’s a bit of an art form, officially known as “feathering the clutch.”

car-interior-1834270_1920The difficulty of feathering the cutch goes up exponentially when you’re attempting to start on a hill. The dreaded “hill start” is so bad because the moment you depress the clutch the car begins to roll backwards. The answer to going uphill is getting the engine engaged quickly. So effectively the driver must engage the engine before the car runs into another car behind it, but not so quickly that it kills the engine instantly.

If everything is going well there should be a slight vibration. Only now should you release the clutch pedal. Should you wish to accelerate further continue to take your foot off the foot pedal and put your other foot on the accelerator pedal.

Do you always need a gear shaft?

Not necessarily – sports cars often have levers known as paddles. One paddle shifts up a gear and the other down. Formula One cars also have paddles but they are mounted on the steering wheel. This complicated procedure is definitely not suited for the amateur and even paddles haven’t made their way into the mainstream. However, paddle shifter on the steering wheel in place or a gear selector on an automatic transmission has made it into the mainstream, but this isn’t the same thing as a true paddle shift.

Special Accommodation

It can be hard for those with either limited mobility or arthritis to operate a manual gearshift because it requires a certain amount of force. Instead a special adaption needs to be made or purchased. One way that they work is pressing a comfort handle rather than adjusting the gearshaft itself. Clearly an automatic transmission is way to go, depending on your disability.

Automatic Transmissions have proven themselves reliable and simple to operate. They are easier to learn to operate and make the entire process of learning to drive simpler. They can also reduce driver fatigue for city, stop-and-go, driving.

So are Manual Transmissions Obsolete?

Not exactly! Manual transmissions are a bit more fuel efficient, because a human intelligence can keep the engine in neutral at stop lights. Most stunt drivers agree that manuals give them better performance when precision moves are required. Other than heavy traffic, most drivers who know how to operate a “stick” prefer them over automatic.

Here’s the real difference that no one really talks about. An automatic transmission is a complicated thing. It’s more likely to breakdown and when it does, it’s more expensive to fix. The other issue is that manual transmissions can be rebuilt from pretty simple parts. It’s possible to get these parts long after that particular car is no longer manufactured.

Automatic transmissions are so complicated inside that rebuilding them isn’t cheap and soon the internal parts aren’t available for order. Then the only source of a replacement transmission is a junk yard. Even the junk yard becomes difficult eventually. How soon depends on the popularity of the vehicle you bought, but generally things start getting hard to find after 10 or 12 years.

So when you buy an automatic you’re basically buying a car with a shelf life, which seems counter to the ethics of most environmentally conscious millennials.

The Car Collapse

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Op-Ed by Paul Wimsett

For this blog we are going back in time ten years. So picture it in your mind — Lost and ER are on the on TV. Barack Obama had just become president and Sarah Palin began her comeback. The Internet of Things, Alexa and Siri’s parents was born. And on your car radio Bleeding Love by Leona Lewis or I Gotta Feeling by The Black Eyed Peas are playing. And the car business took a strange turn that no-one could have predicted.

The economic events of the period between 2008 and 2010 are best known for the mortgages and stock market crashes but they were also detrimental to a number of car businesses.

In a bad economy people look to save dollars and while it was harder than ever to get a loan if you did need to buy a new car, you were looking for a deal. America made large, expensive, vehicles with bad fuel economy. A crash then combined with an energy crisis to drive sales of vehicles like as SUVs and pick-up trucks to rock bottom. It got so bad in the United States that Chrysler and General Motors needed to be rescued by the government.

For the US government to step in and help a business goes against the grain of what America stands for in the eyes of many of her citizens. Survival of the fittest is the core of any free market and it guarantees the best price for goods. However, the thinking at the time is that if a giant part of the economy, such as the automotive industry, failed too many jobs lost would send the economy into a death spiral. There was no other way to keep the economy stable and allow people to keep buying.

Pre-crash, in 2005, GM’s factories were performing at 85% of capacity. This may not seem much but it was a pattern to be found in other businesses too. So the term too big to fail started getting tossed around. Of course what “too big to fail” means is “too big to let fail.” The idea goes all the way back to 1984 and Stewart McKinney, though its true source probably predates that. Even in 1984 the term was controversial.

A CNN/Opinion Research poll said only 36% of the public supported the bailout. What people may not realise is that there was in fact two bailouts to the car industry, the second mainly going to General Motors and Chrysler. Part of GM’s bail out included an odd sort of bankruptcy that allowed them to default on certain loans. They were allowed to zero out stock that didn’t belong to the government or union members. It was not a good deal for most Americans.

automotive-74070_1920The lasting memory in the minds of “Big Auto” was how only really excelling at selling gas guzzlers had left them vulnerable. After all, this was the second time that a large scale economic crash had knocked out the auto industry. The first time was in the 1980s. When the economy got going again this time it found the American automaker throwing everything it had behind convincing its fans to buy hybrids and electric cars.

While the move to EVs and hybrids made fuel economic cars, suddenly needing to retool factories and develop new designs raised the price of all American vehicles. Then there’s the uncertainty of whether electric and hybrid cars will even stay popular.

Given that the economy is not stable long term we’ll most likely see another test of the American auto industries ability to remain viable. Given that they haven’t made cars more affordable they’ve only dealt with half the challenge of selling cars during a down turn. In fact, it’s not an original solution its just copying Asian car makers into an obvious decision.

So has the American auto industry learned anything from needing a bail-out? You decide.

 

Can We Live Without Vehicle Insights?

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Op-Ed by Paul Wimsett

First what are Insights?

Your car’s computer gathers and transmits information about how your car performs under various conditions—like when you’re stomping on the gas.

According to IBM

“IBM® IoT Connected Vehicle Insights extends the power of cognitive computing to connected cars, acquiring data from sensors and systems to improve the in-car experience. Today’s cars are moving data centers with onboard sensors and computers that can capture information about the vehicle and access it in near real time. IBM IoT Connected Vehicle Insights is an IBM Cloud service that you can use to retrieve, manage and analyze big data from connected vehicles.”

It’s all designed to improve your business, or so says SAP.com.

It’s about optimizing your fleet. Instead of drivers checking in via CB radio, dispatchers know everything about where you are, what speed and direction you’re traveling. They know when you’ll need to refuel.

Does it sound a little invasive? Yes! But it also allows logistics companies to optimize everything they do.

It is meant to go hand-in-hand with monitoring inventory and warehousing. For example, Walmart is pretty famous for their distribution model. While the specifics are a proprietary secret, in general it involves using the content of trucks as part of their warehouse system.

In an old logistics scenario, trucks would pick up an entire order from a factory when it’s completed and taking it to a distribution center to be stored until loads are dispatched to stores. Now trucks pick up smaller batches of product daily as they are produced. These trucks can swing by several factories or warehouses in a day so their load contains a mix of products. Then when a store orders a case of inventory the nearest truck can drop it off on the fly.

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When it comes to day-to-day operations, the number one cost for logistics business would be fuel costs, hands down.

A logistic business is one which organizes movement of materials.

The key with vehicle insights is that all the information is fed live to the company.

It produces graphs which might mean nothing to you unless you have a degree in statistics, but it all amounts to time and motion–saving time and reducing the amount of motion (that is movement of traffic) involved. It’s about knowing where all your vehicles are at any one time, and what’s on them, so that you can reroute them on at a moment’s notice.

It is hard to think of cars or trucks as “moving data centers” but this is how IBM puts it. Nor is it easy to imagine what they call “big data” coming from such a business, but that’s another way of saying that there is a huge output of data available to analyse.

What about unsafe practices:

How do you know that a specific driver is keeping to the best rules of the road?

Car insights are used to monitor driving performance and decision-making. Only a few years ago this was accomplished via putting the company phone number on it’s trucks so virtuous members of the public could report bad the behaviour of drivers. Many companies also employed a “governor” which limited the maximum speed of it’s fleet vehicle.

But times have changed. Nowadays the driving patterns can be investigated at a distance. The idea is that drivers will take fewer risks if they know someone is watching. Whether that’s true or not, hasn’t been statistically proven. Clearly it’s not a popular feature for drivers who don’t enjoy being micromanaged. Most drivers who are forced to be conscious of how they are driving are more stressed and perform more poorly than drivers that are simply paying attention to the road and not to how they’re driving.

Weather and Traffic—the real benefit:

Perhaps the biggest blessing to drivers themselves is aiding them with unfamiliar weather conditions and constantly changing traffic. When one vehicle hits a traffic slow down it will notify other vehicles to try an alternate route. It will also let a destination know that their shipment is delayed.

In summary, car insights allow companies to see problems for themselves and do more with the information, which can translate to money. However, this could also mean less and less freedom for drivers in such enterprises. Safety and money is one thing, but what is the real toll on the health of drivers who feel like they’re under a microscope all day at work?

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.

 

The Word about Electric Cars

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It seems that many manufacturers are looking at electric cars to save the car industry, but what do the people who drive vehicles say about it? Does it look like a viable option?

Here are the pluses and minuses according to Debate.org.

PLUSES

It seems to be relatively cheaper to charge a car than to fill up a tank of gas. An average tank of gas costs $45 but an electric car takes $10 to charge.

Operating an EV puts out no toxic engine toxins emissions which improves are quality—an environmental plus.

Apparently electric cars look better than gas powered cars. This must be taken with a grain of salt based upon the particular audience polled for this debate It’s surely possible to make gas powered cars look as good as the electric version, but one can certainly observe that the intent of manufacturers to create a certain aesthetic.

Because there isn’t engine noise, EVs don’t create noise pollution.

Some believe that environmental practices need to change across the board and starting anywhere is a first step to a better world. That putting the cart before the horse for a time is okay because the horse will catch up eventually.

MINUSES

It is probably unlikely that electric vehicles will stop pollution as the electricity needs to come from somewhere. Many people acknowledge that you are just changing what you’re contaminating the environment with.

They also have a greater risk of breaking down in the middle of the street. This means the national transportation grid is weaker by the amount of EVs on the road. What is the cost financially and environmentally for having to roll more tow trucks out each day? No one knows because it’s not PC to ask.

Another uncomfortable truth is that it takes from thirty minutes to eight hours to charge the car up. This is all right if you want to use the car just to head out to the work; it’s not quite so good if you want to use the car throughout the day.

On the topic of refuelling–there currently isn’t an extensive infrastructure to support refuelling. In order to overcome the time factor, many grocery stores are creating charging stations so you can refuel while the car would be sitting idle anyway. This begs the question, how are state and local governments going to recoup the road tax on these vehicles?

EVs have a limited range. So do ICE cars. But with the time to refuel it’s more of an issue to run out. Also you can’t walk to the closest station and bring some electricity back with you. You essentially turn every out of gas experience into a costly tow.

Many people feel that “green washing” draws money and focus away from really dealing with transportation issues on a larger scale.

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The result of the Debate.org’s poll was 65% of people were pro electric cars, while 35% of people were against them. As Jack Gillis of the Washington Post experimented with owning and operating an EV and concluded that, though there was a significant tax advantage to buying an EV they weren’t more intrinsically cost effective. Once Congress discontinues the tax incentives the market could vanish. The real answer is to create a sustainable market for EVs but it’s difficult to manufacture consumer demand. It’s also likely that oil companies will mettle with any attempt get this industry to function on its own.

But whether you back the gas side or the electric side things do seem to be up in the air at the moment. So what about the best of both worlds, the hybrid?

The hybrid’s ability to generate it’s own electricity unchains it from the long charge time and short range. It takes the need for a tow back to normal levels. It does away with the short mileage issues and you won’t need to create an entire special infrastructure to accommodate its need to charge. Then again if you don’t force people to use electric will they build the infrastructure and are you really saving the environment? Well it’s a step in the right direction, a baby step, but perhaps a sustainable baby step.

It may be that, or back to the drawing board.

 

Free Spirit and Cars

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Advertisers tend to have a problem marketing products to the free spirited, but not so much with cars. It’s understandable, the idea of having a car and obtaining your freedom.

kombi-2400356_1920No one likes to think they are susceptible to advertising, least of all the Free Spirit. That’s why advertisers go to what they call “the Sage” or “the Yoda.”

When selling to the average car consumer its all about luxury, so the standard advice is “sex sells.” The Free Spirit tends to desire living within your means—not they always do so, but its an ideal to hold up to. So this needs a work around in any campaign.

Honda’s Power of Dreams campaign might be one such example. It is based on making our dreams a reality, which is slightly different campaign from just marketing to a free spirit but is still in the same ballpark. It uses 3,000 illustrations in a flip book animation of an engine turning into a real car in the hopes of inspiring innovators to come and work for Honda. Many innovators can be found among Free Spirits.

It’s always nice when you can advertise a job and reinforce your brand at the same time. But does Honda’s Power of Dreams work? It probably depends on what you’re measuring. For sales, yes, Honda is the most sold car in many markets, including the U.S. Not so much on the race course, it seems. In the recent Red Bull race, Honda took third place.

Maybe too much success is a bad thing, as noted by Honda’s advertisement called “Failure: The Secret of Success,” set in Honda’s race industry. It consists of many interviews with engineers, which doesn’t sound like a riveting advert to me, but then I’m not an advertiser.

adult-2822644_1920What kind of Ads you ask?

The free spirit and the open road are a theme on TV advertisements but also can be seen on billboards. One local billboard entitled “raise the roof convertible” depicted a man in sunglasses driving and a woman with a parasol sitting on the hood of the car. Talk about mixed imagery. So sex and free spirit work together in some adverts.

Cars names Free Spirit

On the subject of marketing a number of brands have used the Free Spirit name, though you might not have heard of any of them. The Buick Century Free Spirit Pace Car for example was created to celebrate the bicentenary of the United States. Obvious the colors were red and blue the design was wavy lines, bringing to mind the Stars and Stripes which almost everyone associates freedom—except Hippies, the biggest Free Spirits of them all. Rather something more associated with patriotism than “anything goes.” Ironically, despite being a “free spirit” car it seemed to be made for roads, rather than being an all-terrain vehicle. Definitely designed for someone tied to the system rather than a free soul.

 

Free spirit car movies

Linking a film about a free spirit and a car seems like a good idea, though as with most things nowadays it started off on social media. A road movie about a school dropout making the journey across America, the van has a fiery design with a symbolic coyote. If you haven’t heard of Free Spirit, that may be because it was a short film and wasn’t shown in most theaters. Nevertheless the use of vans with the Free Spirit images worked well as a promotion. It was especially popular at Universities.

So even if you are free, prepare to be targeted by car advertisers! And watch out for tricks by “the man.”