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Friday, September 09, 2005

Living without a Car

This blog has become very peculiar in that it is about cars, and I no longer use a car. Because I have moved to London and am just starting out in my career, I can neither afford one, nor see the use of one. If I were to buy a vehicle for transportation, it would most likely be a motorcycle or scooter at this point.

This is the first time in four years that I have not had my own car. It isn't too strange of a feeling for me because through college I also did not have a car. I am used to living with a city's public transportation system.

It's quite obvious that cars have immense advantages to public transportation. Probably the most important is safety from the elements, and then closely followed by safety from others. Public transportation forces you to interact with your environment in sometimes uncomfortable ways.

Living in a city with as dense a population as London means having a car would be not only expensive, but a great hassle. Parking is a rare find, and being able to legally park on a street without getting towed or a ticket is quite expensive due to the cost of the sticker that allows you to park there. Though there are probably millions of cars in cities like New York, Chicago, Paris, and London, a car's true usefulness is left to wider open spaces. As human populations move closer and closer together, the vehicles we use as transport "downsize". This is a necessity.

As I walk around, I use muscles I normally wouldn't use too often, see things more closely that would normally whizz right by my sight in a car, and smell and hear things I normally would have drowned out by a combination of my car's sound system and air conditioning. I must be honest, it's a good feeling. Even though I love cars, and the auto industry, and will continue to read about it religiously, I feel that I should be making use of what is left of my youth by actually experiencing the world and community around me. A car much of the time destroys that. In a sense this was one of the reasons why I wished to move out of Los Angeles, where I grew up. Los Angeles is the antithesis to community, and the very definition of urban sprawl. Cars have become little fortresses steaming along plain looking highways and byways, the individuals within them oblivious to the fortunes and misfortunes of their fellow citizens.

So I will continue to write about cars, though I am undoubtedly now a hypocrite. But I will not drive them. At least for the time being.

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Quick Note:

Can anyone explain to me why the new 2006 Cadillac DTS is priced exactly the same as the current Cadillac STS, yet the only difference is that one is FWD, and the other is RWD. Why doesn't Cadillac have a 7-series fighter?

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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

European vs. American brand views:

Automotive News has a great article concerning brand viewpoints, or rather how the average person views a brand. They specifically concentrate on those brands that are "premium". The article unfortunately is only availabe to subscribers and can be found here. Below is an attempt at a chart comparing the views of what is premium in America verses what is premium in Europe. The American views are based on common sense and my opinion.

European:

Alfa Romeo--near luxury.

Audi--near luxury, slightly more upscale then Alfa.

BMW--clearly luxury.

Cadillac--not seen as luxury, not well known, usually sold at a discount.

Jaguar--High end is premium, X-type drags down brand a little.

Lancia--only premium to Italians.

Land Rover--seen as hard to define. Near premium overall.

Lexus--NOT seen as premium to anyone but the British. Still not well known outside UK.

Maserati--Premium but legacy is based on old racing victories.

Mercedes-Benz--still loved despite quality problems.

Mini--seen as premium.

Porsche--another example of perfect premium.

Saab--struggling to be premium.

Volvo--Not really premium, small cars in range hurting status.

American:

Alfa--not in America, not really well known anymore. Since Maserati has had a successful rebirth in America relatively quickly however, there's no denying that this brand could achieve some kind of premium status if it were to return however.

Audi--This brand might have a higher reputation in America than in Europe. However I think the A3 brings it to a more pedestrian level that Americans aren't used to seeing. Like Europe it is third fiddle to Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

BMW--Like Europe it is quite premium. The 1-series introduction on this side of the pond probably makes it a little less premium, but otherwise there's little noticeable difference.

Cadillac--Another startling difference between Americans and Europeans. Cadillac is well received in America, and is one of the few gems in GM's lineup in America.

Jaguar--I don't think the X-type has really harmed the image of Jaguar in America. Jags are considered premium, but I think the reason they don't sell is that they just have a poor quality reputation, and really don't make competitive cars in terms of fighting with BMW and Mercedes. Both Europe and America see this brand problematically.

Lancia--No brand identity whatsoever in America.

Land Rover--Yet another striking difference. Land Rover has a fantastic image in the US. It is undeniably a premium brand, and in some ways the ONLY premium SUV out there, or at least premium SUV lineup. Sure Porsche has an SUV, but it really is seen as a specialty vehicle. Land Rover are seen as experts in the field. Perhaps not selling the Defender in the US is a good thing.

Lincoln--Here is another difference between America and Europe. Lincoln in recent years has suffered tremendously, but its domination of the livery market in America cannot be denied. You actually DO see Lincoln limos over here, but they are rare. No brand identification in Europe. More of a near premium brand in America.

Lexus--Another surprising difference between continents. Lexus is perhaps only second to BMW and Mercedes in America, maybe even higher than Mercedes in some areas.

Maserati--Yet another difference between Europe and America. This is seen as a very premium brand in the US.

Mercedes--Like Europe seen as flawed, but still competent. Probably more of a premium brand in the US because we never see the Mercedes busses, and vans that are over in Europe.

Mini--Not seen as premium in the US. Certainly seen as premium for its class, however size is important in America, and no vehicle that small is classy to Yanks.

Porsche--Europeans and Americans see eye to eye on this one. Definitely premium.

Saab--Again not seen as premium. I don't know if this brand was ever seen as premium in America at all.

Volvo--In my lifetime this car went from a Saab alternative, to a luxury brand in America. So long as there is no vehicle introduced that is smaller than the S40, I think this brand will continue to be viewed as premium in the US.

In general Americans see more brands as premium than Europeans. I suppose since the car market in Europe is more fickle than in America, because owning a car is so expensive and many make do without any vehicle, that Europeans will be more picky on what is luxury and what isn't. Americans see almost anything European as luxurious and premium. However we also see Cadillacs and Lincolns, and Europeans could care less for those brands. I think the success of Acura too shows that Americans are more than willing to consider anything priced over 30k with leather seats premium. Sad but true. There seems to be a greater emphasis in America on appearing rich than in Europe. Thus the greater emphasis on luxury in America.

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Monday, September 05, 2005

Hurricane Katrina, and the Aftermath

Part of living in the world of peak oil means that any disaster, revolution, war, any event that can even briefly affect the price of oil, if it occurs, the price will skyrocket and in the short term dramatically hurt the American economy.

The New Orleans disaster could not have come at a worse time. With a significant percentage of our oil being drilled and refined in the Gulf area, the hurricane has directly caused a significant change in gas prices.

And yet some analysts insist that nothing is wrong:

The consensus among analysts of fuel prices is that a gallon will drift back to the mid-$2 range and settle in. Even if it stays north of $3, Schnorbus contends the super-sized vehicles will not go the way of dinosaurs and horse-drawn wagons.

"After a couple of fill-ups, as painful as it might be, people will get on with it," he said. "As much as we hate paying those prices, we're not ready to give it up."

Said Bill Morie, president of the Georgia Automobile Dealers Association: "A lot of people like the fact that they feel safe in them with their kids. There is still a big market for them."



Umm, no there isn't. I don't understand how these analysts can make statements not based on any statistics. To be able to make broad generalizations about an industry based on gut instinct is insanity. Most Americans simply cannot afford to continue to use their SUVs. IF they are in leases, they will trade in their vehicles for smaller ones. If they are ready to buy another vehicle, it will not be a new SUV.

The American marketplace is being dragged to a European model of car consumption whether it likes it or not. There will be some differences. For instance, because America does not have the comprehensive public transportation and short distances that Europe has, Americans will be much more dependent on ride sharing then busses and trains. But cars will become smaller, diesels and hybrids more prevalent, and SUVs will go the way of the dinosaur.

Why won't gas prices go back down? Quite simply because consumption will not go down, nor will new sources of crude be found in the world. America is no longer the only nation that consumes a great deal of gasoline. Europe's economy grows daily, as well as China's and India's. As the material lives of millions improve across the globe, so does their consumption of oil related products go up. Changes in the American economy have become less relevant in an economically diverse world, with more than one economic superpower.

The smartest thing Americans can do now, is reduce their consumption. This isn't a political statement, it is a survival statement! Downsize your vehicle as soon as possible. Look for employment that is close by, find a carpool, or move closer to your work. Use public transportation if possible. You can no longer be dependent on your government's ability to protect, nor hope for the best and pray that a disaster does not strike somewhere in the world where the tenuous supply of oil is threatened. If you can reduce your consumption to the point that there is more breathing room in your budget, then if an oil catastrophe strikes again as it has in New Orleans, it will not affect you so much.

Remember, if the price of oil goes up, literally everything else will too. To be able to have a more efficient household means being able to protect yourself against ever more hostile winds of change.

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