Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Another Possible Car

I'm developing a hankering for the Peugeot 306, though a part of me says no. The Peugeot is available very cheaply here, and there are quite a few of them. It also fulfills my crazy requirement that the car I drive not be available in America.

However the car seems very plebian. The interior is high quality, but it feels a little too middle class European socialist, devoid of character, and made with midlevel office functionaries in mind as they tootle along the crowded and small highways of Europe identically at the same speed. It looks dehumanising.

Ok maybe not. If I can just find a deal on Chevrolet Lumina coupe v6 model.

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

I Need a Car or I will Die

Taking a cab in this city is quite easy. There are an abundance of them. Getting to your destination without trouble is another matter entirely. Cab drivers aren't the most professional, and I have had to deal with at least two who did not know where either my hotel was or where Dubai Media City was. Dubai Media City is one of the biggest landmarks in the city, and is where Dubai has put most of its international media companies. In short, a cab driver should know where it is. And then there's the cost. While it is cheaper to ride in a cab in this country than in many places in the West, it's still expensive. A car would be cheaper for me, and would allow me more freedom to decided where I want to go. And everyone else has one, and I'm a lemming.

What do I do? My options are limited in many respects. I can easily afford a new sub-compact, like a Suzuki Swift, Opel Corsa, Peugeot 206 etc. But I'd rather not. These cars are very affordable, they don't use much petrol, but they are underpowered, and small. That makes them dangerous in my opinion. A car that size would easily be destroyed by a large SUV. And with 45 degrees celsius (113 degrees fahrenheit), temperatures outside with 90 percent humidity, I need a car that has a sufficiently strong engine to both cool me and maintain adequate highway speeds. I need a v6 engine. I think.

I have ridden in a 1.4 litre car, a Peugeot 206, and the air conditioning was far too weak. The interior of the car was quite nice, but its small size had me worried about safety. So I need a little larger. Perhaps Ford Focus size.

I really want a car that I can't buy in the US. This limits my choices, but it also has helped me to focus on just a few models. Here are my choices so far:

2006 Ford Focus Euro spec(used or new)

This I can afford. The car is of much higher quality than its American counterpart and it is filled with airbags. Unfortunately I can really only afford the smaller engine model, a 1.6 four banger. I don't know if this is strong enough to cool the interior and go fast. I will have to test drive.

2004-2006 Chevrolet Lumina

This car is based on the Holden Commodore. I have a friend who owns one, and it is a really great car. It's also not available in the US. The downsides are small: I have a friend who owns one, so perhaps I should buy something different, just for excitement's sake. Also fuel, while still cheap, won't nearly be as cheap as the Focus. It seems wasteful to drive a huge V6, especially if it will be carrying just me everywhere. But its size adds to its safety. I'm torn.

Suzuki Swift

Many of the same issues I have with the Ford Focus I have with this car. I have read great things about it, and it looks great. But it's small size bothers me. And most of the people who drive it seem to be women (buying a car for men is the equivalent for women of the purchase of an article of clothing). Fuel costs will be negligible. I wonder about its safety in an SUV environment. And I think it will be sold soon in the US.

Ford Mondeo

A really high quality vehicle. There are lots of them available used. The interior is fantastic. The cons are that many of these are taxi cabs (yes I'm a classist pig). And the exterior is a little bland. But the car is not sold in the US, and is cheap. And big and safe. Strong possiblity.

I don't think I will get a car until June at the earliest. Any advice from my readers is welcome...especially if they live or have lived in the Gulf.

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Seatbelts Optional

The driving habits of the developing world can be summed up in one word: "interesting".

I have not yet bought a car, and I routinely share cab rides with my colleagues back and forth to the hotel my company has put me up in for temporary accomodation until I rent a place. Many of my colleagues find it interesting that I wear a seatbelt while in the back seat.

In the UAE it is legal to NOT wear your seatbelt in the backseat. You have to wear it in the front seats.

To many people, the only incentive to wearing a seatbelt is the law. There is no concept of safety in many people's minds here.

Why? I recently was watching the Discovery Channel in my hotel room (for those of you who don't know, most Arabs speak English quite well and prefer English language television and movies to their own), and I saw a special on the history of automotive safety. The show replayed old interviews with Americans in the 1970s, about then newly legislated laws requiring seat belts. All the Americans argued against them because they felt that seatbelts were too constricting.

Nowadays, most Americans and Westerners in general, especially those living in countries that mandate the wearing of seatbelts, wouldn't think of being in a car without one. In our minds, safety is the reason for wearing them, with the wrath of the law coming in a distant second.

I think the reason for this is that Americans and Europeans have been subjected to a never ending stream of safety films on the dangers of not wearing belts. In short we have been brainwashed. But I believe it is for a worthy cause. Seat belts DO save lives.

This country is made up of people who do not comprehend that yet. The result is a considerable death toll. Dubai is still a small city, with only 1.3 million inhabitants. Yet according to the Gulf News (the leading English language daily here), the death toll is in the hundreds, well over 300 per year. This is a stunningly high number.

It won't change anytime soon unless the government commits to horrifying people with both statistics, graphic re-enactments of deaths on public television and education in schools. Will it happen? I think so. In terms of the impact car crashes have had on the region, the King of Bahrain's 13 year old son was recently killed in a traffic accident. It can affect anyone at anytime.

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