Thursday, February 22, 2007

today : I go car shopping

i've been thinking about buying a new car. luckily i am in a position to get one and it's interesting looking around to see what's on offer. i'm not a car nerd. if i had millions i would probably buy a ridiculously fast and expensive collection, and i would enjoy them. but i don't buy car magazines or even know anything about cars to any depth. I know a bit, but it doesn't interest me. in fact, even though i enjoy watching top gear on the tv i find the obsession with driving promoted and reflected by that show faintly pathetic. there are, as i see it, two types of drivers : those who see a road network as their own personal race-track and those who see a road network as a way of getting places. again, don't get me wrong, fast driving is thrilling, but not as thrilling as staying alive and not having the deaths of others on my conscience.

none of this is really my point. my point is that i get bored easily when faced with brochures and technical detail. i am also bored by car salesmen. some of them are excellent, but a couple, when i have stated my disinterest in detailed technical description, have treated me like they treat women and patronised me. one guy, when he pointed out features on a very nice car, explained what each feature did as part of the naming and pointing process. this went as far as saying : cruise control: by pressing these buttons you can make your car go at any speed and (drum roll) you don't have to touch the pedals. the best one was: the sun visors, which apparently you can slide down to stop the sun getting in your eyes when you're driving...

so anyway, i was looking at my options. when selling cars in britain, the car companies seem to have this idea that we are roughly 20 years behind the rest of the world technologically. it is only recently that they have started offering aircon as a standard option and then only in mid-price and higher price ranges. They are also obsessed with the tiniest dividing lines between grades of model. the gxsi l model has electric front windows but manual rear windows and a tilting sun roof, the gsxi LS model has the same but a sliding sun roof and a cup holder, the gsxi ls plus has electric windows front and back, a sliding sunroof, a cup holder AND brushed aluminium door bezels. It is also 7 grand more than the gsxi L. well worth it, I'm sure you'll agree, especially for those 8 square centimetres of brushed aluminium that look like high-school-project ash trays

So, as part of considering one model of car, there I was with a brochure containing one of those tables that lists all the standard and optional equipment on different models. it turned out that on the list was a car that comes complete with a radio cassette player. Just a reminder if you've lost track of time: it's 2007. This was basic model, but even the basic models cost thousands of pounds. For an extra 7 percent of the cost of the car you can upgrade to an AM/FM Radio CD player with RDS! Fantastic!

I use audio equipment as an example, but here in Britain you can still struggle to find a car with ABS or electric windows as standard. And the car industry in their unnecessarily thick and glossy brochures still list these features as if they are part of some tomorrows world techno future. As if I can't go to B&Q and buy an air conditioner for my house for a quarter of the price of having air conditioning fitted in my car, as if anything other than grey vinyl as an interior material is so exotic that it is almost beyond the realms of imagination, as if a switch that opens the boot of locks all the doors or

Quite frankly it's bizarre. This kind of attitude redefines the word disingenuous. It is almost as crazy as that of record companies.

Looking at the higher end and newer models I found that hardly any of them has mobile phone connectivity. One model had integral bluetooth and infra red so you can use your phone via the audio system. yet this car offers no charging or cradling options for an actual phone. One of the main brand new models that is apparently packed with innovations offers a CD player that (wait for it) can play those new fangled MP3 CDs. The salesman told me that he didn't understand it, but apparently you can get more songs on a disc, or something. When I asked about iPod (other MP3 players are available, by the way) connectivity his head exploded. A wifi/usb connection - for designers and marketers who think that a radio cassette is more appealing than an empty space in the dash this is tantamount to making a car with a flux capacitor as a standard option.

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