Saturday, July 11, 2009

Rant: My American Car

I would like to drive an American car. I don't believe that the problems with American cars stem from the poor workmanship of greedy, inept unions. To the contrary, unions have gone out of their way to make concession after concession to Big 3 management. My uncle and godfather was a union man in Pittsburgh. He worked for a company that made train car couplers, and I know that he worked hard and well. I have no reason to think otherwise of his Michigan compatriots.

But I digress. Every time I rent an American car, I hope that it will be the one that convinces me to make the change. Unfortunately, every time I rent one, it reinforces my opinion that they are second rate. Take the compact I've been driving for the past two weeks. It's reasonably peppy and handles fairly well. It's even comfortable enough, as far compacts go. But it's poorly designed to an extent that one wouldn't think possible in these days of sophisticated Computer Aided Design and simulations.

For starters, blind spots lurk everywhere. I have to contort my neck in all kinds of positions to check them all. In heavy traffic, this is not only a pain, it's dangerous. There are so many that by the time I'm done checking, a car could have entered the initial one. Then there's the trunk, which I can't see even when I turn my head. On the surface, that doesn't sound like much of a design flaw. But try to parallel park a sedan without a visible trunk to serve as a gauge, especially while checking myriad blind spots.

Then there are the relatively minor inconveniences, like being unable to tune the radio to an open frequency. As the car is not MP3 device compatible, I wanted to use my iTrip to listen to my iPod. When synched to a open FM frequency, iTrip allows one to listen to an iPod through a car's FM radio. iPods having been a part of international popular culture for over five years now, it's inconceivable to me that a car sound system would be unable to accommodate one.

While returning from Galway late this afternoon, I found myself in need of a sugar bump and stopped by a convenience store for a soft drink. I put it into the drink holder and quickly discovered that I could shift the stick without my knuckles hitting the drink bottle. As I say, a minor inconvenience. But...

...these are known design requirements. iPods have been around for five years, drink holders longer than that, and parallel parking even longer. A first week Driver's Ed student knows about the problems posed by blind spots. Why aggravate these problems by designing more than a car would have normally?

I appreciate that design involves tradeoffs. But Japanese designers never seem to have to make these tradeoffs. Why is it that American designers do?...

While in Galway, I bought what looks to be an indispensable title to lovers of Hibernian literature: Kenny's Choice: 101 Irish books you MUST read, by Des Kenny. Des is the proprietor of Kenny's Books, the grand dame of western Ireland book stores now an on-line operation. I'll be listing the titles along with links to more information about them as I progress through the book.


Roy said...

Hmmmm.... The Jetson's car with the bubble top would be a timely invention now, it seems. Should we let Detriot know it's time for life to imitate art?

Anonymous said...

Every time I rent (buy another) American car, I hope that it will be the one that convinces me ( I made the right choice !) to make the change.

With 8 people to ferry I am not going Prius anytime soon. With my latest of 3 straight Suburbans I am wishing I had another 94 instead of the 99 I traded or my current 03. The 03 came with remote devices for the DVD player that never ever worked. The passenger's door doesn't open half the time, the driver's window mechanism broke and the window slid down into the door. The back wiper doesn't work. The spare tire is positioned under the rear of the truck which in WNY is assanine in lieu of the salt used on roads in winter. Twice I have had AAA drivers unable to get the tire to release. I finally had to have my shop cut it off and now it is bungied in the rear inside deck. The engine light has been on for 4 years and 6 different shops have had a crack at turning it off yet it prevails. You think that fuse would go at some time... When Toyota releases its 8 passenger SUV ( I know the Sequioa except I cant afford one !) I'll think about it. I want to keep buying American but it's a bit of an abusive relationship just now. Sorry I should see a therapist I know !!!