A weekly guide to all that’s rotten about car ownership, plus some good bits
Home or car? Car makers offer vehicles more plusher, more comfortable to live in than your home. Can you do without one or the other? The photograph above is the choice a lot of Americans make where they have to drive great distances for work, carry more than two people and a lot of stuff in the back. They buy an expensive pick-up trick and live in a trailer home.
What car does a Scot buy if they don’t have the price of a flat (apartment)? My motto is, always pay the least that you can to own a car. Cars lose value soon as you own them. A decent flat or house will accrue in value … until the next economic crash.
If you make long distance journeys to work or intercity, a small two-seat car is probably not the one to choose. If it’s only you, or you, your life partner and one child and a toy dog, a small car should be just fine. The cost of food, rent, rates, or mortgages are sky high and increasing every day as Brexit adds a whole load of uncertainty about where this nation is going. Investing in expensive cars is a liability.
There used to be a saying, after a house, a car is your next biggest purchase. Well, these days a lot of people can’t afford to buy a house, but they can just about purchase a car, if not new then pre-owned. Car makers are wise to this dilemma. That’s why they offer small cars that looks like a gentleman’s’ club swathed in leather. And you get all the modern age gadgets and flashing lights.
Then again, there are cars that cost the price of a small apartment, but I guess if you can afford to throw money at a luxury barge you will already own a house.
In California, Arizona, Mississippi, South Carolina, and some parts of New Mexico where non-Adobe style houses are allowed, couples put their money into their car or pick-up while living cheap in a large permanently parked trailer home. They’re sometimes called static caravans.
You’ll see a $70,000 dollar classic car or luxury pick-up next to a paint peeling three-bed caravan that costs $50,000 dollars to buy, plus monthly fees for water, electricity, and sewage services. There’s always a big dog chewing a bone on the porch in the sun. The poorest who live in them are nicknamed ‘trailer trash’ by those who feel better off, hence a flashy car and a big dog become substitute status symbols.
At the last count over 20 million Americans lived in mobile homes and own two cars per property. The wealthier the state the less caravan living carries a stigma. Unlike city life there are no parking problems.
Over two million Scots live in tenement flats of various eras, an average five storeys – 99% of them ludicrously without an elevator. Flats have no parking unless built in the last twenty years, and that will not be underground, but visually a mess scattered around the building.
We also live in bungalows, a form of house design still considered lowly yet an ideal unit for a family. Bungalows usually come with driveway and garage or street parking. At what point in its design a bungalow becomes a villa is anybody’s guess, but some owners prefer ‘villa’ to hide they live in a bungalow.
However, bungalow or flat, property owners and renters are quick to tell you which brand of car they drive, especially if a premium brand, a Volvo, a BMW, a Lexus, or a double cabin Toyota Hilux pick-up. Yup, we’re definitely going the American way. Just need to knock the dust off that baseball cap and junk the woolly head gear.
We don’t have a large trailer culture in the UK. but we are placing more and more emphasis on our mode of transport as house prices remain way beyond the affordable for the majority of us.
Some basic flats now cost hundred’s of thousands of pounds, and have next to no parking bays. In the main door stairwell you’ll find lots of bicycles, some chained to the stair railings, a damn eyesore and a circulation trap.
New homes built under the auspices of the SNP, affordable houses, usually in terraced rows, more or less a perpendicular town house style rather than tenement, have cars of good value parked in their driveway. The SNP did their homework. We like cars.
Forced by neo-com ‘libertarians’ – a contradiction in terms – to become self-employed a lot of folk need a vehicle to assist the job they do, or a white van. Expect to see a lot of white van man’s wagon ruining the careful landscaping of affordable housing schemes, in the same way affordable flats have balconies crammed with washing, dead plants and a bicycle, a plethora of satellite dishes screwed across front elevation walls. (In the US new apartments have roof satellites built in that tenants hook into. We’re not so smart.)
Here, people are prepared to add luxury extra’s to their car, no matter how modest is the vehicle or the house they live in. Some will go as far as buying a lock up, (garage) a few blocks away, where they can keep their precious vehicle safe, but still rent a flat.
They won’t, however, invest in a new kitchen or a lick of paint to brighten up the home. The car will get a make-over, the house sofa remains soiled and sagging. Often the car demonstrates more taste in design than you find in the driver’s flat or bungalow. I know one bungalow dweller in Edinburgh, garden greenery traded for crap industrial pavers. He parks his campervan by the house and his £90,000 Aston Martin DB9 across the busy road in a layby. There’s nonchalance for you, boyo.
West Virginia has the third highest proportion of trailers in the US. And in the rolling hills near the Shenandoah River, amid the country roads made famous by John Denver’s signature song, there are any number of mobile home parks, usually tucked away from view, up the hill or round a corner. Trailers are largely a US phenomenon; our winters are too cold to sit in a thin walled caravan getting tartan legs from a paraffin stove.
Again, car makers are quick to spot lifestyle choices. They realise you don’t have to be an autocratic businessman to want a rear seat that is a surrogate copy of your office. Below is a concept from Renault, shown at the Paris Motor Show. Renault says it wants to “re-invent life on board”, turning the car into a place for work, rest, play or relaxation. Anything we might do at home or the office should be possible on the move. We’re already getting others to do the driving for us, reckons the company, with the rise of lift-hailing apps and services.
“As consumer trends change and people are enjoying ride-hailing services more and more, a new paradigm for mobility will emerge,” said Laurens van den Acker, SVP of corporate design at Renault.
Over here, you only need to take a stroll through areas of Glasgow to see where investment has gone, not into houses or flats, but great glass office towers and cars. While there, take a look at the cars in the city centre, you’ll spot the Bentleys, the Porches and the Nissan GTs. Do the drivers live in flats? I doubt it.
It looks as if more and more people will have no property to leave their children when they pass on into God’s House, but will leave a car. (I wonder what car He drives.)
Still, here on Earth, better to be seen parading around in a gold chariot with plumed horses, than a decent home in a good community.
GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS
New electric Hyundai
A Hyundai worth telling you about? Shock, horror. Yes, and quite a surprise. It’s also good looking in a contemporary mixed curves-and-angles sort of way. When I first saw it I thought it was a Citroen. The Kona Electric sounds like an espresso machine, but in line with many electric cars, is mega refined, fast (in a straight line) and a good all-round capable machine. The company’s promotional puff boasts “For just under £32,000, this 64kWh model promises a maximum potential range of 300 miles on official test cycles, all wrapped in an crossover body shape. A fast charge has the battery reach 0-80% charge in 54 minutes.” Time for a hamburger and a pee at the motorway café. However, within that glowing round-up, I’m told there are some caveats. Almost all hinge around the car’s weight of 1.6 tonnes – an inevitable downside to all that battery capacity. The Kona Electric uses a sophisticated independent rear suspension system but large road imperfections cause it to struggle for body control. Grips levels are modest. So, potentially cheap to run, practical, but not a thrilling drive.
Most popular EU cars
As we prepare to allow Theresa May to take us out of Europe and into poverty with fewer rights than before we joined the Common Market, here’s a quick round up of which car is the most popular in which country. In the UK it’s the evergreen but faceless Ford Fiesta. In Belgium and Brussels especially, home of the reviled EU bureaucrat, it’s the VW Golf. Belgians have bought 10,500 so far this year. Denmark loves the cute Peugeot 208. Finland likes the Nissan’s SUV Qashqai, good for towing your fishing craft from one Finnish lake to the next. France, the one nation blended in patriotism, chooses the Renault Clio, and they still park in Paris streets bumper to bumper. This year over 83,000 have found homes. In Germany it’s the VW Golf, what else? Its variants take 1, 2, 3 place with 125,490 sold to this day, this year. Greece loves the little Toyota Yaris. So much for the contemptible black propaganda claiming tax dodging Greeks drive Porsche 911s. Italy likes Fiat Pandas, Fiat 500s, and lost and lots of Smart cars. Poland likes Skodas probably because that’s where they’re made, and Portugal also goes for a Renault Clio. Lichtenstein sticks to VW Golfs. Oh, almost forgot; Ireland prefers the Hyundai Tucson. I always thought it was expensive tractors.
Paris Motor Show
It’s Paris Motor Show time again when shiny metal gets slipped under bright spotlights surrounded by shiny blonde ‘resting’ actresses, and metal salesman in sharp suits. I’ll report on the best from it next week. BMW are showing three new saloon cars including a brand new roadster. I suspect they will hog the limelight. I’m hoping to see some design and materials innovation rather than more luxury barges.