Trying to be Smart

I think my editor has some personal vendetta against yours truly that I am not aware of.  The evidence is pretty damning: he chuckles every time I get miffed about something, purposely assigns me to drive the cars he knows cause me trouble, and sends me on overseas assignments at the moment when I am least inclined to go abroad.  Apparently I produce better work when I am in dire straits.  So he says.  Does this count as abuse?

Here is the grand quandary: I know he does it for the benefit of the Publication.  It's just my bad luck that what is best for the Publication happens to be what is generally bad for me.  The best writing I do is not when I'm under pressure, or when I'm excited to be an intrepid reporter, or when I'm being repressed by the violence inherent in the system.  I write the best simply when I have a thick frown.  My editor knows this, and goes to great lengths to keep my frown consistent and my feathers ruffled.

Case in point: "Hey, J-, I've got a beat for ya.  Here's the keys to a 2009 Smart ForTwo.  Drive it for a week."

Now I have tolerance for most cars.  Cars are not like people. They don't do things that make you hate them because they can't do anything.  They are inanimate objects, so therefore, it is not their fault if they are grade-A pieces of flying cow-pie.  Thus cars have an innocence about them: you can't hate a car if it is bad, you can only hate the people who made it that way.

With the Smart ForTwo, there is something about its sneering little face and miserable scrotum-like shape that develops within me an irrational hatred towards it.  It is the epitome of an automotive gimmick.  No matter what the boffins and clueless mainstream media buffoons say, its fuel economy is not spectacular, and when it does drink, it demands spicy premium.  Cha-ching.  So can we stop with the green argument and actually talk about it as a car?  It is not made from biodegradable young saplings, and it does not shit artesian spring water.   It's got seats and a steering wheel, and a little motor that puts out carbon dioxide like all the rest.  It is NOT special.

And that is the reason why I dislike the Smart.  Slick marketing and an undeniably noticeable presentation has rendered the Smart a cultural icon without any sort of meat or background to back it up.  The Smart is sort of an automotive incarnation of Barack Obama.

Walking out of the Publication's humble offices and seeing your assignment parked next to a brand-new Dodge Challenger SRT8 tester is a demoralizing experience rivaling the realization that you've lived your entire life in the Matrix.  Every great accomplishment you have achieved in life was part of a simulation; it never happened.  I personally felt like all my years of journalistic experience, the misery I put up with for the sake of my craft, had all been in vain.   Opening the plastic door of that Smart had to be the greatest anti-climax of my life.  I was prepared to give the most biased, one-sided, dishonest, personally-motivated opinion of my entire career.

Wow, this thing has a lot of room inside.  The first thought that went through my mind was positive, so that's no good.  I should have been complaining.  Okay, let's fire up this guinea pig of a motor.  Oy, it sounds pitiful.  Memories of the unmistakable clatter of the old Volkswagen Beetle's air-cooled "engine" came to mind.  The Smart I was driving was the base "Pure" model, MSRP $11,990, and had about as many bells and whistles as a wooden plank.  Considering the state of the financial world at this time, twelve grand for a car the size of a Roma tomato seems like wishful thinking on the part of Daimler's bookkeepers.  This "Pure" had the standard 1 liter 3-cylinder gasoline, which runs on (remember this one, folks?) premium fuel.   That's right.  The "fuel efficient, green" car of the year runs on the expensive stuff.   That is properly batty.

The idea for the Smart was originally dreamt up by the Swiss watchmakers Swatch, back in the early 1990's.  Spearheaded by Swatch CEO Nicholas Hayek, the designs and plans to create the ultimate, efficient city car were shopped around to various manufacturers.   General Motors shunned the idea as being potentially unprofitable. (And that was back when GM stock was worth more than your 5-year old's milk money!)    Volkswagen wanted in, but had to back out just as fast;  their financial situation at that time was too dire to take up the hefty new idea.  Finally, in 1994, it was Daimler-Benz who agreed to build the "Swatchmobile" in purpose-built "Smartville" in Hambach, France.

In 1998, after its debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1997, the first Smart ForTwo rolled off the assembly line, greatly modified from Hayek's original vision.   The biggest change was Mercedes' scrapping of the "super-super-super eco-friendly" part of Swatch's plan.  Instead, the Smart got a petrol engine. A small petrol engine, mind you, but a petrol engine nonetheless. Not so innovative, especially for the Swiss.  They did not like it.  Heavy losses and disputes did not help, either, and the joint venture between watchmaker and carmaker had to end.  Daimler has since held the Smart phenomenon close to their bosom, and over the last ten years, coaxed it forward into the world automotive theater.  Now the Smart is available in North American markets such as Canada, Mexico, and the US; and most recently, Daimler AG has introduced the car to Asian markets: China, Japan, and Taiwan.

It is all well and fine, this expansion.  Yet the amateur economist in me cannot figure out one market: North America.  The reason why the demand for the Smart is so high in Europe is because street in Europe is a precious commodity.  Centuries of urban build-up has rendered the classic European city a no-man's land for most vehicles of American proportions.  Rome is literally ancient, and I do not think the Caesars had Citroens and Alfas in mind when they were building the Eternal City's byways and highways.  Neither did the Anglo-Saxons consider queues and traffic patterns when they were building out London.  In the New World, city planning was used, streets were mapped, roads were laid all from scratch.  America's transportation infrastructures are comparatively young to those in the Old World.

As population increases, the amount of road in Europe does not, therefore it is necessary for cars to decrease in size to be able to utilize what road Europe has left.  Here in the grand old US of A, we have lots of space to build extra-wide parking spaces and extra-wide interstates.  Main Street USA is one big wide swath of beautiful, jet-black, steaming asphalt.  We are the nation of the great American highway, the Route 66s, the interstates.  We have roads leading in and out of our arses.  So who needs a Smart?

Pleasant thoughts like this ran through my head as I puttered down a massive street in southern California.   The car was just too damn small.  I could do a bloody u-turn without leaving my lane.  Also, I had a feeling that I would look better in the car if I had a paper bag over my head.  Just for anonymity's sake.


Pininfarina to cease contract manufacturing, will concentrate exclusively on electric-cars

After being approved for a financial rescue that saved it from the equivalent of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Italian firm Pininfarina has announced that it will cease contract manufacturing when current production ends. Pininfarina said that it will concentrate exclusively on building electric-cars.

In a press release, Pininfarina said that it will not look to get new contract manufacturing orders after its current contracts expire at the end of 2011. The Italian company is currently working on the Alfa Romeo Brera coupe and Spider and the Ford Focus coupe-convertible.

The company said that it will launch production of the B0, an electric-car that it is building in a joint venture with French company Bollore, in 2010 with volume production to begin in 2011.

Pininfarina B0 is a 4-seater, 4-door, automatic electric-hatchback that is powered by an electric-motor and lithium-polymer batteries produces by Bolloré. The B0 will have the capacity to travel 153 miles on a full charge with a top speed of 80 mph.


Triple White New Beetle Convertible Review

vw_specials_01.jpgThere are only two reasons why anyone would buy a New Beetle convertible: a craving for cute or a need for nostalgia. Once you rule out these emotional drivers (so to speak), you're far better off in any number of more economical and practical machines. But that's OK, isn't it? Acquiring a Ferrari isn't exactly a rational decision. So analyzing the New Beetle's desirability comes down to this: does it suck enough to put off the retro- fashionistas?

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Toyota Aygo Review

aygo-fr-640-426.jpgWhat does ten thousand US dollars buy an automobilist these days? How about ceramic brakes for your Porsche 911 and a bit of pocket change. Or a more-or-less acceptable used car. If you want a new set of wheels, ten large buys you a generic-Asian small car with wooden-feeling controls, a depressing interior, lousy ride, asthmatic engine and poor dynamics. No image, no resale, no fun. You might as well take the bus. Alternatively, if you live in Europe, you could buy a Toyota Aygo. But should you?

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Youth in Asia: Japanese sales plunge as young people abandon cars

Japan's car sales are declining, just like they are in most countries. But unlike other markets, auto sales in Japan won't be recovering anytime soon. The sales outlook is so bleak, in fact, that the Japanese automakers even have a word for it: "kuruma banare," or "demotorization." While it may sound more like "kuruma bizarre" to us car-obsessed types, kids in Japan are much more interested in the latest electronic gadgetry than they are with cars, and many have no intention on ever owning an automobile. Early predictions are that 4.86 million new cars will be sold in Japan in 2009, which would mark the first time in three decades that sales have sunk below five million.

To help keep traffic flowing inside showrooms, dealerships have taken up rather interesting tactics. For instance, one Honda dealership is now catering towards dog owners, since public transportation options are limited for large animals. We make the following suggestion: Less Hello Kitty, more Godzilla. But whatever works, ya know?
Thanks for the tip, Sami!

[Source: Detroit News]


Is nothing sacred? Radio Flyer steps into the digital age

Radio Flyer Cloud 9

Childhood just isn't childhood without owning a Radio Flyer. Made by a company now over 90 years old, the little red wagon long ago established itself as a mainstay for children across America and around the world. (Heck, even this writer had one growing up in Canada, eh?). The enduring simplicity of the metal - by now replaced by plastic - red wagon has endured the test of time, embracing its minimalism while everything else around it goes digital and high tech. But no more... Radio Flyer is getting with the times, starting with the wagon you see here.

Called the Cloud 9, the streamlined wagon you see above is just a concept at the moment, but it's already packed with more bells and whistles than you could shake a Louisville Slugger at. For starters, the little tots sit in contoured bucket seats with five-point harnesses. They've got cupholders in there, too, and storage bins built into the frame. Mom, Dad or nanny get to tinker with the built-in MP3 dock and integrated speakers, plus a handlebar display for temperature, time, distance and even speed. Of course, our enthusiasm for technological development applauds the progress, but our inner sentimentalism can't help but wonder if the little red wagon shouldn't have been left alone.

[Source: CNN]


Toyota to Debut Electric Concept in Detroit: Report


The latest word from Toyota is that their next fully electric car concept will be smaller than the hybrid Prius, and will debut at the 2009 North American International Auto show, according to the Detroit Free Press. "This is a pure electric vehicle," said Toyota spokeswoman Jana Hartline. "It's a concept we are bringing to the show basically to confirm our interest in electric vehicles."

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Paris Hilton’s Pink Bentley Pictures

paris hilton pink bentley

Looks like Paris Hilton just took delivery of her Pink Bentley Continental GT just in time for Christmas. I did see this car at 2008 SEMA Show, however it is possible that the car wasn't fully complete on the interior or potentially up to Paris' specs. Either way enjoy these sulky pictures!

paris hilton pink bentley


paris hilton pink bentley

paris hilton pink bentley

paris hilton pink bentley Asanti Rims

paris hilton pink bentley

Paris Hilton's Pink Bentley Pictures

Paris Hilton's Pink Bentley Continental GT


paris hilton pink bentley


Hermès releases custom Smart ForTwo

French design house Hermes is known in the fashion world for its premium leather goods, and now the luxury label has used its unique sense of style and material for the Smart ForTwo minicar, with the release of a new special edition model. The new model takes advantage of Hermes' specialization in leather goods, with the interior receiving a generous helping of leather trim to give it a more fashionable look compared to the standard cloth seats found in the Smart ForTwo. The leather covers the door panels, dashboard and seats, as well as other minor details such as the handbrake.

Bugatti Veyron Fbg par Hermès