Wed, 30 Sep 2009

Car Shopping Responses

Rus asked the question "No visit to the Audi dealership?"

Actually, the Audi dealership was the first place we went, when we first started casually looking a month ago. We found that every single car, with the exception of the Audi A8/S8 was too small to comfortably fit a front passenger and a rear-facing car seat on the passenger side. When you add the front + rear legroom specs together, the result is 78.4 inches, which is about 1.6" too short. In comparison, the Lexus RX 350's specs are 79.9 inches, about 0.1" too short (but clearly workable). So anything with < 80" of space is not seriously in the running.

VW doesn't fare much better unless you include minivans, but even then the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna outclass the Chrysler-inspired Routan hands down.

And BMW is pretty much right across the street from the Lexus dealership.

The X5 also doesn't make the cut on combined legroom at a paltry 76.6" combined. Our A4 has 75.6" and I'm not keen on spending $50G+ just to gain an inch of interior space.

BTW... we love our ML, I'd replace it with another ML in a heartbeat. cheers.

Yes, the ML has a stunning 82.2" of legroom. That's near BMW 750iL or A8L territory!

Meanwhile, Justin wrote: "My wife and I have owned a few Subaru Tribeca's...We almost never use the rear 2 seats, opting instead to roll the 2nd row all the way back which gives a lot of legroom to any rear passengers, and also provides enough room for a rear facing carseat and having a front passenger be comfortable at the same time."

Interesting. Thanks for turning me on to this. The price is right, and while the space is tight (also 76.6" combined), the fact that the second row can scoot farther back into the 3rd row area means that this spec is actually moot. Just goes to show that sometimes going by specs on the Intarwebs can exclude options that are worth exploring. If the X5 has a similar feature, it might be worth taking a look at.

My principal buying criteria (once the requirements of safety, space, and options are fulfilled) is to make as good a financial decision as possible. So resale value is a strong plus, and big depreciations after 2-3 years is a big minus. Christine has a gut instinct about what "feels right" (both in motion and not) and given that much of driving safety comes from confidence behind the wheel, that's another key factor in the buying decision.

Sun, 27 Sep 2009

Car Shopping

With a rapidly growing little boy, Christine and I are finding that our Audi A4 is a bit space-constrained. Not only does a rear-facing car seat force the front passenger seat so far forward that it's not possible for an adult to sit there, a stroller and a shopping bag or two quickly consumes any available cargo room.

So we've been doing some casual car shopping. Some of the cars we've been looking at are the Toyota Highlander, Volvo XC90, Acura MDX, Lexus RX 350, and the Porsche Cayenne. I realize that's an eclectic bunch with a variety of price points, but the key selection criteria are legroom, available options (such as rear entertainment system) and five star safety ratings.

Over the past few weeks, Carson, Christine and I have visited a few car dealerships. I thought I'd share some of my experiences and observations. They're a bit eye opening regarding the target market, sales strategy, and customer service.

  • Our best salesperson experience was probably Volvo, so far. No high pressure tactics, knowledgeable salesperson, and attentive service.
  • Toyota was among the worst salesperson-wise. No service people anywhere, have to wait 5 minutes to even be approached, another 5 minutes to get a salesperson to come by, and another 5 minutes get the keys to any cars.
  • The Toyota salesperson requested our info after a test drive by saying "would you mind giving me your info so I can show my boss I was busy?"
  • She was unable to explain the difference between full time 4WD and AWD, which is a relatively minute difference in the Highlander since it doesn't have a 4WD Low setting as far as I can determine (I had to look it up after the fact)
  • After the test drive, I told her that I wasn't looking to buy for a few months, just doing the research, and that I'd be in touch.
  • A couple days later the salesperson's manager called me on my phone four times, and left one message. He told me that he could give me a quote on my trade-in (I made no such request), and that they'd have the Highlander Hybrid I was looking for in stock "real soon".
  • Note that I'd done the math, and even at outrageously high gas prices, the time to recoup the extra cost of the hybrid was too high to make it worthwhile. I never uttered the word "hybrid" to my salesperson.
  • The salesperson at Acura was a bit clingy. After showing us around the Acura, he kept on talking about how cool the nav system with voice recognition was.
  • Unfortunately, Carson was tired, and we didn't have time to get the "full tour". After excusing ourselves, Christine began to put Carson in the car. "While you're waiting, let me show you something cool", he remarked. Uh, dude, I just told you we'd be back for a test drive. And my wife is putting my son in the car, I'm not going to let them sit there while I'm getting a voice recognition demo that mimics what my Mac could do back in 1997!
  • Lexus was a mixed experience. In person, it was fine, but Yahoo Autos had a feature to get a quote online. I figured I'd try it out, and asked for a quote. I specifically asked for a configuration with the rear entertainment system. After 3 intro emails confirming that the various middlemen and lexus systems had gotten my quote, I got a fourth email with specific numbers.
  • The specific numbers were all stock configurations, and all the prices quoted were MSRP.
  • I wrote back saying "uh, I've been to your website, I know the stock configurations and MSRP"
  • The response "our most aggressive pricing is reserved for in-person consultations"
  • OK, so you've just demonstrated that the Internet is nothing more to you than an overpriced lead generation system. If I knew it was so worthless to me as a customer, I wouldn't have wasted my time.
  • And, despite putting my "preferred contact method" as "email", I got no less than 5 calls, and 2 voice messages from this "Internet manager"
  • In person, at the Lexus dealer, we were told that the rear entertainment system was a very rare configuration, if it was available at all, because Lexus had done some market research with the dealerships to find the most optimal configurations, and apparently rear entertainment systems didn't make the cut. Lexus/Toyota are renowned for their lean operational expertise so this wouldn't surprise me too much if it were true, but I still have to wonder if it's just not another excuse to sell something that's on the lot.
  • Come to think of it, I thought it was chintzy for the Toyota person to show us an aftermarket Kenwood kiosk in the showroom when we started the conversation about a rear-entertainment system.
  • Finally, the cash-for-clunkers situation had apparently wiped out the inventory at the Toyota dealership. There were a couple of Highlanders on the lot, and the one that we took for a test drive was out for a test drive right before us, and went out for a test drive right after us.
  • The Porsche dealership was a bit interesting. We pulled up in our Audi, and a Cayenne was parked right out front. It was unlocked, so we sat inside testing the interior room for legroom comfort. In the five minutes we sat there alternating seating positions, we didn't see a single salesperson. I think I saw someone walking inside, but otherwise it was a literal ghost town. You'd think that if you have $50K+ to spend on a car, that somebody would be interested in talking to you when you drive on their lot, but i guess not.
  • We also stopped by a Mazda lot to take a look at a CX-9. Too small for our needs, but while we were there, the salesperson first told us that he didn't have one on the lot. Christine said "what about that one?" pointing to a CX-9. "Oh yeah", the salesman remarked as he went inside to grab the key. When he returned, he told us "we're having a sale today". I suppose I was supposed to think "ooh, yippee, I'll be able to get a good deal today then!", but instead I thought, "Really? Does that technique actually work on anybody?"
  • After we told the salesperson the car was too small for our needs, and started to head towards the car, he said thanks and began to walk away. He was about 5 paces ahead of me when Christine, who was wrangling Carson five paces behind me, said "you want the key?" The salesperson didn't hear her, so I had to shout after him, "uh, you want the key?"
  • We briefly (like for two minutes) considered the Honda Pilot. Not only did nobody talk to us or even greet us at the Honda dealership, we walked directly into the showroom, opened the door of the (hideously ugly) Pilot and began to gauge interior legroom. After a few seconds we quickly eliminated the Pilot from the running and made a beeline for the exit. We weren't approached then either, which struck me as odd for an industry so rife with competition. Not that I was complaining, I appreciated the opportunity for the quick exit.
  • The Mercedes Benz dealership is right next to the Volvo dealership so we decided to take a look at the GLK. The other Mercedes SUVs are a bit pricier than the competition with lackluster residual values (compared to the cheaper RX 450), so the GLK was the only one we wanted to look at. We took about the same amount of time in the GLK as we took in the Pilot to reject the GLK. There was another GL right next to it in the showroom, but it was locked... on the showroom floor(?!)... Oh well, they were more expensive (and I'd excluded the ML for some reason I now can't recall), so we began to look for a quick exit.
  • Actually, now that I look at it, the ML350 BluTec has a pretty decent RV, so we'll probably be back to take a look at that configuration.
  • Anyway, as we were walking out I thought I heard a "have you been helped" from the far distance. I ignored it and continued with the egress. As we reached sunlight, the saleslady caught up to us. "Did anybody help you? Are you leaving?" After explaining that we were just checking legroom and that the GLK hadn't made the cut, we excused ourselves and were on our way.

I'll keep writing about our car shopping experiences and observations over the upcoming weeks.Stay tuned.

Name/Blog: Rus Berrett
Title: Barrier Audi?
Comment/Excerpt: No visit to the Audi dealership? And BMW is pretty much right across the street from the Lexus dealership. I guess there is only so much you can do with a 1-yr-old in tow. ;) BTW... we love our ML, I'd replace it with another ML in a heartbeat. cheers. --rus.

Name/Blog: Justin Akehurst
Title: Subaru!
Comment/Excerpt: My wife and I have owned a few Subaru Tribeca's. We went for the 7 seater limited package which has rear DVD (and two wireless headphones). We almost never use the rear 2 seats, opting instead to roll the 2nd row all the way back which gives a lot of legroom to any rear passengers, and also provides enough room for a rear facing carseat and having a front passenger be comfortable at the same time. I love those vehicles, they do great in icy weather. Highly recommended.

Sun, 13 Sep 2009

Congratulations Richard & Mel

Last weekend my friends Richard and Melissa got married at the Zenith Vinyards in Oregon.

My friend Gavin was the best man, and my friend Tony and I were two of the groomsmen.

Richard, Melissa and Gavin

It was a memorable wedding, from the scenic views to the dynamic weather, and the opportunity to touch base with long time friends.


I'd set this article aside a while back and only now got around to reading it. I'd seen Frank Schaeffer on various talk shows. He's one of the founders of the religious right who has come to repudiate his former views and colleagues.

Open Letter to the Republican Traitors (From a Former Republican).

Aircraft Broadband, Part 2

Approximately three months ago, I wrote about some potential improvements to aircraft avionics that ought to be implemented.

At the time, I wrote:
From the maintenance perspective, airplanes either should already be (or if not, could be required to be) equipped with on-board diagnostics. [...] [T]hese codes could be beamed, in-flight, to a central maintenance facility who can dispatch the proper parts and mechanics to meet the plane at the most optimal location in its itinerary.


The other aspect of my argument is illustrated by Air France 447. The diagnostic stream of data is useful in maintenance, but the FAA could really benefit from live streams of black box flight data streamed in-flight. [...] In situations where the black box may not be able to be recovered (reports put the 447 flight recorder as deep as 13K feet), or if the data on it is damaged, voice and telematics data could be encoded, compressed and transmitted to ground-based stations that can provide either up-to-the-minute data of what was going on in the aircraft.

The other day, I saw this news report. Quote:
European plane manufacturer Airbus wants to see the end of the black boxes on airplanes. [...] Airbus [...] is working on the possibility of sending while inflight the most important flight data in real time via satellites to the airline’s HQs and to no longer solely rely on black boxes which, in some cases, are difficult or impossible to recover or too damaged to be analyzed. [...] [A]ircraft would continuously transmit technical data via VHF if it is less than 125 miles from a reception station or via satellite beyond this distance. The satellite then would relay the technical data to a reception station on the ground. And this station would pass on all the information via phone lines or satellite to the airline company’s reception center.

Another aside in the same article was about my point about maintenance:
An aircraft is already transmitting using VHF or satellites certain technical data to its airline on the ground. Coded messages called ACARS (for Aircraft Communication Adressing and Reporting System) are sent continuously and at more or less regular intervals of about 10 minutes to the maintenance centers of every airline company worldwide. Listed in these messages are, among other things, the aircraft’s flight path, the speed and position of the aircraft, but also alarms which alert maintenance personnel on the ground of issues with the aircraft that would need to be looked at when the aircraft lands at its destination.

This isn't the first time some ideas I've had are contemporaneously being developed, and that's a good thing.

Sat, 05 Sep 2009

Wisdom from seat 4a

On my flight to Portland, an 18 year old kid behind me was saying the darndest things (sounded like he had just enlisted in the air force):
  • that building looks like a Lego I built once
  • it was inspired by my lego
  • or maybe my Lego was inspired by that building
  • the propellers sound like they are cutting through something
  • the fuselage
  • it was made of red meat
  • beef - it's what's for dinner
  • pork - the other white meat
  • whoa that plane in front of us almost hit that X
  • you can crash into something and still fly... we're crashing into a cloud right now
  • looks like we're gonna land in water
  • the pilot screwed up the landing ... but we can still careen off the runway
  • landing in 3... 2... 1.... 321... .... ... there 

I found the commentary amusing, but what if you had flight anxiety? ;)

EPCA-2 Lawsuit

Several members of my family have been stricken with prostate cancer. In order to stay informed, I've been following prostate cancer news, and in fact, when consulting with a specialist, I knew of a test he hadn't even heard of called EPCA-2 or "Early Prostate Cancer Antigen".

The traditional prostate cancer test, the PSA test (prostate-specific antigen), is a less-than-reliable indicator for prostate cancer. Many doctors don't recommend it to younger patients simply because of the concern and worry it creates in potential patients because it can show elevated numbers even in healthy people.

The promise of EPCA-2 was that it would produce much more reliable early detection of prostate cancer.

Last time I saw my urologist (about two years ago), he looked into it and responded that it was too early for clinical use, but by the time I should be screened (at age 40-- he recommended against screening until then) it might just be available.

Well this morning, I found the following news article: Pitt, Johns Hopkins scientist sued over prostate cancer research. The synopsis is that the researcher is being sued for fraud, and EPCA-2 may be "no more accurate in distinguishing cancerous tissue from normal tissue than flipping a coin".

If the allegations are true, count me as one of the duped victims who has been following nearly every article about EPCA-2 for several years now.

Khan Klatt

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