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Birmingham Parent magazine

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Invisible Car Strikes Again?

By John Graham

Years ago the new cars were revealed with much fanfare in September and October. Nowadays, not so much. I remember back in 2009 when Chevrolet introduced its newly updated Malibu, and they had a set of very funny ads of people walking past tan Malibus and never noticing them. 

With some cars, people would run into because they were so invisible. One ad about bank robbers hopping into a tan Malibu and the police running by them was done so well it has become internet folklore as being true. ( I have to say I was proud of GM for the willingness to make fun of their own car (I bet they are wishing they could make recalls invisible but that is for a different day).

My recent rental was one of those invisible cars, to protect its identity I won't tell you it was a Nissan Versa. It was one of those kinds of cars that you just don't notice on the road, in the neighborhood, maybe in your own garage. It was one of those cars that your neighbor brings home and a month later you say to your neighbor:
"Hey, I thought your car was silver, This one is gold?" 

It was one of those cars that you pick up at the dealership with little to no excitement and don't bother showing it or telling anyone that you just bought a new car. It is not a bad car, but it is just transportation.

My question, or maybe just musing this month, revolves around the question 'Is there a place for the 'invisible' car?' My premise is "no."

I own a Fiat 500 Pop. Bought it used with 14,000 miles, remainder of the factory warranty and for an unbelievable price. Even new, the Fiat is a wonderful car and for an out the door price in low $16,000 dollar range is a lot of value. It is one of the few new cars out there that make me smile when I drive it. I have another car - a 2011 Ford Fiesta - again, bought it used, like the Fiat, new with a realistic sticker price of mid-$16,000 is a great car. Both cars come with all the 'standard' features we come to expect - power windows, power locks, A/C, AM/FM-CD stereo, fancy trip computer, six-way adjustable seats, Bluetooth connection, iPod connection, aluminum wheels - well, you get the point. These cars drive nice. Super fast, no. Sporty, I will say yes. Peppy for around town driving, most definitely. Comfortable - my first outing in the Fiesta was 8+ hours. Nary an ache to be found.

What else separates these cars or cars produced by Kia, Hyundai and Mazda that sets them apart from other makes and models? They are not invisible. Kia and Hyundai make some of the best looking cars out there built with quality, in the USA by the way, with a phenomenal and unbeatable warranty. Mazda really does put the 'zoom-zoom' into cars and are always a joy to drive.

So why do car manufacturers continue to churn out cookie cutter boxes that are boring, uncomfortable and joyless to drive? There are cars like the Yaris, really, can they make it much more boring, inside and out? How about the Versa - oh my. I would easily run into one because they are so bland. The Taurus, Camry, Impala - compare what they look like and drive like compared to the Sonata, Optima, Mazda 6 - not even on the same continent. Be careful with the first three listed, you may nap while driving.

In my world there is no reason for one a boring car. In someone's else's world I guess there is. The one who thinks of cars only as transportation, as an evil necessity, as an appliance. The ones buying the appliances - do they really not care about a nice looking car? Do they dislike driving so much they it just makes no difference how the car handles? If you offered them two cars, same price, same features, same quality and one was nice looking, would they still rather get the non-descript vehicle? I say no, I think it is more about education on car purchasing than just not caring about what you drive. People think that an inexpensive car has to be boring. In the words of the recently passed John Pinnette, 'Nay, nay.'

Let me share my insights into buying a car::

  • Few cars are, if any, not built with high quality these days - so get out of your Toyota, Nissan, Honda rut and look at other brands. Kia/Hyundai - beautiful cars with the best warranty out there. FIAT - yes, FIAT, makes some great cars and again, great warranty. MINI - I always thought they were overpriced - I now own a Countryman because I decided to look more closely. It was as affordable as any small SUV and a whole lot more fun to own and drive.
  • Buy used - don't be afraid. Remember the cars mentioned above? Most of the used cars you will buy today will have the remainder of the warranty - so little to no risk. Many cars are leased and nothing wrong with them - I just turned in a 2-year-old Ford Escape Limited - window sticker of $32K in 2012. About 20,000 miles and it will probably sell for $18K with two years of warranty left.That's the price of an optioned Yaris.
  • The internet is your friend. Shop high and low, near and far, big and small and...well you get the idea. Maybe that car you love is 400 miles away, so what? Have a fun weekend trip, and with the money you save make it a weekend and enjoy yourself.
  • We have CarFax, dealer reviews, E-Bay guarantees, and a host of other protections, so you can almost buy a car site unseen. I don't recommend it, but you almost could do that.

Of the millions of invisible cars sold, I would have to say only 10 or 15 percent of the people purchasing them truly say 'I really couldn't care less about what I drive' or even 'I like this car.' The other 85 to 90 percent just don't realize that a nice looking, fun to drive, high-quality vehicle is available in their price range. So take some time, do some shopping and don't settle for the car that you will trip over in your own driveway because you can't see it. Take some time and buy the car you really want.

That's the thing about invisible cars, why own one when a fun one is out there?

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