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Column: How safe is 'safe'?

2009-07-21 08:46

David Donde

The Volvo XC60 is touted by its marketers as possibly being the safest car on the planet.

Maybe the coolest Volvo since the P-series, it has lane drift warnings, blind spot indicators, is aware of other cars around you and even has an iPod connection that allows you to control your ’pod from the steering wheel and display your tracks on the car's system. Cool.  

And safe. Did I mention safe? Volvo's safest ever, according to them. All wheel drive for those snowy or greasy roads. Not to mention crash safety with an individual airbag thrown in for almost every single body part known to man. It even has built-in child booster seats.

So WTF were they thinking when they made Bluetooth an optional extra!?

Uh maybe not too many Volvo owners have mobile phones. Even if Sweden is the home of Volvo and those relatively unknown mobile players, Nokia and Eriksson.

Points to ponder

The days of things like CD players and radios being optional are long over. Integrated Bluetooth on a car of this price as an option? They have to be kidding. Profiteering over safety, more likely. Makes one wonder.

Even a relative budget player, such as Ford with its Fiesta, has Bluetooth as standard on all but the cheapest model. And it works well, too. Kudos to Ford.

And Nissan? That wonderful new 370Z has an interior to make Californians weep. They could not envision integrating Playstation and Aston Martin so well in an interior.

And Gawd, those muscular flanks visible in the rearview mirrors? Thinking about her, I get uncomfortable just sitting and typing...

Where was I. Yes, dynamically; why bother spending more? Looks; I say no more. Even the key, now with keyless go, is cool.
But embedded Bluetooth and an entertainment system without RDS! What? An iPod jack, but only for sound with no included control? Nissan came so close to automated nirvana, I could weep. I still want a 370Z though. Badly.

Bare necessities

Certain things need to be standard on all vehicles except on stripped-out budget entry level cars. You can do anything and leave anything out on your 200cc, built-in-a-slum-in-Calcutta model. Hell, take the seats out and put in a beach chair. Citroen did that once and we all approved.

If it is nasty, it had better be cheap, really cheap. Decent in-car entertainment, airbags, Bluetooth and ABS are expected in anything that comes with metallic paint as an option.

It seems many manufacturers no longer make their money the old-fashioned way by forcing our wallets open with a crowbar in the spares department. Too hard for them.

Pirate parts or equivalent non-OEM parts abound, the competition is hot and profits are down. Motor- and service plans kill that income stream for a few years, anyhow. Insurance claims? Naah, not now that the ombudsman for the insurance industry condones the fitment of used and pirate parts! So where to make obscene profits?

I know, the options list! Compare the cars' prices out there. German luxury brands? Add “kits”, select a few options, tick a few too many boxes on the order sheet and your 1 Series, A3 or C-Class just doubled in price.

But come trade-in time, you will be told by the used car guy that those options might have been worth it to you, but he won't give you a premium as the next guy won’t want them.


Your problem, my problem

I know I have mentioned this before, but check what you are buying. R20 - R30k for a navigation system that you cannot update? That you cannot get speed trap data for, that you cannot program without at least one reference to the manual? That cannot be used once the car is moving due to some car manufacturer's safety lawyers' rules?

For around R2 000 at a gadget store, a similar thing will give you the works and Bluetooth integration thrown in free. Disgusting.

Get with the programme guys; consumers are becoming savvy. The resentment when the hood eventually comes off their eyes will cause brand dissatisfaction for years. Manufacturers, you have just been warned. And if you REALLY are paying your suppliers too much for these items, change suppliers! Don’t make it our problem.

I would suggest you Teutonic manufacturers call up those unknown leaders, Garmin and TomTom and get started. I get to buy one at around R2 000, I am sure you can do better?

And don’t even bother with the French. Safety by the bucket load, but useless because you can't get damn standard service parts and you will be lucky to keep the braking systems going, or stopping as it might be.

Ticking boxes

Caveat emptor; let the buyer beware. Some manufacturers toe the ethical line here. Nissan, Kia and Subaru come to mind lately with around 10-20% of the car price increases by the indiscriminate ticking of boxes.

Lexus hardly has any boxes to tick, the cars are already pretty well kitted out.

Similarly, check with the service plans, what exactly is included and for how long. There seems to be a nefarious up-selling trend here to get you to pay in for a service plan that you actually want or can use. Peace of mind for your expected duration of ownership; is it too much to ask?

Before you buy, check that you are comparing apples with apples. They might have the same apparent sticker price, however a stripped out Euro-wagon might not be as cheap as the fully loaded rice-burner by the time you get it up to the spec level you actually want to drive around in.


Bullet: Name, set and match!

2012-04-16 16:47

Inside Wheels24

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