Sunday, September 30, 2012

Quick Spin: 2012 Volvo XC60

Photo courtesy Volvo Cars North America

By Ben Aghajanian, UpShift Contributing Editor

Cape Cod, Massachusetts-Crossovers. They are all the rage. As enthusiasts, many of us prefer wagons, which seem to only come out of Germany these days, with an occasional upstart from Detroit, or Japan.

Volvo, the purveyor of popular kid-schlepping wagons for as long as we care to remember, is no exception to the trend, and they’ve brought to market the XC60 to slot in below the XC90 in their lineup. In fact, a wagon, in the strictest of terms, can no longer be found in their U.S. lineup. The XC70, or Volvo Cross Country as some versions are known, is technically a wagon, but it has a raised suspension and a more rugged look, like the Subaru Outback. Both are popular among outdoorsy types—and if you’re like a friend of mine, you buy one of each!

I spent some time driving an XC60 T6 this past week, equipped with all-wheel drive. Other than knowing that it had a turbocharged inline six engine, I hadn’t done a lot of research on them. But, the East Coast loves their Volvos, and all of their XC models were parading around the Cape. So, I was curious. 

I was quite impressed. The very first thing I noticed, which I was both surprised and pleased by, was how good outward visibility is from the driver’s seat. Too many new cars have huge blind spots and large roof pillars, which combine to make driving them vague and not especially safe, as the driver tends to guess while dicing through traffic, or driving in a parking lot. The XC60 has a lower hood than many other cars, which gives you a better view of the road ahead, and smaller A-pillars (bordering the front cockpit, by the hood).  Likewise, the view out the back surprised me. I could see so much more than in other new cars I’ve driven—the rear hatch glass is much larger than the maybe 1.5 feet of vertical window in many crossovers. Despite the sporty exterior appearance, the designers have managed to maintain an airy cockpit and safe sightlines. Well done, Volvo.

Click "read more" after the jump to continue reading.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Using Excel to Shrink the Pool of Potential Vehicles

I could use Excel as primarily an input/output tool to steer people toward groups of cars that would suit their needs extremely well.  Since there are so many cars on the market today, this would help reduce the number of models to be considered by each person into a manageable number that could be dealt with case-by-case.

Question-Answer system to supplement Excel
For example, we all know gas prices in recent years have gone up considerably. The green movement is also quite popular, especially with younger people that also tend to use social media to communicate.  In addition to Excel, I could set up a question-answer system online that allows customers to ask specific questions about the suggested cars that are generated through the Excel charts. This would give the service a more specified direction and allow personal tastes and preferences to supplement the concrete guidelines that are generated by Excel.

Unrefined diesels? Think again
A common misconception in the United States is that diesel automobiles are smelly, loud, and slow. This seems to be based on the recollection of people who had the experience of driving diesels produced in the 1980s, and diesel technology has, subjectively speaking, probably progressed as much as computer technology since then. Additionally, as many drivers are unhappy that the newest gasoline cars on the road often fall short of their Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gas mileage estimates, this has not been a problem with diesels. Diesels sell like hotcakes in Europe because they are powerful and very fuel efficient. The algorithms for the Excel suggestions and the personal advice dispensed through the Q & A section can reflect the advantages of this to the public.

Used car forum
Another way to possibly benefit customers is to introduce a used-car forum alongside the new car search feature.  A person can easily save thousands of dollars off of depreciation by buying a car that is several years old and gently used vs. buying a brand new one. I did this myself, and so far, it has proven to be a wise decision.  It may be easier to run this through a separate Excel worksheet since it introduces a number of different possibilities to the fold.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Automotive Suggestion Service-Basic Idea (subject to revision)

50 words or less:
Most people use cars to get around, so it’s an important purchase. I will come up with a service run primarily via Facebook and Twitter that makes searching for a car more intuitive and much more helpful than using a search engine.

Outside of the largest cities, most people in America depend on cars to get around. I have observed that a large portion of these drivers know very little about their cars, technically speaking, which is totally okay (but disappointing to a gearhead like myself). But, many people buy cars for what they think they need them for, as opposed to what they actually use them for. Some people buy the perfect car for themselves; many do not. If you haul a huge load of wood three times a year, but drive around solo the rest of the time, you’re probably better off buying a small sedan, coupe, or hatchback, rather than a heavy duty pickup truck. (Home Depot rents trucks at really reasonable rates!) Plus, you would gain the added benefit of not being recruited by friends and family to move their stuff all over the place every weekend (this does actually happen).

I’m thinking of using Twitter, Facebook, or both and setting up a service of sorts that allows people to input their actual needs on a car (or what they think they’ll use it for, either could work if some back and forth feedback is allowed initially) and responding to inquiries with my personal suggestions for what they should consider buying. I could perhaps gather info from a test group of people and create categories based on how the early adopters, so to speak, work through the process, to streamline it moving forward.

Yes, you can go on AutoTrader, or eBay Motors, or to a dealer’s website and do a search for “SUVs with a manual transmission (yeah right, except a couple skunkworks Ford Escapes and BMW X5s)”; “Toyota Camrys with less than 40,000 miles”; etc. but this just allows you to search for something you already have in mind. For instance, I helped a friend pick out a car that he probably wouldn’t have considered if I didn’t suggest it. I think this service could help people choose a car that just suits their needs more appropriately, overall, and in the long run that I’m willing to bet they will be happier driving.