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Amici americani della Mille Miglia
ARTICLES BY MARTIN SWIG
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Martin Swig has his own column in the San Francisco
NOB HILL GAZETTE called WHEELS

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Audi, Mercedes & Subaru Observations

Audi Inspires Ladies’ Fashion
Have you noticed those Audi daytime running lights? ...the pattern of LED “bullets” that cleverly turn a plain daytime headlight display into a rolling brand identifier.  Brilliant!  And now, for the first time, an auto style influences fashion.


Audi daytime running lights


Audi-inspired eyeglasses

Mercedes-Benz E550 Cabriolet
In the 1950s, when Mercedes-Benz began to appear on the world scene, there was no car quite like them.  Equal or better in quality than a Rolls Royce, the Mercedes was a durable, everyday car of good performance.  There was no BMW, no Audi, no Japanese competition, and only the Americans bought Cadillacs.  In the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, all of those competitors appeared and grew.  Mercedes got stronger too, and Cadillac weakened.


Mercedes E550 cabriolet

Cadillac had first felt competition from Mercedes-Benz in the late ‘50s.  It would seem that they’re never recovered.  Mercedes felt heat from BMW, Audi, Infinity and Lexus.  They have recovered, though not without some lapses in product planning and quality in recent years.  Current Mercedes have all their bulletproof qualities back.

In driving the latest E550, one can appreciate the power, smooth drive train, rigid structure and supple, controlled suspension.  Quality of materials and finish is as high as you’d expect.  All of this comes at a price; our loaded test car stretched at $77,000.

Only one thing is missing:  Style.  For this price, I want elegant design, not a Sebring look-a-like.  Mercedes’ German rivals, especially Audi, have clearly stolen the design crown.  It may look better to you; if so, this car would offer a rewarding ownership experience.  It’s also worth noting that the Mercedes-Benz navigation system was nowhere near as well designed and graphically clear as that in the Subaru reviewed here.

Subaru Outback
Recently I drove with my son on an Ann Arbor (Michigan) – Sausalito – Ann Arbor round-trip.  We explored our customary two-lane “blue roads,” and covered nearly 6,000 miles.  I was reminded anew what a capable car his 2007 Subaru Impreza is.  Nothing spectacular; it just quietly does everything right regardless of speed, weather or road surface.  At 50,000 miles, like most Japanese cars, it NEVER has a problem.  The most generous word to describe the interior finish of this 3-½ year old car is adequate.  But it still looks as good as it did in ’07, and the seats are comfortable enough for 700-800 mile days.  All in all, very impressive for a $17,000 car.


Subaru in vineyard

With that perspective, it was interesting to drive a “top-of-the-line” Subaru Outback. The test car was a loaded version with a $35,000 price, fully justified by the features, quality, abilities and driving pleasure of this car.  Subaru sales have bucked the industry trends; they’re way up, now exceeding even Volkswagen.  The Outback shows why.  This newest one is larger than its predecessors, but it’s still a reasonable size because it started out smaller than its rivals.  Too many of the wagon/SUV vehicles have gained a lot of size and weight, not to their benefit.  Not Subaru.

While the lavishly equipped test car carried a $35,000 price tag, perfectly adequate versions, well equipped, are available from the mid-twenties.  As in my son’s 2007 model, this Subaru is a well-balanced product that quietly and subtly seems to do everything just right.  The makers of other sport utilities, regardless of price, should take notice because this is a truly superior automobile.

Piling On
Somewhere along the way, revenue got in the way of traffic safety.  Make a “rolling” right turn on a red light and what you’d expect to be a $100 violation can cost you $400-500.  Here’s a typical calculation:

Fine
$100
Penalty Assessment
220
State Court Construction
20
Night Court Fee
1
DMV Fee
10
Criminal Surcharge
20
Criminal Conviction Assessment
35
Court Security Fee
30

TOTAL
$436

Even worse is the trend to red light cameras, so popular in San Francisco.  Many studies have concluded that the cameras increase accidents because of the sudden action of drivers upon spotting them.  NO studies have reported a decrease in accidents.

What has increased is revenue.  Under a typical deal, a city and a camera company enter into a revenue-sharing deal.  More than a few cities have shortened the yellow light interval.  Result:  More revenue and more accidents.  Union City, California was caught in 2005, having reduced the yellow interval from the state mandated 4.3 seconds to 3.0 seconds.  They had to refund over $1 million to victimized drivers.

In Lubbock, Texas, a TV station investigated.  They forced a recalibration of the lights.  With a proper yellow, camera revenue plummeted.  The cameras were removed.  Dallas was caught cheating too, and the cameras were removed.

South Dakota courts recently ruled against a Sioux Falls camera deal.  One wonders when San Francisco’s several dozen cameras, which electronically dispense $375 tickets, will be evaluated for factors other than revenue.

Detroit
Hard to believe, but the United Auto Workers have recently vowed to recover all of their “give-backs.”  Didn’t we just commit tens of billions to bailout the auto companies, who failed due to the UAW’s greed and the companies’ compliant management?  The UAW, which had a membership of 1,500,000 just a few years ago, is down to 350,000.  They’ve been unable to organize any of the new auto factories built in the Southeast.  Do the workers in the South want to avoid the fate of UAW members? 

When Ford pressed the UAW to grant the same concessions to them as they had to GM and Chrysler, the Union refused.  And it’s not like the Detroit companies are back to health.  What is this Union thinking?

 

 

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