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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Car Wishes

I want a new car. Not a brand new car, or even a new-to-us used car, but a new type of car. Something fun and inexpensive.

Let me follow the whole train of thought....

We're a one-car family. That's really not as bad as it sounds. Before Heather Marie got her driver's license last year, we obviously didn't need two cars, and since then we've gotten used to only having one. It's only a hassle on the rare occassions that we need to be two dramatically different places simultaneously, which isn't very often. Still, though, there are times that it would be nice to have some supplemental transportation, so I think about options occasionally.

Last week one of the discs we had from Netflix was The Long Way Round, a documentary about a round-the-world motorcycle trip. It aired on Bravo here in the US, but we missed a couple of episodes, so the DVDs gave us a chance to get caught up. And every time we watched it, I found myself thinking, "You know, a motorcycle wouldn't be a bad extra vehicle."

Then I pictured the horrors of a sudden, brutal, bone-crushing, bloody, painful death on the grill of a gigantic SUV and the urge passed.

After thinking about what I wanted in a combination of size, performance, and safety, I decided that what I really needed was essentially a Tron Lightcycle -- basically a motorcycle with a roll cage.

So that's what I started looking for, with some expected variations, and that leads me to my primary question: Where are all the futuristic cars? All promises of flying cars aside, where are the new, innovative designs?

I did finally find a few, but none of them are really very realistic financially. The Carver is pretty intriguing. Too bad it's $48,000. (Looks like a whole lot of fun, though!) Then there's the Smart Car. They're really cute, and look like they might fit the bill. Oh? What's that? They're how much? $16,000? Thanks, I'll just get a Civic.

The Tango Commuter Car looks like it would also be really good, since it's electric on top of everything else, but it won't be available until 2008...and it's practically a steal at only $40,000. Sheesh.

Here's the big clue for people looking to sell ultra-small cars: you've got to make them cheap. If I could get any one of these for $10,000 or less, I'd probably do it. Unlike Europeans, though, we don't have serious space constraints and we have to drive relatively long distances, so most of these are never going to be primary transportation in 90% of America. Most people don't have the extra money necessary to pay that much for a secondary (or tertiary) car. For an idea, look at the mass market penetration of motorcycles that cost over $20,000 -- that's the market.

I've also spent some time looking for kit cars I could build (probably modified to run electric), but that market seems to be dominated now by classic style cars, not single-seat, cock-pit style futuristic experimental cars. I guess I could try to design and build it all myself, but that's really a little more effort than I'm interesting in investing. I could still wind up doing it, though.

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