August 31, 2011

Impressions of the US

Back stateside, from the Netherlands, several things jump out: Drivers are nicer. Electrical and telecom wires are strung on poles along the streets, not stuffed underground. Toilet paper is softer. Cars are HUGE.

At first, cars didn't seem all that large, but it turned out to be an optical illusion: the highway lanes are also significantly larger here than in Holland, and most of the cars on the road fit nicely in those lanes. Then CelloMom spotted a Toyota Prius, and realised that it looks, frankly, small. In contrast, on Dutch highways it would be firmly in the middle of the size range of personal cars.

August 27, 2011

"List Price" around the world

Cars are cheap in the US. As soon as you go car shopping outside the US, you may encounter prices that are just staggering. Don't be fooled, and don't be put off. Those cars that seem to be 2-3 times over your budget, would be affordable if sold in the US. While the pre-tax price does vary from place to place, it is additions like sales tax, VAT, luxury good tax, import duties, and other government levies, reflected in the published MSRP (Manufacturers' Suggested Retail Price), which can vary wildly from country to country. CelloMom has highlighted the Netherlands as an example; here she looks farther afield and reports prices of the Toyota Prius and the Honda Civic at selected locations around the globe.

The tables below quote the "from" MSRP for the least expensive trim option, including all government taxes but excluding items such as dealer prep and registration fees, which presumably also vary wildly over the planet. The one exception is the US price, which is quoted without the sales tax; the latter varies from nearly 10% in California, to nil in states such as New Hampshire and Montana.


The Honda Civic was chosen because it is one of a handful of cars that is sold almost everywhere and you can get the same version of it in many places, specifically the 4-door sedan with a 1.8L SOCH i-VTEC engine and outfitted with a 5-speed automatic transmission.

Purchase Price of Honda Civic

MRSP From in US$
US US$ 15,805 $ 15,805
Japan NA NA
Australia A$ 28,402 $ 30,000
Germany € 25.150 $ 36,500
France € 28.050 $ 40,700
UK £ 18,745 $ 30,700
Argentina US$ 33,250 $ 33,250
Brazil R$ 71,430 $ 44,500
India Rs. 13,96,200 $ 30,600
Indonesia Rp. 352,000,000 $ 41,400

As the table shows, the MSRP of a Civic is nowhere lower than in the US. In most of the world, the purchase price of a Civic is about twice that in the US, and in Brazil nearly 3 times as much. (The Civic is no longer sold in Japan as of late 2010).

The pre-tax price is actually comparable everywhere, the differences apparent from the table above arise from the different taxes applied by the various nations. For instance, see the interesting map of the variation of car-purchase taxes in Europe.


The second car chosen for this very non-scientific study is the Toyota Prius hybrid, because it also is sold around the world, with the same 1.8L engine, and the same automatic transmission.

Purchase Price of Prius

MRSP From in US$
US US$ 23,520 $ 23,520
Japan ¥ 205,0000 $ 26,600
Australia AUD 34,990 $ 36,750
Netherlands € 25.990 $ 37,700
Germany € 25.750 $ 37,300
France € 26.500 $ 38,400
Denmark DKr 389.499 $ 75,600
UK £ 20,845 $ 34,200
Argentina US$ 41,900 $ 41,900
India Rs. 27,08,493 $ 58,700
Indonesia Rp. 626,700,000 $ 73,000

For the Prius as for the Civic, it is in the US where the purchase price is lowest (even including the state sales tax), even beating the price in Japan, its country of origin. In Europe the Prius is only 1.6 times more expensive than in the US, reflecting its special hybrid status which qualifies it for a very significant tax break. In France, you pay less for a Prius than for a Civic. On the other hand, gas guzzlers are charged rather punitive taxes. Come to think of it, CelloMom has yet to see a Hummer anywhere outside the US.

In Denmark, even the Prius gets no breaks. A VAT of 25% is levied on all new cars. Then, deductions are applied for a few items such as ABS brakes (but not, apparently, the hybrid engine). After that, the remainder gets hit with a registration tax, at 105% for the first 76,400 kroner (US$ 14,800), and at 180% on anything over that. That's on top of the VAT. Think of the Danish next time some US administration proposes a tax hike. No wonder they use almost more bikes than the Dutch.

Interestingly, in India and in Indonesia, where the Prius is respectively 2.5 and 3.1 times more expensive than in the US, the fuel efficiency is not mentioned at all in the promotional literature. One supposes that whoever can afford to buy such a luxury item, doesn't have to worry about the price of gas, about $6/gal in India, and $2.25/gal in Indonesia.

August 22, 2011

Review: Opel Meriva

Allow me to gush. CelloMom is enchanted. Enamoured. Allright: smitten. Swept off her feet to end up behind the wheel of a new Opel Meriva. Or so she would wish. Because this car is not available in the US at all, not in any version, despite the fact that Opel, the venerable German carmaker, is now a wholly owned subsidiary of GM. (In the UK, Opel cars are sold under the brand name Vauxhall and come with the steering wheel on the right hand side of the car).

This baby is labeled a "mini-MPV", and with a length of 4.288m (169in) it's about the same length as a VW Golf, or 2-3 feet shorter than the regular US MPV like a Toyota Sienna. It also only has two rows of seats for 5 people. However, the rear seat row is extremely versatile; it is a simple operation to tuck in the middle seat, after which the remaining two seats can be moved independently of each other in both the forward/backward as well as the lateral directions. Once the middle seat is down, a cello can be placed there, with the neck between the other two seats and sticking into the trunk space.

The trunk itself offers a good amount of space (a cello would fit in it in case you need to move 5 people in the car), and the rear seats fold down completely to make a flat-floor cargo space for moving large items from the Ikea or the hardware store. This is why CelloMom likes hatchbacks so much: she still hasn't outgrown the graduate student notion that you never get anything delivered if, instead, you can break your back lugging it yourself. The Meriva's rear hatch opens all the way down to the cargo floor level so you don't have to lift your large items over a threshold, making loading and unloading easy for the vertically challenged. This is made even easier by the unusual rear side doors, which have their hinges toward the rear of the car. That is the right direction when you're standing by the door pulling at a large object that someone else is pushing in through the hatch, or loading toddlers and their various paraphernalia into the child seat.

The 2011 Meriva is too new for actual fuel use to be posted, but comparing it to the other data on the Honest John site (look under Vauxhall), CelloMom would estimate a real-life mileage of 34-36mpg for the 1.4L gasoline version. Switching to a turbocharged 1.3L diesel engine would get you close to 50mpg. Sweet.

This cake has a two-part icing: first, the seats are higher than in most cars, but not as high as in many MPVs; in fact, CelloMom finds it very comfortable to get in and out without climbing. It's nice to get that little bit more of a view of the road. The other piece of the icing is that CelloMom's purse, which so far has had to eke out a precarious existence on the passenger seat, or on the handbrake, or (least safe of all) by the feet, is now finally offered a good home in the very flexible storage between the two front seats.

But what really stole CelloMom's heart, the cherry on the icing on the cake, is that you can reach underneath the rear hatch, and pull out a built-in bicycle carrier good for two adult bikes. I saw a Meriva zipping down the highway today carrying two bikes like that; the bike rack was solid, no wobble at all: love that German engineering. Bring it on. If this car were for sale in the US, CelloMom would buy it. Check out the dedicated minisite in German or in English to view the very cute promotional video.
*Bicycle rack photo from the German car portal, auto.de. Click on photo to read original article.


Opel Meriva

Opel Meriva 5-dr 1.4L gasoline 1.3L diesel


1.3L CDTi ecoFlex
Year 2011 2011
Emissions rating EURO5 "B" EURO5 "A"
MRSP (pre-tax) € 12,358

€ 14,583

City/Hwy EU quoted, mpg 30 / 46 49 / 64
City/Hwy EU quoted, liters/100km 7.9 / 5.1 4.8 / 3.7
avg. EU quoted, l/100km(mpg) 6.1 (39) 4.1 (57)
avg actual, l/100km(mpg) - -
CO2 quoted, g/km 144 109
CO2 actual, g/km - -
Engine 4-cyl, 1.4L VVT 4-cyl, 1.3L turbo ecoFLEX Start/Stop
Power 100 hp 95 hp
Gears 5-spd manual 5-spd manual
Fuel Euro Unleaded Diesel
Length, mm(in) 4288 mm (169 in)  
Width, mm(in) 1812 mm (71 in)  
Height, mm(in) 1615 mm (64 in)  
Weight, kg(lbs) 1360kg (2996lbs)  
Trunk volume, liters(cuft) up to 1500L (up to 25 cuft)
Turning radius 11.5m (40ft)  
Top speed 177 kph (110 mph)  
Many thanks to Ferdi van der Gaag at Het Motorhuis in Delft for answering my questions and giving demos on various features of Opel cars.

August 20, 2011

Beware the Sales Tax

Even in the US, the sales tax varies from state to state. This is why carmakers' websites in the US state list the MSRP, or the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price, as "net", or before any taxes are applied. In other countries, where generally the sales tax is uniform throughout the country, the price listed on websites may include the sales tax. The difference can be staggering.

One extreme case is the Netherlands, where car sales are subject not only to 19% VAT (value added tax), but to "BPM", an additional "car tax" that until 2008 was as high as 45.2% of the net MSRP. Ouch! After purchase, you are charged a road tax which depends on the car's weight, and can amount to a few hundred Euro per year. And still the Dutch buy and drive all those cars, despite their outstanding public transportation.

Because VAT and BPM was the same for all cars, nobody even bothered to post the pre-tax price of any car, since it was easy enough to figure yourself, and anyway it wasn't the "real" purchase price. All that is changing, now that the Dutch government is morphing the BPM car tax to an at-purchase carbon tax that depends on the carbon dioxide emissions ("Polluter Pays"). Hybrid cars get serious tax discounts, and filterless diesel-run vehicles get a hefty surcharge; these numbers can run in the thousands of Euro. (The road tax will also be carbon-dependent, and after 2012 it morphs into a "kilometer tax" where the per-kilometer rate depends on carbon emissions).

Because the new tax scheme is being phased gradually during 2010-2013, the BPM/carbon tax is currently figured using a totally bewildering algorithm. CelloMom admits to being completely befuddled, and has never yet arrived at the correct total price, working from the pre-tax price. Lucky for us, MSRP in the Netherlands are now listed with and without the various taxes, so price lists always include a column with the pre-tax price, called the "Net Catalog Price", or netto catalogusprijs.


All those car-related taxes paid by the Dutch are actually put to good use by the quaintly named Ministry of Transportation and Water Management, which is responsible for the nation's physical infrastructure. Firstly, the country (which is as much as 20ft below sea level) has to be kept dry. The old windmills have been replaced by a network of pumps, carefully managed to remove just enough, but not too much, water from the land. Dutch roads are excellent - poorly maintained roads are expensive to users. Their engineers build beautiful bridges; any upgrades happen at an absolute minimum disruption to traffic during construction: overtime is expensive, but commuter congestion is even more expensive. Their waterways are integral to the logistics serving much of Western Europe. And now they are embarking on a huge project to strengthen the country's dikes and sea walls, to protect the low country against the seawater whose predicted rise is attributed to the carbon dioxide that we are all pumping into the atmosphere.

The new tax scheme, based on the "Polluter Pays" principle, is already starting to prompt systemic changes: Research has shown that the Dutch are responding to the incentives and buying more fuel-efficient cars. Because other EU countries are implementing similar incentives, manufacturers are responding by offering models with smaller engines, turbocharged to maintain power, which makes the engines burn even cleaner. It's a start.

August 19, 2011

Foreign language websites

If you want to get to the source and find out about cars as they are offered to consumers outside the US, chances are you will encounter websites in foreign languages. Don't be put off. The vocabulary around cars and their performance is really not that large, and pretty obvious (In most West-European languages it's easy to recognise the words "Technical Specifications"; "Cylinders"; "Price" etc.). Try using an online dictionary like translate.google.com to get you going.

Outside the Romance and Germanic languages, you can still get a ways by looking at the units of various quantities, such as "l/100km" for fuel efficiency. You do, of course, miss the cultural opportunity of seeing just how differently a car is sold in, say, Finland - unless you trust Google translate to that extent. But you can at least decipher the numbers you need.

Websites that use non-Roman alphabets are a challenge on a whole different level. For instance, I would love to read Japanese and Chinese carmaker pages but find the kanji impossible to parse: it doesn't use spaces so you can't even tell where the words start or end. However, English speakers have one huge advantage: most computerese is based on English, and all operating systems use the Latin alphabet.

So here is the strategy: Say you are at toyota.jp checking out the real spectrum of cars they make. After you enjoy the immensely different use of graphics, you can start hovering your mouse over the various navigation buttons. While you're doing that, watch the bar in your browser that reveals to what file those buttons point. Invariably, some button will point to a file of which the name contains a hint of the contents, such as the name of the model. Thus, after not all that much messing about, CelloMom arrived at a file called "http://toyota.jp/estimahybrid/spec/spec/index.html" which contains the technical specs on the hybrid version of the Toyota Estima minivan.

Did I say it was easy?

If this level of sleuthing is too painful, you could always invite a friend who knows the language you're trying to decipher, and surf the carmakers' sites together. Share a beer, engage in some cultural exchange. Beats watching re-runs of Star Trek.

August 17, 2011

Review: Fiat 500 - call this small?

When CelloMom was a young girl, her parents owned a Fiat 600. We loved that car. It was egg-yolk yellow, and sported a set of eye stickers on the front that made it look cross-eyed. Young CelloMom and her little brother rattled around on the back seat (no-one had heard of seat belts), except when they were crammed between the groceries. A cello would probably have to stick out of the window.

The original Fiat 500 was even smaller than that. Its tiny size, and its ubiquity on European roads, particularly around the Mediterranean, earned it and all its brethren the nickname "road lice". It cheerfully kept a family dry as they went from A to B, and that was about it. It was just under 3 meters long, ran on a 0.5-liter engine (500cc: get it?), and weighed around 500 kg. A few beefy guys could (and probably did) carry it around.

The "new Nuova 500" that Fiat re-introduced in 2007, is available in the US for the first time this year. It is Fiat's only US offering.

You can still recognise the original lines, but the Fiat 500 has grown since the sixties - just like CelloMom. To begin with, it's now nearly 3.50m long; its weight has ballooned, to twice its original weight (corresponding data on CelloMom is strictly classified). Its engine has grown with it, although the smallest version still comes in under one liter. Inside it's also roomier. In fact, the grown-up CelloMom and her brother would fit in the back seat, together with one grocery bag, or a third person (but that person preferably a child). You can fit one large suitcase in the trunk, but definitely not a cello.

You could call it discrimination. Or perhaps it's just that they like to keep the best things to themselves. However it may be, the Fiat 500 is sold in the US (and Australia) only with a 4-cylinder, 1.4L engine (avg. 33mpg). Peeking at www.fiat.it, you will find that that version is not available in Europe, where you have a choice between a 1.2L engine, and a 2-cylinder engine with a volume of just 0.875L (actual avg. 41mpg). Since the latter is turbocharged, it still packs an 85HP punch. Either way, one would like this size car to get better mileage.

Between the updated design, the two-tone upholstery, and the vibrant colours (including a traffic-cone orange), this is one cute car. The seating is surprisingly roomy. And the Start&Stop versions have engines that turn themselves off when you're waiting at a traffic light, and start themselves up again when you're ready to go. The start-up is impressively seamless; Fiat claims this adds up to 10% to the mileage. However, even though the Fiat 500 is not as small as it used to be, and even though its mileage is sort of decent, if the cello can't come along, it won't work for CelloMom.


Fiat 500 , Same-Model comparison, different engine size.

Fiat 500 Pop 2-door
Type 1.4L 16V MultiAir
0.9L Start&Stop
Year 2011 2011
Emissions rating ULEV II EURO5 "A"
MRSP US$ 15,500 € 12,181
City/Hwy (mpg) 30 / 38
City/Hwy EU quoted, liters/100km (mpg) 4.9 / 3.7 (48 / 64)
avg. EU quoted, l/100km(mpg) 4.1 (57)
avg. actual, (mpg) (33) (EPA) (41) Honest John)
CO2 quoted, g/km 95
CO2 actual, g/km 142
Engine 4-cyl. 16V 2-cyl. turbo
Power 101 hp@ 6500 rpm 85 hp @ 5500 rpm
Gears 5-speed manual 5-speed manual
Fuel reg. unleaded Euro unleaded
Length, mm(in) (140 in) 3.55m
Width, mm(in) (64 in) 1.63m
Height, mm(in) (60 in) 1.52m
Weight, kg(lbs) (2363) 1074
Trunk volume, liters(cuft) (9.5 cuft) 269L
Turning radius, m(ft) (30.6 ft) 9.32m
Top speed, kph(mph) 173 (107)

Post revised on 5 Sept, 2011 to add actual-use fuel economy.

August 14, 2011

Beware fuel efficiency quotes

Caveat emptor! Things are not always what they seem. Or, WHOA!

Right. CelloMom is in shock. Bowled over. Blown away. Consumers have long questioned the fuel efficiency as quoted by manufacturers, who are always careful to state that actual mileage may vary and depends on driving style, or something to that effect. Today, CelloMom has found a study that uncovered the scandalous extent to which quoted efficiency can differ from actual efficiency.

The Dutch, who are acutely cost-conscious, undertook a project to measure actual mileage achieved by real drivers. The research was done by TNO, the Dutch Organisation for Applied Scientific Research, whose research team analysed mileage accrued by 130,000 drivers of leased company cars, and the fuel they bought to drive those miles. They found that the test cycle used under EU guidelines consistently overstated the fuel efficiency (by 16% on average), and that the discrepancy was largest for the most fuel-efficient cars, up to an astounding 45% difference.

To qualify that (nothing, but nothing, is ever truly straightforward): The extremely aggressive driving style generally employed by the Dutch does not favour fuel efficiency. Even New York and New Jersey drivers are relatively mellow compared to Dutch ones. The research finds that losing the aggression improves your fuel efficiency by up to 10%; so this explains only part of the discrepancy between actual and quoted efficiency.

Consider the case of the VW Golf, 2.0L TDI. In various parts of the world, its city/highway efficiency (mpg) is quoted as follows:
30/41 US EPA
44/62 EU
31/42 India

The average mileage quoted in Europe is 55 mpg, whereas the actual mileage found by the TNO team is 39 mpg, a 41% difference. Keep this in mind when pondering fuel efficiencies quoted on European websites! --On the other hand, the good news is that the EPA guidelines for determining fuel efficiency reflects real-use conditions more closely. Indeed, the US EPA numbers for fuel efficiency tend to be lower than the actual efficiency.

Not all is lost: Travelcard, the fuel credit card company that commissioned the research, has shared the results on http://www.werkelijkverbruik.nl/ ("actual mileage"). The site allows you to specify year, make, model, and fuel type of the car you're interested in and shows the mileage achieved by real (Dutch) drivers as well as CO2 emissions. If, like CelloMom, your driving style has mellowed since you've acquired precious cargo to transport (children, cellos, whatnot), you can consider these numbers as your worst-case fuel consumption.

Why this blog

Why CelloMom writes this blog

In three words: Knowledge Is Power. Car makers (and, let's face it, manufacturers of every type of goods) try to tailor their offerings to their local market. As a result, they only offer a fraction of their product line in the US, based on what's called market research. Such research is always tricky, and especially so in a market that's as large and diverse as the US, where myths abound, particularly around cars and driving.

We don't always realise that our buying choices are limited to what manufacturers think the "typical American" will buy. Often, foreign car makers only offer their largest models for sale in the US, and/or the ones outfitted with the largest engines. Entire lines are not even on offer. CelloMom, who has a great distrust of statistics when applied to people's preferences, finds this approach misguided. CelloMom believes that the "typical American" does not exist, and that vast numbers of American individuals would make their own choices differently from the typical American when given a chance. (For completely disclosure, CelloMom is one of those untypical individuals who often finds herself way outside the boundaries defined by market research).

CelloMom offers to share her findings on her quest for the family car that is friendly on the planet (as well as friendly on the budget). CelloMom will report from both inside and outside the box. Call her subversive, if you will. Call her a serpent offering an apple. Knowledge is still power.


Why you might want to read this blog

If you are not into serpents bearing apples, don't read this - it's your choice. If you are curious, and want to enlarge your window on the spectrum of cars available today, you are welcome to look over CelloMom's shoulders as she trawls selected regions outside the box. CelloMom does not pretend to be complete, or systematic, or even objective. This is one individual's journey; come along if you want, or stay at home if you prefer.

CelloMom invites you to make forays of your own, and offers tools to help you navigate the often foreign-language websites where cool tidbits about fuel efficiency are to be had. What you do with that information is up to you. If enough of us are seized with desire for higher fuel efficiency, it will come. Just think of the rapid rise of the small car on US roads in recent years. It's just a start.

August 10, 2011

Review: Honda Fit / Honda Jazz

Smaller cars are starting to appear on US roads, as the price of gas keeps inching up. One example is the Honda Fit (called by that name in Japan, the Americas and China) or the Honda Jazz, as it is known in the rest of the world.

This car "Fits" comfortably in most Dutch parking spaces (believe me, those are tiny: just today, I saw a BMW 316i parked in one; it spilled over in all four directions). Paradoxically, the interior is large enough to Fit CelloMom's crew plus one friend, as well as the cello in the surprisingly large trunk, which can be made even larger if you eschew prudence and leave out the spare tire. And the styling is, well, Jazzy.

In the US, the smallest engine available for the Fit is the 1.5L i-VTEC, which gets mileage of 27/33 mpg (cty/hwy), 35mpg actual. That's underwhelming for a car that's just 162in long and weighs just under 2500lbs. In Europe the largest engine you can buy is the 1.4L i-VTEC. You can also get a version that carries a 1.2L i-VTEC engine which gets actual mileage of 40mpg. It's good for the European "B" label. And no, its 90HP is not enough to pull your camper trailer, but it's fine for your daily errands - and you can park it in places that full-size cars can only dream of.

You could take it one step further and go for a Honda Jazz Hybrid. The 1.4L CVT version gets 50 mpg (actual) and has a pre-tax price tag of € 16,134, so it would only pay off it you drive a lot.

CelloMom loves the shapely design of the Honda Fit/Jazz, and the magic of roominess inside for this size car. It comes in cool colors including the Fresh Lime Metallic (can't lose that in a parking lot no matter how scatterbrained CelloMom may get). And as an option the inside of the ceiling can be pushed back to give the impression that the windshield is extended to past the front seat backs. Let the sun shine in!

Honda Fit/Jazz, same-model comparison, different engine size

  Honda Fit Honda Jazz

Fit 1.5L i-VTEC

Jazz 1.2 i-VTEC
Year 2011 2011
Emissions rating ULEV-2 EURO5 "B"
MRSP US$ 15,100

€ 10,820 (pre-tax)
€ 14,900 (w NL tax)

City/Hwy, US EPA (mpg) (27 / 33)
City/Hwy, EU quoted, liters/100km not available in EU 6.6 / 4.6
Avg, EU quoted, l/100km(mpg)   5.3 (44)
Avg, actual, (mpg) (35) DOE (40) Honest John
CO2, EU quoted, g/km   123
CO2, actual, g/km   169
Engine 4-cyl, 1.5L 4-cyl, 1.2L
Power 117 hp @ 6600 rpm 90 hp @ 6000 rpm
Gears 5-spd manual 5-spd manual
Fuel Unleaded Euro unleaded
Length, mm(in) (161.6in) 3900 mm
Width, mm(in) (66.7in) 1695 mm
Height, mm(in) (60.0in) 1525 mm
Weight, kg(lbs) (2489 lbs) 1019 kg
Trunk volume, liters(cuft) (20.6 cuft) 337+42 L
Turning radius 34.4ft 10.1 m
Top speed mph 177 kph (110mph)

Post revised on Sept 5, 2011 to add real-use fuel economy and to adjust text accordingly.



You may also like:
1. Review: 2013 Honda Insight
2. How to buy a gas sipper for less
3. The Power of Names
4. Freeing our food from fossil fuels


August 9, 2011

Conversion liters/100km to mpg

Some would say it's a cultural thing: In the US, fuel efficiency is measured by how far a gallon of gas will get you, and the number (in mpg) rises with efficiency. In Europe, the higher the fuel efficiency, the smaller the number (in liters/100km). Perhaps it's something to do with the fact that gas is routinely 4 times more expensive in Europe than in the US. The goal is to design a car that will require a single liter to travel 100km, which amounts to 235mpg. Whew!

US (mpg) = 235 / EU (liters/100km)

1 mile = 1.609 km
1 US gallon = 3.785 liter
Some examples:
20 l/100km :: 11.8 mpg
10 l/100km :: 23.5 mpg
5  l/100km :: 47.0 mpg
3  l/100km :: 70.5 mpg

In Asia, they like to quote efficiencies in km/liter. To convert that to mpg, use:
US (mpg) = 2.35 * ASIA (km/liter)

When traveling UK sites, be aware that an imperial gallon is a bit more than a US gallon. So:
US (mpgUS) = 0.83 * IMP (mpgimp)

Of course, there are plenty of sites that will help you do the conversion, in case you don't have your handy calculator on you.

August 6, 2011

Review: Volkswagen Golf

The first car is the car CelloMom is most familiar with, as it is the current family car, and the one we covet next. Except that the version we truly covet is not available in the US (for now): the VW Golf.

This car is pretty much a standard family car in Europe: nothing special, nor bottom of the line, just plain vanilla. Gets you and your family from A to B. In the US it is regarded as a "starter car", and when we bought ours a decade ago we were pleased to start receiving advertising aimed at a demographic group which was more than a decade younger than our actual age at the time. CelloMom thought it was a good deal for a car to come complete with a 10-15 year age reduction package for the driver, so it was the natural place to start looking for a new car: this time around, the age reduction is bound to be in the 20-25 year range.

The table below shows a same-model comparison, between one available now in the US (the Golf TDI 2.0L), and one with a smaller engine (the Golf TDI 1.6L), both with 4 doors and manual transmission.

Unsurprisingly, the smaller engine gives less power; and you only get 5 speeds in your gearbox, not 6. But let's be realistic, for a car the size of a Golf (barely 3000 lbs empty weight), 105HP gives more than enough acceleration for most daily business. 140HP in the 2.0L TDI Golf is good for young male denizens of the Autobahn who are fearless and have girlfriends to impress; someone like CelloMom would only break the eggs in her grocery bag; not to mention the cello.

What you give up in power, you get back in fuel efficiency: The 1.6L TDI Golf gets 50mpg in actual use while the 2.0L version gets 43mpg. So with the smaller engine you get mileage equal to that of a Toyota Prius, without having to carry batteries. In Europe, the 1.6L version is cheaper than the 2.0L by about €2000, and after purchase you enjoy the fuel savings for the lifetime of the car (and the fact that you never come home with broken eggs).

Cellomom does have reservations about the longevity of the diesel filter which keeps down the particulate matter in the exhaust stream. Only time will tell how reliable those will prove to be. Also, a 3/4 cello only fits diagonally in the trunk. However, CelloMom has successfully hauled a rather amazing assortment of home construction material in the 2001 Golf, the hatchback proving a very versatile configuration. If the Golf 1.6L Bluemotion TDI showed up here in the US, CelloMom would buy it.


VW Golf, Same-Model comparison, different engine size.

Available in US Smaller engine
Type TDI 2.0L 4-door TDI 1.6L 4-dr Bluemotion
Year 2011 2011
Emissions rating EURO5 "A"
MRSP US$ 23,885

€ 17,770 (pre-tax)

City/Hwy (mpg) (30 / 41)
City/Hwy EU quoted, liters/100km 5.4 / 3.8 4.7 / 3.4
avg. EU quoted, l/100km(mpg) 4.3 (55) 3.8 (62)
avg. actual, (mpg) (43) DOE (50) Honest John
CO2 quoted, g/km 114 99
CO2 actual, g/km 158 147
Engine 4-cyl, 2.0L turbo 4-cyl, 1.6L turbo
Power 140 hp @ 4000 rpm 105 hp @ 4400 rpm
Gears 6-spd manual 5-spd manual
Fuel Diesel Diesel
Length, mm(in) (165.4in) 4199 mm
Width, mm(in) (70.3in) 1786 mm
Height, mm(in) (58.3in) 1512 mm
Weight, kg(lbs) (2994 lbs) 1360 kg
Trunk volume, liters(cuft) (15 cuft) 556 L
Turning radius 35.8 ft 10.9 m
Top speed 125 mph 190 kph (120mph)

Post revised Sept. 5, 2011 to add real-use fuel economy, and to adjust CelloMom's ratings and amend text accordingly.

August 2, 2011

Opening Shot

Here we are, with growing children (and, therefore, a growing cello) and nearly in the market for a new car. CelloMom is not optimistic about the planetary prospects for oil, and believes that gasoline prices will only go up in the near future. CelloMom believes in neither unnecessary expense (on gas, say), nor on unnecessary carbon emissions. And her transportation requirements are pretty modest, on the whole: the family car must be reasonably safe, reasonably reliable, have space for CelloMom, CelloDad, and two children, a 3/4 cello (soon enough to be a full-size cello). And it must be energy-efficient.

CelloMom's dad (I guess that makes him CelloGrandpa) was also in the market for a new car, and CelloMom helped him shop for one. The real reason why this was an eye-opening experience was not so much that the last time CelloMom bought a car was a decade ago, but that CelloGrandpa lives in the Netherlands.

We have always known that on average, the world runs on less gas per mile than we in the US, but this time CelloMom has had to dig through all the numbers, the technical specs, and the overall effect has been nothing short of astonishing. Oh my friends! there is a whole world of options out there in the way of energy efficient cars, that are not even for sale in the US.

CelloMom intends to tell you about those cars. Not to make you sad or mad that you can't buy them if you live in the US, but to inform you of the alternatives that are on the road right now, even if not your street. Knowledge is power. You may want to know: It is possible to get from A to B on less gasoline than your current car requires. Even leaving Mother Earth out of this, heaven knows our wallets would appreciate the break.