Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Car Conclusions

From the end of January through the beginning of March, my friend Ben traveled to Australia to see his girlfriend, meet her family and tour what has been called by some of my friends G-d’s country. While he was gone, I had his car. This was the first time in my adult life that I had a car. After college, I moved to the Upper West Side of New York and lived there for four years. For the last year or so of that time, I had a Zip Car account, which was sweet, but I never had a car of my own. In Israel, cars cost about twice as much as in America, which is ironic since people make less than half of what Americans make. When I moved here, it was initially for one year. When I added another, my plan was to serve in the army, and when that fell through, I had 8 months left till business school. With my litmited stay in Israel, it did not make sense to buy a car. Oh and did I mention – gas costs over $2 a liter… or about $8 a gallon!

Having a car over that time was a fortune. It cost about $25 to drive round trip to and from Tel Aviv each day. I tried to give friends rides as much as possible – both for their convenience and my cost offset (standard 15 shekel – just under $4 per person per direction). A few times I was able to cover costs, while more often than not, it cost me a lot. On the other hand, the convenience of having a car – going where I wanted when I wanted was amazing and worthwhile.

As I was doing all of my driving, I got to thinking about car ownership – what kind of car I would buy if I bought one, the function a car serves versus the luxury it can become – both the jalopy and the Porsche get you there at the end of the day. I am not the type to splurge on a car (as seen in the last line). I couldn’t justify sinking in a huge sum of money to something that immediately and perpetually looses value. I have always liked the idea of owning a hybrid car. The idea of great gas mileage in America is nice – when fuel is $3 a gallon (often less) here in Israel, it seems like a no brainer, and although the cars cost more, in the long run, the fuel cost savings quickly add up.

As I navigated to and from Tel Aviv, I was shocked to see first-hand how bad and aggressive Israeli drivers are. Aggressiveness and assertiveness is built into the culture here. Everyone is afraid of being the friar – the sucker. With this mindset, Israeli drivers justify unimaginable craziness. People swerve through traffic, cut you off and do not yield. There is a popular double standard on the road – let me in and I won’t let you in… what you think I am a friar? Beyond the all too often traffic accidents in Israel, which are all too often fatal, Israelis are terrible in traffic. Everyone thinks that by shifting lanes, driving on closed lanes until the very end and not letting other people in, they will get to their destination MUCH quicker. Now I am not saying that some of the tendencies I have just described are not also issues with New Yorkers or any other stereotypically aggressive group of drivers. However, the driving in Israel is BAD – anyone who has driven here will agree. I have several friends who refuse to drive here all together.

As my thoughts of hybrid ownership drifted, I got to thinking of the cars I hope to own in the future. I set myself two car ownership aspirations. The first was that within 3 cars that I own (assuming at some point I do get a car), I want to own a non-fossil fuel automobile. This will likely come in the form of an electric car. The second hope is that within 5 cars, I want a car that safely drives itself. Not too much to ask right?
In the next two posts, I am going to explore, report on two companies that are spearheading initiatives to make my car ownership plans come true… quite possibly well before my 3rd and 5th cars.

Btw – how I came up with 3 and 5 – I assumed I will buy a car within the next year and guess that I will have each car from between 3-6 years (probably buy used). That gives 9 to 18 years for me to hold the keys to an electric car, and 15 – 30 years for a car that drives itself. I think these are both very overly conservative. I’ll explain more in the next posts.

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