Recently, I was driven home. While this sounds remarkably simple for most people, for me, it is not. We don’t own a car. My husband takes our children to sport on Saturday mornings in a GoGet carshare. We have investigated taking the train but the connections are poor on the weekends without the usual commuter rush. On this occasion, I was driven home at the end of a 24-hour period of nonstop rain in Sydney. I had gamely taken my e-bike to the office that morning and returned home again in the rain. My husband had done the same. We were hoping it would abate as we had planned to bicycle to a restaurant opening in Newtown. Our nanny was staying for the evening. But with the horizontal rain drumming on the windows, we took an Uber X. We planned to do the same to return home.
At the restaurant, a friend of my husband’s offered us a lift home. I sat in the front seat of the BMW X5, a sport-utility vehicle. What I saw inside was dazzling. An enormous screen was perched on the dash. The instrumentation panel was awash with lights, knobs, numbers and dials. It was possible to change the lighting to suit. The sound system was remarkable. Even the sound of the closing door reminded me that I was hermetically sealed “inside” and protected from “outside.” Traffic was light at 9:30pm on a Thursday evening. We chatted. His daughter rang to say hello briefly. We arrived home quickly and thanked him for the lift.
I was struck by the ease by which we were transported. But more so by the interior of the car. And then, the craftiness of the car manufacturers struck me. It was like being seduced by the dark side of the Force. The rain and wind were awful. Truly, it had been a day and evening to stay indoors. The car kept us dry, entertained, lulled into a sense of safety and security from everything (including other drivers). However, I noticed that I was still full from dinner. It was an odd sensation. Bicycling home from dinner results in the opposite.
My theory is that car manufacturers are aware of the congestion that they are causing around the world. Consequently, they are making interiors as luxurious as possible. Why? Because average speeds in major cities have slowed to a crawl. I wasn’t conscious of this shift because I bicycle everywhere and take public transport. GoGet cars are utilitarian and are used primarily for short trips in the city. Even the Audi in their fleet are basic models.
I thought I would informally test this hypothesis. I walked into the new Tesla dealership in Martin Place one afternoon after lunch. I wasn’t disappointed by the design of the car or the interior. It was a more beautiful version of the muscle cars that used to “doof doof” their way up George Street. (Previously, it was the primary street through the city. It’s now being torn up and replaced by light rail.) The number of dials and lights were dizzying and again, a giant screen to suit your every whim.
The ceiling was mirrored, perhaps for…?
The youthful salesman, who was wearing a white, Tesla-branded shirt, explained how the batteries work and that its now possible to have a charger installed in one’s home. The cost depends upon the length of the cabling necessary to reach the car. Fortunately, stand-alone, free-of-cost, fast-charging units have been installed around Australia with one based midway between Melbourne and Sydney. I presume that the interior was meant to inspire me to do just that. However, the idea of sitting in a car for 10 hours compels me to take out my credit card to book a flight to Melbourne. At $114,000 base price, I found it unsatisfying to defer petrol for electricity that coal-burning power plants generate in this country. I left before sitting in the red version to evaluate if it seemed any faster.
For a final test, my son and I went to a car dealership in Alexandria to examine Range Rovers and Jaguars. We took the Nihola cargo bike. There was a chill in the air as it was 4pm on a Sunday in early Spring.
I thought I’d open the sunroof. We rode through Prince Alfred Park and ran into a friend and his two young children. We chatted for a few minutes as we hadn’t seen one another in months. We resumed our journey and enjoyed the scent of jasmine in the air. My son kept up a steady patter of conversation as he was excited. He had never been to a place that sells cars. Bourke Road Cycleway was as dependable (and bumpy) as ever but quieter during the weekend without the usual heavy trucks around.
We found the dealership and locked up outside. Inside, I realised that we had arrived a few minutes before closing. We sat in a Range Rover “Discovery” and was surprised to find it less luxurious but the leather seats were lovely. Maybe that’s the appeal of the Range Rover. It’s more utilitarian?
The Jaguar was another story. We sat and shut the doors and were lost in the shiny dials.
Also, the automatic shift was hidden away in a recess. The salesman told me that upon ignition, the shifter rises. I was reminded of something else akin to the mirrored ceiling in the Tesla.
As we made our way around various cars, the salesman opened less doors for me. Who could blame him? It was Sunday early evening. I’m sure he had partner and kids at home. I was some annoying Asian woman who kept taking photos. He suggested that I take a photo of the back of the cars to keep track. Clearly, I had no idea of what I was doing. Finished for the afternoon, my son and I bicycled home.
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