My Father is an Irrational Consumer

Posted: February 28, 2011 in Rants
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My dad is sort of car guy.  Sort of.  He always had unique and interesting cars.  For example, growing up he had a Bug Eye Sprite which he says made him feel like James Bond.  When he got older, he eschewed a Porsche 912 in favor of a Volvo P1800 (like The Saint drove) – can’t fault him much for that either.  As he came into his own and became a professional he picked up an Oldsmobile Toronado, which had enough torque to climb up walls, according to him.

I clearly remember to this day when my father got rid of the Toronado.  It had a CB radio in it – it was a coupe.  That thing was SO COOL!  He was getting rid of it for some lame ass German car I, at three years old, had never heard of and never cared for.  He was picking up a 1984 BMW 5-series.  Little did I know what an amazing machine this was.

I soon figured it out though.  By the time I was 4 I was banging through the gears from the passenger seat, correctly placing the shift knob as my father called out each gear while driving.  I have a great home video of this (although no VCR to actually play it).  This car serves our family with slavish devotion until it was replaced in 1994 by another German machine, a 1994 Passat VR6 with BBS wheels, a buttery smooth VR motor developing torque all over the place, and a slick 5 speed shifter.  This would be the car I would learn to drive on.  This would be the car I would kill two deer with, and this would be the car my sister would attempt to kill but fail every single time.  It was the god damned Bismarck.

In fact, my father insisted that I was not allowed to take my driver’s test unless it was on a manual transmission car.  I thank him for that to this day.  Not because knowing how to drive a manual is anything special (despite the fact that less than 10% of America can actually drive manual) – but because of the adversity I overcame in learning and the feeling of accomplishment I experienced when I performed my first hill hold, balancing the car with the fine interplay of throttle and clutch.

He proceeded to replace his Passat with his third German sports sedan, a 1998 B5 Audi A4 Quattro (2.8L – not the anemic 150 hp 1.8t they were hawking back then) – manual transmission, naturally.  Again, this car served us well . . . and then things went wrong.

I don’t know what triggered it, but he proceeded to purchase a series of cars that were just horrible.  A Lexus RX300 bimbo box?  A Saab 9-3 with the detuned turbo motor and an autobox?  His latest purchase came after finding that the 2008 A4 was too boring  heavy (this coming from a former Lexus CUV driver?), the 2008 BMW 3-series was too expensive (funny, he bought my mom one a year later), and that the G37 was an unrefined vibration machine.  He went with the Cadillac CTS – 3.6L V6, automatic.  What a disappointment – I had hoped upon hopes that he would get a manual transmission vehicle or at least something with a soul.  Not to fault the Caddy – it was a fine cruiser and had a nice torque band, but it was an automatic, weighed a billion pounds, came in fun-killing AWD and had some of the most isolated and numb steering I’ve ever experienced.  He had dropped the ball and continues to drop it.

I’ve tried to steer him away and give him a taste of fun.  I convinced him to go in on a Boxster together, placing it in our Family Limited Partnership, but he rarely if ever wants to drive the car, and I usually wind up only taking it for race days (which is why it has under 60,000 miles on it despite being 11 years old).  Its too low, too hard for his arthritic body to get into.  My mom hates riding in it too.  It doesn’t have room for his golf clubs.  I sometimes have to FORCE him to take it for a weekend just to remind him what driving is like.  It feels like a losing battle.

His latest fuckup came very recently.  A little background on this – he recently leased a Volkswagen Jetta 2.0t Wolfsburg Edition for the other attorney in our office as a little perk to working with us.  This is a fine car – wonderful transmission (not a manual, but the DSG is a marvel), wonderful engine, great sporty chassis.  When my Civic’s lease was up I got a GTI as a company car.  All he needed to do was get another VW to complete the trifecta.  And I almost had him sold . . .

When we started test driving, he was enamored with the Cadillac CTS Wagon – don’t ask me why – its one of the most hideous eyeball burning vehicles I’ve ever seen.  How they sell any of those ugly things is a mystery to me, especially at that outrageous price.  He was looking at a 3.0 liter (remember, he had a 3.6) which had similar horsepower output, but more weight and less torque so it felt like it was neutered.  The 3.6 had its price raised significantly over his generation so he ruled that one out.  I did manage to convince him that he would hate the 3.0 liter simply because it had no power.

Once he drove the VW CC he agreed wholeheartedly.  I hadn’t seen him so excited to drive a car since he got his Audi back in ’98.  He loved the responsiveness of the chassis and that direct injected 2.0 / DSG combination.  He was genuinely excited about this car . . . . but for some reason it started dropping off his radar because he had himself convinced he needed a wagon.  For what, I don’t know.  He only has one set of golf clubs.  Anyways, he wound up test driving the Jetta wagon in both diesel and 2.5L trim.  He liked it (didn’t love it) but was happy – good fuel economy, sunroof, wagon.

And then, out of nowhere, the idiot goes and buys an Acura TSX Sport Wagon . . . what-the-fuck?  Not ANOTHER bimbo box.  Where the hell did this car come from?  Its got no power, weighs a ton, and worst of all is ugly as sin.

Now I actually like the old TSX – it was sporty, despite its complete lack of usable power.   Honda knows how to make a chassis and this car danced, despite its front-wheel drive handicap.  Credit a multi link suspension design as opposed to the typical cost savings McStrut setups.  But this new car?  I don’t know.  I’m just beside myself.  How could I have failed my father?

But more importantly – how could he have failed as a rational consumer?  How do people make decisions like this?  The original laws of economics that I’m familiar with all assume the consumer is rational – I never worked with a model where the consumer was insane like this.  The consumer would maximize utility and purchase the best product.  Instead, what we have here is a consumer purchasing a vastly inferior product.  It is an inferior car compared to the competition, and doesn’t even compete on price (in fact its sometimes more expensive).  How does one make the decision to purchase this vehicle?

In fact, how does one make the decision to purchase an STI over an EVO (which is clearly superior in every measurable way).  Or a Chrysler Sebring over ANYTHING on the market today?  I just don’t know and it drives me crazy.  I can’t explain this behavior.  It vexes me.

And, as a result, my father, who was so instrumental in turning me into a “car guy” has simply failed in his role as a consumer in the marketplace.  He is rewarding an inferior product which is a sin of commerce in my eyes.  Who would want a slow, ugly, automatic transmission, fuel efficient and highly functional bimbo box such as this?

Maybe he’s just getting old.

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