The Truth About Cars » Travel http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 08 Dec 2014 23:30:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Travel http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Riding the Luxury Buses of Latin America http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/riding-luxury-buses-latin-america/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/riding-luxury-buses-latin-america/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 16:34:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=895202 Traveling by bus is the preferred mode for the growing middle class throughout Latin America. White collar workers, government employees, and students take long-distance buses for many reasons. First, it is much less expensive than flying. Second, buses reach a lot more destinations than planes. Finally, even those who own cars prefer to let a […]

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Traveling by bus is the preferred mode for the growing middle class throughout Latin America. White collar workers, government employees, and students take long-distance buses for many reasons. First, it is much less expensive than flying. Second, buses reach a lot more destinations than planes. Finally, even those who own cars prefer to let a professional do the driving, thus minimizing wear and tear to their own cars and the stress of dodging out-of-control big rigs and stray animals for hundreds of miles.

The stereotype, of course, is that all buses South of the Border are chicken buses– second-hand American school buses with psychedelic paint schemes, tinted windows, and chrome galore. In fact, luxury buses– built in Brazil and Europe– are very common and often have more amenities than commercial airliners. Make the jump to learn more about them.

The Buses. Along the Pan-American Highway, three brands dominate. Busscar (Brazil), Marcopolo (Brazil), and Scania (Sweden). Many are double deckers.

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Accommodations. All the buses have TVs hooked up to DVD players up front, constantly blaring bad American movies. Think Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2, Fireproof (starring Kirk Cameron), or any Kevin James movie.

All luxury buses have a toilet in the back, as the long-distance buses make very few stops.

The seats recline, some up to 160 degrees. One Peruvian bus company even offers a business center onboard, complete with printer and fax machine.

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The Staff. Two drivers usually man each bus. And they are always men. They switch off after a few hours of driving, as it is very fatiguing work. The express bus from Osorno, Chile, to Punta Arenas, Chile, which cuts through Argentine Patagonia, for example, takes over 28 hours.

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The waitstaff onboard the buses puts the flight attendants of American legacy carriers to shame. Their uniforms are chic and tidy and they will go out of their way to make their passengers’ trips pleasant. Even after a couple of days on the road, they look like they just started the workday an hour ago. It’s unreal.

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The meals. On the most fancy of coaches, you get a meal just like on an airplane. When you buy your ticket, you have the option of beef, chicken, or vegetarian meals. And they are actually delicious. When meals are not available onboard, the bus will invariably stop at a clean and reputable restaurant. The photo below shows a meal I had during a stop in the Argentinean Lake District. The restaurant was at the base of a cliff and a waterfall behind the eatery provided the ambiance.

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The worst meal I had on a luxury bus was in Honduras, where I was served a Burger King breakfast sandwich, and it still wan’t half bad. Here it is, served in a cute bus shaped box.

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For a summary of my Pan-American bus journeys, by the numbers, click here.

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Rental Car Oligopoly Increasing Profitability at Consumers’ Expense http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/rental-car-oligopoly-increasing-profitability-consumers-expense/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/rental-car-oligopoly-increasing-profitability-consumers-expense/#comments Thu, 07 Aug 2014 15:00:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=883481 2014 has been a good year for the rental car industry. A recovering economy has meant more car rentals and more miles traveled by consumers. Volume alone isn’t responsible for the rental companies’ recent success, though. Each of the big three rental chains has been able to raise prices, thanks to the consolidation of an […]

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2014 has been a good year for the rental car industry. A recovering economy has meant more car rentals and more miles traveled by consumers. Volume alone isn’t responsible for the rental companies’ recent success, though. Each of the big three rental chains has been able to raise prices, thanks to the consolidation of an industry that they now collectively control 98% of.

Bloomberg reports that Avis Budget Group, Enterprise, and Hertz Global Holdings have been able to raise prices thanks to a combination of less competition and better inventory management. They haven’t been particularly coy about their increase in leverage over the market. The CEO of Avis Budget recently declared during a conference call with investment analysts that “I’m probably more enthusiastic about our business than I’ve ever been. And one of the reasons is the meaningful change in pricing that we’ve now seen play out over the past six quarters.” His company’s stock has gained in value 50% over the last year, and is now a Wall Street favorite. Currently trading at close to $60, some analysts think there’s still plenty of room for growth. A report released Wednesday by the MKM Partners market research firm pegs the true value at between $75-80 a share.

“Rival” firm Hertz hasn’t been doing quite so well, but isn’t exactly hurting for business. That company’s stock is down slightly as it recovers from a major accounting snafu dating back to 2011. In 2013 Hertz swallowed Dollar Thrifty in a $2.3 billion deal that drew the attention of antitrust regulators in the Federal Trade Commission. Despite concerns about reduced competitiveness in the industry, the deal was allowed to go forward after Hertz agreed to spin off its Advantage sub-brand. Advantage lasted a mere four months on its own before going bankrupt. It was sold to a capital investment firm and then spun off yet again, surviving today as a niche player in select cities.

Avis has also scarfed up competitors. In 2011, the company acquired Payless Car Rental for $50 million, and a few months later bought out Zipcar for $500 million. Some consolidation in the industry was probably inevitable following the 2009 recession. But trade observers now agree that the FTC dropped the ball when it allowed Hertz to buy out Dollar Thrifty. The competitive situation in the car rental business now represents the “Golden Age” of the Detroit 3 automakers in the 50s and 60s: a mostly stable oligopolistic arrangement where everyone has their own slice of the pie, nobody upsets the apple cart, and a few oddballs pick up the scraps.

As an entitled and obstinate Millennial that hasn’t developed the proper respect for the gently used and reasonably priced wares of the rental chains, I find myself wondering how this comfy arrangement might be disrupted. Although still in their infancy, car-sharing services like Lyft and Uber may grow into feasible alternatives to rental cars. One sign that the nascent ridesharing market is worth taking seriously is the interest shown in it by the big rental companies. Besides Avis’ aforementioned acquisition of Zipcar, Enterprise bought Zimride, the predecessor company of Lyft, last year. In any case, from a consumer’s perspective the rental car business could use a little more competition.

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New or Used? : A Road Trip… Geo Metro Style http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/new-or-used-a-road-trip-to-munchkinland/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/new-or-used-a-road-trip-to-munchkinland/#comments Wed, 19 Feb 2014 13:00:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=743577 We want to go on a road trip this summer. There are four of us. Myself, my wife, a teen and a tween. The wife and kids are thin and I’m about average sized. Why do I mention this? We are looking at getting a normal-sized vehicle that can potentially sleep four.  A minivan, crossover, […]

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We want to go on a road trip this summer.

There are four of us. Myself, my wife, a teen and a tween. The wife and kids are thin and I’m about average sized.

Why do I mention this?

We are looking at getting a normal-sized vehicle that can potentially sleep four.  A minivan, crossover, or even a large SUV would be perfectly fine for us. We think that there will be times when we can’t use a tent, and I would rather get away from the overpriced state parks if it’s at all possible.

Our budget is $10,000. We don’t want anything funky to maintain. For us that means no VW vans. We will consider most anything else.  All domestics and imports are on the radar so long as they allow us reasonable sleeping quarters for our family.

Any ideas?

Steve Says:

Yes, rent a trailer or RV first.

A lot of folks think that they can take a big swig of the great American road trip in one feel swoop. But the truth is that close quarters will turn even the slightest of irritable personalities into a smorgasbord of communal hate and vitriol.

A week’s worth of traveling will help you figure out your own family’s tolerances real fast.

Your kids are young? They will want some space. The adults will want some space. Trust me. Whether you chose to give them real space or imaginary space via video games and movies is your call. But if this were my call, I would take the big bite that is the rental of a trailer (if you have a vehicle that can already haul one), a pop-up,  or an RV, and make the most of your time.

Most normal sized vehicles can’t sleep four unless you are willing to do some serious customization.  There are built-in tents and conversion kits for Azteks that can sleep two. Astros with third seats that can be made into a bed… that sleep two. There are even full-sized vans that supposedly seat four. Although the sleeping space me be a bit claustrophobic for some.

Heck, if you were creative enough, you could probably pull off sleeping space four in a stretch limo. But the truth is the only real games in town for road trips that can house four living souls comfortably are the camper conversions, trailers and RV’s.

What’s the cheapest route? Not going cheap.

In the long run your best decision will likely be trying one of these options out and figuring out what would best suit your family’s needs. Long-term road trip vehicles may be the one area where renting first actually makes sense. So rent something you like. Live it up a bit. Then, when you find the right size, make your investment in mobile living.

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Packing Up And Heading Out http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/packing-up-and-heading-out/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/packing-up-and-heading-out/#comments Tue, 02 Apr 2013 16:58:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=483364   A thick book. A banana. Two year old sneakers. A backpack. Then there is an oversized laptop that has to be wrapped around the zipper line of the backpack in order to fit. I’m headed for the Hartsfield International Airport in Clayton County, Georgia.  The most visited airport in the United States, and a […]

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A thick book. A banana. Two year old sneakers. A backpack.

Then there is an oversized laptop that has to be wrapped around the zipper line of the backpack in order to fit.

I’m headed for the Hartsfield International Airport in Clayton County, Georgia.  The most visited airport in the United States, and a second home for me way back in my traveling days.

10 years ago I traveled over 200 times a year to various auto auctions throughout the country. My job was to inpsect, appraise and liquidate over 10,000 vehicles a year for an auto finance company. Travel was almost instinctual back then. I could sort out all my personal belongings for the road ahead without any wasted space or thought.

This time, I’m hopeless.

“Do I need two pairs of shoes?”

“Damn. These shoes will have to be in a contortionist position to fit in the backpack,  and then all my clothes will start smelling like my shoes. Better just bring the sneakers.

The hell with it all!  I’m a journalist. They won’t care.”

One hour later…

“Okay, one extra pair of shoes then. How about books? Do I bring that ancient artifact known as a hardcover book? Or do I ask the wife for the family Ipad? Screw it. Her friend’s social dramas are tied to that thing. I’ll just bring a book.”

On and on the questions go for another forty-five minutes. By the time I get ready for sleep, I’m wondering if I’m missing anything. Nope. All the clothes. All the toys. The right way to transport it. No waste.

Thank God.

The next morning I pull off with the wife, daughter and dog. We’re going to drop her off at school, and I’m going to take a long walk to the bus depot that happens to be across the street. I’ll save the wife a couple of hours on the road, and I’ll get myself plenty of time to read a book.

As soon as I pay for the $2.50 ticket. I sit down and immediately realize I left my hardcover book behind.

Oh well. It figures. I guess I’ll be hunting down old newspapers once I get to the airport. In the meantime, I start thinking about my past travels in planes, trains and automobiles. Then I start to think about John Candy, Steve Martin, and the two fluffy pillows that won’t be close by as I sleep in what will hopefully be a hotel room in Las Vegas that has clean sheets.

Are clean sheets too much to ask in the travel world of 2013. I hope not. But how was it like for you? Was packing a bitch? Or a breeze? Was that road ahead a road of dread? Or an hours long drive full of great meals and dangling conversations?

Share with us your packing and traveling escapades, and enjoy this beautiful Tuesday.

 

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Hammer Time: Before Cars http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/hammer-time-before-cars/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/hammer-time-before-cars/#comments Thu, 14 Mar 2013 15:14:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=481259 A lot of folks may look at their early teenage years with fleeting moments of fondness. Friends, birthday parties, fun and games. Not to mention a healthy variety of mischievous activities to help keep life interesting between the endless classroom lectures and local social drama. I don’t remember 99.9% of it… which is no doubt […]

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Click here to view the embedded video.

A lot of folks may look at their early teenage years with fleeting moments of fondness.

Friends, birthday parties, fun and games. Not to mention a healthy variety of mischievous activities to help keep life interesting between the endless classroom lectures and local social drama.

I don’t remember 99.9% of it… which is no doubt a good thing since my life was pretty much in a counterclockwise hormone ridden tailspin by the time I hit the big 1 3.

But I do vaguely recall one unfortunate thing I never could avoid.

Long distances to get anywhere that would remotely qualify as fun.

In the asphalt asphyxiated roads of northern New Jersey, nearly all fun activities for a pre-licensed teen required a long drive through potholed roads with a mom chauffeur (usually) and a never ending chorus of stop signs and red lights.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The two movie theaters took about 20 minutes. A nearby roller rink loaded with, even then, vintage arcade games like Pole Position and Mr. Do took another 25 minutes. A walkable town? That was 10 minutes away. But at least over there I could get a slice of pizza and a video on VHS.

The weather was cold, cloudy and windy most of the time. While the freedom was limited to parental whims, a 10 speed bike, and Converse All-Stars.

Sometimes I would listen to a Walkman and just jog around the neighborhood… for fun. The thought of it now depresses me. In part, because life is now infinitely more interesting. But also because I now realize that a lack of mobility, at any age, can be as crippling to a person’s psyche as any other challenge.

Click here to view the embedded video.

So this brings me to two distinct thoughts for you to consider. Was there a time in your younger days when you didn’t have your own wheels, but needed them? Related to this, what the heck did you do for fun back in the day? Other than watch TV?

 

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North Korea Diary: All Roads Lead To Pyongyang http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/north-korea-diary-all-roads-lead-to-pyongyang/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/north-korea-diary-all-roads-lead-to-pyongyang/#comments Sun, 25 Dec 2011 13:00:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=423442 The familiar wail of a police siren cuts through the chilly early winter morning air rudely snapping me out of a cold-induced slumber. Our minibus slows to a crawl as our minder winds down the window to wave his papers at a bunch of stern-faced traffic policemen. The officer that checked the papers gave the […]

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The familiar wail of a police siren cuts through the chilly early winter morning air rudely snapping me out of a cold-induced slumber. Our minibus slows to a crawl as our minder winds down the window to wave his papers at a bunch of stern-faced traffic policemen.

The officer that checked the papers gave the 17 university students on the bus a once-over before waving to his partner to turn off the siren. It seems that a Toyota Coaster minibus filled with students is a rare sight in this part of the world.

Then I caught sight of a little round badge bearing the smiling face of the “Eternal President” Kim Il-Sung on the officer’s coat.

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” the voice in my head whispered.

Welcome to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), or better known as Communist North Korea.

In the capital city of Pyongyang, the roads are wide but not as empty as you might think. An eclectic mix of cars ply the six-lane dual carriageways, sharing space with run-down electric trolley buses and trams.

The most common car seen on the streets is the Romanian-built Dacia 1310. Most of them are part of the city’s taxi network though our minders were quick to add that these taxis are expensive to take and most citizens only take them as a last resort.

How expensive is an average cab ride?

According to one of our minders, Mr. Kim Mun-Chol, the fare upon flag-down is 3 USD and a 15-minute ride would set you back nearly 20 USD. The international exchange rate stands at 1 USD : 133.75 North Korean Won (KPW) but the local exchange rate is closer to 1: 100, presumably for easier rip-offcalculation. Foreigners are explicitly forbidden to use or even hold onto the local currency and are only allowed to deal in USD or Euros.

Most other Dacia 1310s seem to be private vehicles barely kept in running condition with homemade parts and the owners’ tenacious will to get by. I saw a local attempt to change a wheel on his Romanian love just outside the restaurant that we were about the have lunch at.

The pins holding the brakes together were roughly cut bolts that looked seemingly as if they were scavenged pieces of metal put together. The amount of welding done within the wheel well also hinted at the numerous repairs that have been performed to keep this car going in a country where getting spare parts is difficult to say the least.

Just as I was about to take a photograph of the man working, another of our minders appeared in front of my camera and said with an almost too cheery a grin: “This way please, we are having lunch here.”

He refused to budge till I entered the restaurant.

With housing issued by the state, where you stay is a poignant reminder of your social status. For the roughly three million citizens living in the city, they consider themselves amongst the fortunate ones in the country with barely acceptable access to electricity, food, and running water.

Whilst some struggle to keep their cars going, others indulge in conspicuous consumption with Mercedes Benz topping the unofficial chart of most popular marque in the city.

Mercedes of various models and age serve as the premium mode of transport for the rich and powerful. Parked right outside the Koryo Hotel, a North Korean rated five-star hotel where we stayed, is a fleet of presumably armoured S-Classes wearing the Red Star marked diplomatic plates.

And it is not just the stereotypical “dictator special” S-Class that is the mark of a made man here. More modern products like the GL-Class and the latest E-Class models are occasionally seen barreling down the road at speeds well above the legal limits with relative immunity from the local law enforcement.

For those just a few rungs beneath the top of the social ladder, Volkswagens, in particular, the Passat and Jetta are choice picks. Further down, citizens seem to shower their favour equally between locally made Pyeonghwa Motors products and Chinese-made Brillance, BYD, and FAW products.

The roads in Pyongyang are never packed enough to cause any real traffic jams and drivers mostly subscribe to the driving style of the right-of-horn. But that is not to say that they disregard lights at junctions. At the few working traffic lights in the city, drivers, regardless of how expensive the car they are driving, placidly wait out the change of lights.

At junctions without traffic lights, and there are quite a few in a city with hardly enough electricity to go around, there are female traffic police officers conducting traffic. One of our minders joked that these ladies are picked for their attractiveness and dedication to the job. Judging from the officers’ rosily made up faces, it seems that there is a seed of truth in his jest.

And as I wonder how these ladies keep traffic flowing all day while bearing the brunt of the sub-zero winter cold, our driver pulls into a petrol station to top up the tank. North Korea imports most of its oil from neighbouring China at “friendly prices,” said one of our minders and declined to elaborate on further enquiry. His carefully worded reply did little to prepare me for the biggest surprise of the trip.

Total fuel bill: 50 Won

The price of diesel is one Won per litre.

And I doubt the price of petrol is any more expensive.

 

The author was part of a team of 16 journalism students from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University chosen to tour the country from Dec 3 to 10 on a reporting practicum offered by the school.

The trip is fully funded by the Wee Kim Wee legacy fund.

All images courtesy: Wong Kang Wei & Edwin Loh

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