By on December 1, 2015

1. Bob Seattle 3

If you thought I got lost somewhere in southern Alaska, you thought wrong.

We are now hitting Seattle, WA for the remaining part of this U.S. North to South series. I have the privilege of driving a 2015 Ram 2500 Tradesman Crew Cab 4×4 Turbo Diesel.

I baptised last year’s Ram 1500 as Albert. This year, I will follow the letters of the alphabet as they do for hurricanes. Say hello to Bob. Bob, say hello to TTAC.

My first impressions are below along with an explanation on Ford Seattle license plates 2,000 miles up north in Barrow, Alaska…

2. Bob Seattle 4

But first, you may ask, “Why a male nickname for the truck?”

Here’s the thing: in France, where I’m originally from, everything is sexualised (nothing new here) and everything has a gender. Trucks, including pickups, are male, while passenger cars are female. So even though I’ve called Australia home for thirteen years now, naming my truck Barbara would be wrong — very wrong — to me. So Bob it is.

This Ram 2500 Tradesman Crew Cab 4×4 with 8-foot bed and Cummins turbodiesel under its gargantuan hood retails for $48,565.

Bob is a Heavy Duty Turbo Diesel

A little bit over a year ago when I took the wheel of Albert, the other Ram, I was surprised at how car-like nimble it was. Bob is a whole different story. Even though it is part of the same family of pickups and counted together in the monthly sales charts, stepping up from a Ram 1500 to a Ram 2500 is exactly like going from a car to a truck. Last year, I would have liked Albert to sound more manly. As astoundingly frugal as it was (I achieved 30 mpg with him), the 3-liter Ecodiesel did not sound like an actual truck. Bob, with its 6.7-liter Cummins I-6, is every bit of truck that Albert wasn’t. I had always dreamt of driving across the United States in a proper truck. Bob sounds like a truck, and feels like a truck to drive, too.

3. Bob Gearbox

Being European, I’m used to manhandling manual gearboxes. I’ve done so all my life to the point where automatics feel eerily unnatural to me. Here, too, Bob is a step up. Contrasting with the automatic rotary shifter used by the Ram 1500, Bob’s manual lever is gigantic and lodged on the dashboard, not the floor, like a good, old-fashioned pickup. Giving away its primary function as a workhorse, Bob’s first three gears are very short, making for interesting starts at red lights.

Bob Seattle 2

Bob sits very high on its wheels, requiring a windshield-side handle and muscled legs to jump in. Its 8-foot box makes it a longer vehicle than most in the city. I feel taller and bigger than everything around me. I also take up a lot more space on the road. All this combines very nicely to give a quintessential American pickup experience.

It took me a day to get used to his little quirks, but Bob and I are now ready to roll! First stop: downtown Seattle. Navigating this monster in the (very) steep and narrow Seattle streets is a baptism-by-fire akin to my Manhattan experience with Albert last year. Parking on the street is not an option as there are no (free) parking spots large enough. My only way out was the oversize section outside of an underground parking lot. Full-size pickup trucks are definitely frowned upon in green-obsessed Seattle…

 

5. Seattle Chowder queue

Only in Seattle: two hour-queue for a chowder.

 

Now onto Seattle as a city. I had no expectations, but wasn’t thrilled either. Healthily grounded after two full weeks spent in mostly remote Alaska, I was somehow looking forward to a more “sophisticated” experience, for lack of a better word. But the town’s crowd of latte-sipping hipsters, suit-wearing buskers and queue-making chowder-eaters leave me unimpressed. Pike Place Market is a must-see, but nothing out of the ordinary for a Frenchman. It was, however, nice to enter the very first Starbucks coffeeshop ever built.

4. Toyota Prius Taxi Seattle

Before we hit the road, a word on the best-selling cars in Washington state (see all the sales figures for the ten states visited here). With Seattle as the main population hub, it’s a passenger-car-dominated state with the top 3 sellers belonging to that segment: Toyota Camry, Corolla and Subaru Outback. Although less prominent than in Alaska, the Subaru craze is still raging here, as is the case in the entire Northwestern part of the United States. A healthy amount of privately-owned Subaru Outbacks can be spotted throughout the city and its suburbs as I witnessed during a day trip to Snoqualmie Falls. In fact, the best-selling “light truck” in WA and fourth-best overall selling vehicle is the Subaru Forester, outselling the Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado in a rare achievement.

Toyota Prius Seattle

Seattle is the kingdom of eco-friendly cars. The tone is set as soon as we leave the airport with a Tesla depot in full view with its dozens of Model S units awaiting delivery. A multitude of Toyota Priuses can be seen streaming along Seattle’s streets, with the majority of the town’s taxis being Priuses too. All models in the electric vehicle category are well represented as well, including the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt and the three BMW i3 spotted in a matter of hours.

Ford F-150 Seattle

Compared to Alaska, the car and truck landscape is definitely newer. There are no more old F-Series trucks on the roads in Washington as they are legion up north. I only spotted one 1980s vintage example in two days. I also saw my first Scion iA and new-generation Hyundai Tucson of the trip. On this last point, Hyundai has grabbed a much higher market share of the Washington car market than it has in Alaska. A constant flow of Elantras (#4 passenger car here so far in 2015) grace Seattle’s roads.

Chrysler 200 Seattle

Seattle may be green, but it’s still socially awkward. While the traffic was at a standstill for miles in all lanes of the highway on the way back from Snoqualmie Falls, the carpool lane was totally empty.

Plymouth Seattle

Just miles south of Seattle, in Renton near the Seattle–Tacoma International Airport, I was able to elucidate a mystery I mentioned while still in Barrow in Northern Alaska. There I spotted a number of Fords with Sound Ford license plates. According to its website, Sound Ford is about to celebrate 40 consecutive years as the number one volume Ford dealer in Washington. A quick chat with Derek, a salesman at Sound Ford Renton, tells me why I found cars from his dealership all the way up in northern Alaska, 2,000 miles away.

“Yes, we do ship a lot of cars to Alaska. Here, around Seattle, you have a dozen Ford dealers in the area, so the competition is intense. Our retail prices are much lower than what Ford charges in Anchorage, Alaska. Customers purchase their cars on our website, give us instructions as to which port and barge to drive the car to, we load the car on the barge and they pick it up in Barrow. Barge transport to Alaska costs around $1,000 and, even when factoring that cost in, these customers end up saving $5,000 to $10,000 per vehicle by purchasing it here instead of in Anchorage.”

It all makes sense now. Looking at the most frequent cars in Barrow, I would guess a lot of Ford F-150 pickups have made the leisurely three-week barge trip through the Bering Strait, waving at Russia on the way.

Bob Optimus Prime

It’s now time to take Bob on the road. We head south to Portland, Oregon for Bob’s first day on the highway. Along the way, and thanks to a tip from fellow TTAC writer Cameron Aubernon, Bob and I meet Optimus Prime from the latest Transformers movie. This keeps Bob on his toes, showing him that even though he was a monster on the road, he was still no match for the modified Mack truck.

12. Smart Fortwo Portland

According to the Lonely Planet, Portland is “an up-and-coming destination that has finally arrived and a can’t-miss stop on your adventures in the Pacific Northwest”. Once again, and I’m sorry I feel this way, but I found it to be an over-rated snobbish town. I am doing this drive for big skies and National Parks, not much-hyped hipster towns. The car park in Portland, however, makes for interesting observations: Teslas, more Smart Fortwos here than in the rest of the U.S. combined (only a slight exaggeration) and customers that have fully embraced the revived Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon mid-size pickups.

 

Subaru Outback Portland

Favorites in Portland: the Subaru Outback and Forester

Looking at the official car sales figures for 2015 in Oregon, we find an eerily similar picture to that in Alaska: the overall best-seller is the Ram pickup (so Bob feels right at home), followed by the Subaru Outback, Toyota Camry and Subaru Forester. The Ford F-150 is knocked down to fourth overall and the Toyota Tacoma is fourth in the light-truck category, confirming Oregon’s taste for mid-sized pickups.

I won’t spend the night here but will drive a further couple of hours east to sleep in The Dalles, at the border between Washington and Oregon, in the first of many Motel 6 hotels I will stay at during this trip. The good news in this part of the country is the low gas prices: from $2.729 a gallon of diesel in Anchorage to $2.299 Seattle and $2.599 in The Dalles. That’s up to a full dollar per gallon less than what I was paying last year and will make up for the weaker fuel economy of my Ram 2500, standing in the low twenties for now.

Next we cross Idaho to reach Glacier National Park in Montana.

Matt Gasnier is based in Sydney, Australia. He runs a website dedicated to car sales statistics, trends and analysis called BestSellingCarsBlog. The website features sales data for 190 countries worldwide including 80 countries updated monthly.

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38 Comments on “U.S. North to South 2015: Seattle to Portland...”


  • avatar
    olddavid

    If you wait until the 19th, my family and I will show you how an old Lincoln cruises over Marias Pass from Portland. Or maybe my wife will prevail and drive her Infiniti X. Either way, even with four by diesel you would be 100 miles in my mirror on day one. By the way, your observations of the superficial are as judgmental as the hipsters you abhor. They really are a small minority of Oregonians.

    • 0 avatar
      srh

      If you spend any time in Portland, you know that it’s tough to escape the hipster vibe. Yes, outside of Portland in any direction it vanishes quickly as Mssr. Gasnier is no doubt discovering in The Dalles Motel 6. Surely he’ll find his big skies in Eastern Oregon, if he spends any time there. I’ve spent many sleepless nights around Spray with stars like I’ve never seen elsewhere.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        The cultural and climatological difference between western and eastern Oregon is pretty stark and sudden. Their Mason Dixon line runs right down the spine of the Cascades. Seems like Hood River and The Dalles show this juxtaposition well.

        Eastern Oregon is a treasure. We’ve spent some time roaming around Hart Mountain and Steens Mountain and it’s just open vistas and room to get away.

      • 0 avatar
        RobertRyan

        Outside of you sharing a name with a very well known Rugby League player in Australia, I see the occasional ,Australian built F250-F350, engine a 351 Cleveland. Last built in 1980
        http://www.justauto.com.au/justtrucks/trucks-for-sale/1980-FORD-F350-JTM3434198?backurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.justauto.com.au%2Fjusttrucks%2Fcars%2Fford%2Ff350&backtext=Results

    • 0 avatar

      Matt visited Seattle and Portland back in early October; unless he steers Bob or some other ride back your way by the 19th of December, I doubt he’ll be able to take you up on his offer.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    …It was, however, nice to enter the very first Starbucks coffeeshop ever built…

    If you mean the one in Pike Place I hate to report you’ve been a victim of clever marketing. It is not the first Starbucks location.

    I also agree with your assessment of Seattle. Natives here desperate want to believe this is a world class city, it is second tier and is not a New York, Sydney, Paris, London, Chicago, or Rio – not even close.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    It would be nice to not see an entire urban area dismissed as an “overrated snobbish town” by someone just passing through on their first time, although once in downtown I did have some college age hipster gal dressed in olive drab canvas get super pissed about my not taking a chocolate being offered from an open box to all passersby for no explicable reason.

    I waited 5 minutes for my Pike Place Chowder. You’d be freaking nuts to stand in a line that long for it.

    I agree about the huge difference in driving character between half-ton and 3/4 ton trucks. We have F150s and F250s as work vehicles here, and while the 150 is surprisingly carlike, the 250 is just a PITA.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Don’t hate him because of his perceptiveness. Envy is a stinky cologne.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      I have to agree with you. Seattle and Portland are my two favorite cities in the country, and I’m far from the stereotypical hipster. I just spent over a year living in the suburbs of Seattle. I loved it, and the only real downside was the high cost of living. Great bars and restaurants downtown. The surrounding geography is beautiful. I took every chance I could at a drive through the mountains.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        And here we are living in SE Michigan…

        • 0 avatar
          MBella

          Nothing wrong with southeast Michigan. I was hoping that one thing that would result from Detroit’s bankruptcy was a more normal tax system that would encourage businesses and development. Everyone I talk to that does business there always talks about how expensive it is. If your taxes were similar to the suburbs, Detroit could be a world class city again.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            I love living in the Detroit area. I miss mountains and the scenery out west.

            The property taxes need to be adjusted too. I have one of the higher millage rates in Oakland County, but Detroit property owners pay almost double. I would also have worse city services and terrible schools. I’d love to live in the city again, but it isn’t worth it.

          • 0 avatar
            MBella

            Isn’t that funny. Who in their right mind would pay those kind of taxes to live in the hood? The city’s plan of “People aren’t paying their taxes. Let’s raise the rate so more people stop paying” isn’t very sustainable.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Only people that are paid to live down there. I have a buddy that is pretty high up on the Rock Ventures/Dan Gilbert totem pole. He even made the 30 under 30 list put out by Crain’s. He lives in Indian Village. He’s lucky he still has a wife and kids because someone broke in their 6000 sq ft house that is blocks away from one of the five worst neighborhoods in the country. Kids were upstairs sleeping and his wife encountered the intruder in the kitchen. Luckily she was able to grab a knife and talk the guy into leaving. And they still live in that house and talk about how great living in Detroit is. You know what, f$ck that. It’s not worth it. They can’t even send their kids to public school because they suck. So, in order to live in Detroit you need to be poor and have no future, or be rich, have a huge house with a security system, pay 84! mills in taxes, hire private security to patrol your street, and send your kids to school in the burbs. Pass.

          • 0 avatar
            MBella

            I’m surprised you’re friend doesn’t have onsite security.

            When the bankruptcy started, the ideal solution would have been for the state to run the city for 5-10 years. During that time they should have done a 5 year tax holiday, to get some people to invest. By the time the 5 years would be up, they would have enough taxpayers to do a normal rate similar to the suburbs.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            The block pays for security now. He didn’t have a home alarm system before that either.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    It would be nice to not see an entire urban area dismissed as an “overrated snobbish town” by someone just passing through on their first time, although once in downtown I did have some college age hipster gal dressed in olive drab canvas get super cranky about my not taking a chocolate being offered from an open box to all passersby for no explicable reason.

    I waited 5 minutes for my Pike Place Chowder. You’d be freaking nuts to stand in a line that long for it.

    I agree about the huge difference in driving character between half-ton and 3/4 ton trucks. We have F150s and F250s as work vehicles here, and while the 150 is surprisingly carlike, the 250 is just a PITA.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Matt didn’t see very much of either city, but based on the parts he saw he’s not totally wrong. I’m a Seattle native and had family in Portland for decades.

    Seattle is a bit of an odd duck. It started, and spent its first century or so, as an industrial boom (and bust) town, first extracting natural resources and then making aircraft and various other manufactured goods. Its hilly, waterlogged topography caused it to develop as a series of isolated places, connected either by bridges or by narrow and relatively spare roads. Before the tech boom, it was a sleepy and blue-collar place, with only a couple of fancy restaurants in the whole city but a pretty robust adult entertainment scene. The development pattern and topography meant it was never walkable, making it hard for newcomers to explore and learn.

    Then Microsoft came along, starting a sustained, 30-year tech boom that has radically intensified in the last 5-6 years thanks to Amazon and a critical mass of tech workers that is giving rise to Silicon Valley II. This has exploded housing prices, previously reasonable, and given the city some amenities of a real city for the first time. Now you can walk around downtown, Capitol Hill, Belltown, and lower Queen Anne and feel like you’re in a big city, and there are finally city-type amenities in those central neighborhoods and in Ballard, another neighborhood to the northwest. But much of the city still has its sleepy atmosphere and suburban look. The downtown of the inner-ring suburb where I live, Kirkland, is more urban than much of Seattle.

    Portland, by contrast, developed from the beginning in a way that made it an accessible small city. About two-thirds the size of Seattle, it has a fantastic downtown and surrounding neighborhoods, has had a (really — best on the West Coast and top 5 nationally) world-class food and drink scene for years, and is easy for a newcomer to explore. But it doesn’t have the economic vitality of Seattle; it’s harder to find a job and the jobs don’t pay as well once you do find them. It’s also, like Seattle, a bit insular and distrusting of newcomers, and hasn’t had the tech influx to soften that tendency to nearly the same degree Seattle has.

    In both cities, the major reason to stay is the surroundings. Spectacular scenery, mild year-round weather, and close proximity to mountains and a staggering array of outdoor sports are the defining features of both cities (and the reason you see all those Subarus). If you are more interested in the city itself than in those features, you’ll probably do better in San Francisco or on the east coast.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      Thanks, I was hoping a local would give their more thorough impressions.

      While visiting family a few years ago, we wandered through the Fremont area for the spectacle of it and were not disappointed when we reached the Troll. The Troll is enough on its own, but we were treated to a delightful performance art display. Two ladies dressed in white and covered in fake blood were lying down while a third trudged back and forth across the scene, wailing and mourning into a microphone while a crowd of pedestrians gathered. Two pretty (and normal) young women in a car slowed to a crawl, windows down, and looked on with disgust and told me “This is not normal, even for here” before driving on. Too bad Matt didn’t happen upon such a scene :)

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Oh, and bringing a long-bed crew-cab HD truck into either city is a good way to make you hate life. Both cities have older road grids with relatively narrow roads, limited parking, and a car culture oriented around Priuses and Foresters. There are only a few places in downtown Seattle where you could even get that thing into a garage, and it’s longer than any spot on the street.

    Newcomers (including my wife when I first brought her here) invariably comment on the narrowness of the streets in the city, and often don’t enjoy driving on them.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    Personally I’m surprised that Sound Ford is still the #1 Ford dealer in the state. They certainly were for a very long time and the advertised like crazy to get there. The Sound automotive group was also the largest privately held company in the state for many years. However slowly he sold off the other dealers to many of his top employees. They used to have the Pontiac, Olds GMC, Toyota store which was the first to go. They then sold off the Subaru, Mazda and Mitsubishi stores. The Ford store used to be in that big vacant lot and huge fancy showroom across from where they are now which was built to be their Mazda store originally. They also have a massive number of service bays at the old location and they ran two shifts often touting their service being open to midnight in their “PRICE SELLS CARS” radio and TV advertisements.

    A big reason that Sound Ford did so much business with people from Alaska was simply their location near the freeway that leads too/from the airport. With the Alsaka Ferry now going all the way to Bellingham I bet that the number of Fords in Alaska sporting Diehl Ford plate frames will grow.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    From our vantage point across Puget Sound from Seattle, it seems to me that we have most of the advantages of living there – closeness to Washington’s scenic mountains and beaches – and not many of the disadvantages. Washington is like Oregon in that – even west of the Cascade Mountaiins – there are many lightly populated areas that are free of the hard leftism seen in Seattle and Portland.

  • avatar
    CliffG

    Alas, both Seattle and Portland are verging on being “hollowed out” cities, with upper middle class to above on one side and the poor on the other with the middle classes out in the suburbs. Over the last 50 years Seattle has gone from 40% under 18 in population to under 14%. The roads in Seattle are uniformly in horrific condition but the government and the voters seem resigned to that, instead fantasizing about Copenhagen like bicycle culture and fixed rail. But we do have a lot of beers, a great football team, and Amazon. So there you go. And most of the hipsters in Portland go to bed at night crying because Portland will always be Seattle-Lite.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Maybe it was intended as such.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      “The roads in Seattle are uniformly in horrific condition”

      No. No, they’re not. If you think they are, go drive in New York or Baltimore for a couple of days and then come back. There are only a few places in the whole city where I worry about damaging my car. In Baltimore, there is the potential for that on just about every block.

      You are right that we’re losing the middle class from the city, though, along with most of the poor (who are moving to Renton/Kent/Auburn en masse). Reluctance to allow any new housing is the main reason why; we have a whole lot of new arrivals and all the locals competing for a number of units that expands very slowly.

      • 0 avatar
        MBella

        I agree. I started laughing when I read that. A short visit to Michigan you show you what a bad road is. Working as an auto tech in Washington is way more difficult because the cars don’t get destroyed by the roads or extremes in temperature.

      • 0 avatar
        Dan

        Probably not what the original poster meant but a road that’s gridlocked for hours a day is in horrific condition to me no matter how smooth the asphalt is. Capacity relative to demand is the most important condition of all.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          Traffic congestion is going to happen in big cities. There’s just not enough room to build giant roads and lots of parking once population density passes a certain point. That’s when mass transit starts becoming critical.

        • 0 avatar
          ExPatBrit

          In the Seattle metropolitan area there are two North South Freeways with a lake between them, there is almost nowhere to put more lanes. They built the convention center over interstate 5 so it can’t be widened.

          Add to that weird design features like random assigned left or right exits + HOV lanes switching sides and during rush hour it’s going to be fun.

          I live on the Eastside, regardless of what time it is almost every time I go to Seattle I end up stuck in a jam.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            Way back in the early 70’s there was a plan to add another freeway between I5 and the lake. That is the reason that there were the ramps to nowhere on 520 pointing at the arboretum. (Yes the freeway was going to run right through the arboretum) There was the initial funding which payed for those ramps on 520 as well as buying up the land and starting the road bed to extend 167 as a proper 4 lane freeway all the way to I5.

            Unfortunately they couldn’t get the public support for funding to complete those and other projects. Another unfortunate thing is that the state sold off the right of way for finishing 167 and there are now warehouses where the freeway was supposed to run. So now it will be impossible to properly finish 167. Having that run all the way to Tacoma would be great.

            Back in the late 90’s the Seattle Times did a big report on it digging out some of the old plans and publishing them. They also showed the data on expected growth in the area that “proved” the need for those new roads and completing the existing projects. They actually came very close on predicting the population growth.

    • 0 avatar
      olddavid

      C’mon Cliff, who would even consider whether one or the other is “better” I live here in the Mississippi because I like the multicultural vibe and because the influx of newbies has tripled the value of our property. That is not politically correct to even mention but only a trotskyite would ignore that fact. The hollowing out you mention has no factual basis on the ground. Laurelhurst, Alameda, Hawthorne and Irvington are bulging with kids, leading to re-opening some shuttered plants. And roads? East of the plains leads the country in neglected highways. When I return I am amazed I ever complained.

  • avatar
    MBella

    There has definitely been some crazy procrastination with road infrastructure in the area. It seems the local public just won’t approve some of the necessities. I-5 isn’t too bad in Seattle if you are going with the direction of the express lanes. It just shows that if the same amount of lanes went both directions, a huge amount of traffic would be eliminated. I’m also surprised there hasn’t been more of a push to get a road crossing across the sound.

  • avatar
    ExPatBrit

    There was also a plan for another freeway that ran up the Snoqualmie valley, a continuation of Highway 18, the road currently dead-ends just east of Snoqualmie falls.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_605_(Washington)

  • avatar

    It was a pleasure to meet you back in early October, Matt! And I’m happy you got a chance to see Optimus Prime in Auburn when he was there, too. :)

  • avatar
    Big Wheel

    Um, Optimus Prime is not a Mack truck. This latest version is a Western Star 5700, part of the Daimler Trucks North America truck family (which also includes Freightliner). That’s a Western Star truck dealer it’s sitting at.

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