10 August 2006


Growing up in Southern California, I developed the typical attachment to the automobile, because over there it embodies freedom itself. It's hardly a profound insight (so I shan't dwell on it too long, mercifully) that in Los Angeles, having no car severely hampers one's mobility, and, accordingly, one's opportunities to work, date or do pretty much anything outside of the house. Over the years, however, I have intermittently lived in cities in which car ownership is not essential, or can even constitute a nuisance, such as New York, Chicago, and, more recently, Munich. And I freely admit that I am not a particularly good driver, in that my attention tends to wander. These days, when I think of cars, a parade of horribles, or nasties at any rate, courses through my mind: accidents, expense (gas!!, oil, repairs, parts, parking, registration, insurance), fiddling with said insurance, finding parking places, waiting around in parts- and repairshops, futile efforts to keep the thing clean inside and out, worrying about damage (keying, etc.), declining value, DMV (Autobehörde) paperwork, pollution, sitting in ever-larger traffic jams (note how we tend to drop that word these days in favor of plain 'traffic'), and, finally, simply enriching Arab potentates with every mile you drive alone.

Anyhow, here in Munich recently I have seen two late-model full-sized Dodge Ram pickups. One belongs to a neighbor half a block away in this little suburb. Interestingly--I had never noticed this--European license plates, though they seem so large, actually have the same height as American ones; only the width is greater. So the authorities issued the owner a custom-fitted license plate which nicely fits into the US-designed slot--same height, just not as wide, and since the German numbers are so much bigger, it has only four digits. As a result it resembles a US plate, but with much bigger numbers.

All quite convenient. But for the life of me I cannot fathom why anyone, unless he earned more than, say, €20,000 per month (a very, very high income indeed) would want to own and operate such a beast here. First off, a truck (LKW) this large must be terribly unwieldy on narrow streets and parking places designed for smaller vehicles. I have no idea what the environmental requirements and import fees are, but I would wager that they are hardly cheap. Next, the headache of finding parts--from what I have seen, there appear to be no supply and maintenance networks for cars sold only in the States. Years ago, when BMW and Mercedes sold relatively few cars in the US, a similar problem obtained--back in the seventies, you had to wait weeks for a part from Germany. Since then, these companies have assiduously built up the necessarily supply and distribution networks, but only because their cars have become prevalent enough to make it worthwhile. US pickups are rarely sold in Europe and I would think that all spare parts would have to be imported as you go, shipped over.

But the granddaddy of all Nachteilen (disadvantages) has to be the GAS! Sprit! Benzin! Um Himmels Willen!!! €1,40 pro Liter...basically about $7.20 a gallon. A rig like this late-model pickup gets, what--12 mpg?! (19 liters/100) So, one tank, 25 gallons (100 liters) you are talking close to $200, or €270--and that 25 gallons ain't gonna take you too far. And imagine opening up that V-12 or whatever it is on the AUTOBAHN at 115 mph (ca. 185 km/St.) and you will probably not be able to drive more than an hour, because you then will be down to 7 mpg (ca. 33 liter/100) and after going 115 miles, poof! The thing would be as costly to operate as an airplane--more--$150 an hour or some such!!