Why I think E-ZPass is Useless

Back in July 2020, my wife and I finally decided to get an E-ZPass. We do frequent trips where we cross bridges, tunnels, and roads that utilize it and with the world wide condition, we were thinking it would be faster, easier, and cheaper just to get an E-ZPass for all of our future travels.

To make a very long story short, it really did not do what we thought it would. When we pulled up to booth after booth, the device would not register. At one point, we stopped at an E-ZPass station in Delaware, and they said that while they felt bad for me, they could not help me because they can only assist customers with a Delaware issued E-ZPass. Mine was Virginia issued. I was absolutely livid.

Upon returning home, I decided to look into a tip my brother in-law shared with me during our travels. He remembered reading somewhere that certain vehicles, and more specifically, my 2003 Buick Rendezvous has been known to have a windshield that does not work well, or at all, with E-ZPass. I researched into that more and in fact found that to be true. There is a list of vehicles that I found on a document from the E-ZPass website that listed the Buick Rendezvous as a “Special Vehicle.”

There is apparently something in the windshield of a Buick Rendezvous that prevents the E-ZPass transponder from being read by the booths. That is really weird, because I do believe before I owned the Rendezvous, my dad replaced the windshield. I guess even replacement windshields have that same issue?

My biggest beef with all of this is the following. When I walked into the E-ZPass store (I didn’t buy online), WHY DID THEY NOT TELL ME MY CAR WAS ON THE SPECIAL VEHCILES LIST? They knew what vehicle I had because they manually entered it into the computer. The system should have red flagged that immediately. It is very frustrating.

To add insult to injury, the E-ZPass rate for the Cheasapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, which we travel across frequently, is no cheaper than if you were to pay by cash or card at the booth. Yes, they take card. But the rates are all the same. The only advantage to E-ZPass is you don’t have to stop for the length of time to exchange money. Not much of a real time saving if I’m honest. I do find it humorous that on the CBBT website they use the silhouette of a Nissan GT-R as the reference vehicle and they show it can apparently tow a three axle trailer.

Overall, I do like when we use our Ford Focus to go on trips. The E-ZPass makes traveling in that car a breeze. But, 50% is a fail. E-ZPass, you really should let people know.

Thankfully, most of the time the booths just run the plate and charge me through the E-ZPass that way, so I still get the possible discounts, if applicable. Which leads to a whole new point. Why is the device needed at all? Just scan plates and bill. And at that point, E-ZPass is just the middle man. Stupid E-ZPass. Absolutely useless.

The next big car thing

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What could be the next big automotive trend? There are so many out there and there can be so many ahead of us. Some might transition into something different, some might go away, and some new things might spring up. Here are two quick things that I think might happen within the next 3 years.

Safari outfitting seems to be picking up in popularity. Having that process done to the most normal of cars, like a Honda Civic, Toyota Camry, or Ford Fusion, that would be something that might happen, but it isn’t an every person common thing to do, so if it were big, it would be only within the automotive community enthusiasts. Similar to that, the YouTube channel B is for Build is creating an off-road Lamborghini. That reminds me of the battle cars/baja/safari movement that is around and seems to come and go. But as customization pushes its limits in downforce and speed, a whole new door is opening up in the off road segment.

The other trend that might go big, as crazy as this sounds, is retro micro car comeback. Swapping high horsepower motor cycle engines or just straight up beastly car engines into 1990s Ford Tempos, Geo Metros, and other insanely small cars from the 80s, 90s and early 00s. I just get that inclination from seeing not one, but two Ford Festivas and a Geo Metro lately. It makes me think that these will come back around again. Then people will give them high horsepower, combined with retro charm, and light weight, it is a recipe for insanity, which is exactly what the internet thrives on.

I Like My Cars Medium Rare

medium rare

After a year like 2020, I started to ponder things for 2021. Most particularly, what makes a car rare? Is it production numbers? Is it trim levels? Who cares about trim? Options? Price? Brand? Color? Where it was made? Number of units sold? Number of units intended to have been produced? Perceived popularity?

Does anyone care about any of that? What do people care about when it comes to a rare vehicle?

Everyone wants a chase car. That is more than likely why Ferrari and Lamborghini will always be highly sought after rather than some bizarre 2004 Buick Regal GSX stage 3 with a supercharged 6 cylinder engine and front wheel drive. But, some of those cars can have far fewer numbers produced than a six figure priced car. So what is more rare? What is more desirable? As the Tootsie Pop commercial says, the world may never know.

I recently saw a 1999 Dodge Durango Carroll Shelby edition for sale on Facebook Marketplace. It is number 53 of only 300 ever made. In your opinion, how impressive is this? The 1999 Dodge Durango is not exactly the most amazing vehicle every built. In the normal world, people do not know who Carroll Shelby was, so is having a Durango built by his shop really that impressive? Is that a flex to normal people? Is that even a flex to automotive enthusiasts? It really is completely up to the individuals. Both the one who owns it and the one or ones who are observing the vehicle. Personal taste is everything and I like all cars, no matter what. I like my cars medium rare.

Should Models be Brands?

 

The subject of should models become brands has been relevant and important lately. I have had conversations with family and friends about the subject since some have texted me wondering why certain car manufacturers are doing certain business decisions. So, here is my take on should car models become brands.

In 2009, Dodge/Chrysler/Daimler/FCA split off the Ram pickup truck from Dodge and created their own brand from that model. That has been a very successful decision. Hyundai has split Genesis off into its own luxury brand, copying a page from Lexus, Acura, and Infiniti recipe, but also making a brand from a model. Chevrolet has rumored that they might consider making the Corvette a brand in itself. Manufacturers have split models into brands in the past, some have success and some were a failure.

Now, Ford wants to make a Mustang a brand, starting with the all-electric SUV, the Mach E. There is also a rumor that they want to make the Bronco a brand as well. Although, what doesn’t make sense is how they use the Raptor nameplate. They utilize that name for the F-150 Raptor, and Ranger Raptor, but apparently that name will not be utilized to distinguish a more powerful Bronco. A beefy Bronco is rumored to be called a Warthog. Confusing, but whatever.

What Ford should learn though, is they have almost been in this situation before. They had Mercury, that they closed because they couldn’t seem to explain to buyers why they should pay more for a car that is identical to the Ford equivalent. Lincoln almost had the same fate. Hopefully, they have learned from those experiences and don’t mess up a new Mustang or Bronco brand. Toyota and Subaru are also the same boat. They had the Toyota 86, the Subaru BRZ, and the Scion FRS all on the market at one time. And now they are almost doing the same thing, but instead of the Scion available, the Supra has taken that slot. We will have to see how this goes. 

I wouldn’t be surprised if Nissan does this with their Z car. Especially with the launch of the new 400Z. The Z name is known by people both with and without automotive knowledge so that would be a good start for them.

What do you think? Should auto manufacturers start making separate brands from their successful models?

Why We Still Need Auto Shows

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As the world in 2020 has become one of social distancing and avoiding large gatherings at almost any cost, the automotive world has had to resort to almost entirely of virtual auto shows and vehicle debuts. The trend of not physically participating in auto shows has been a steady trend over the last 5 years. However, this year has given manufacturers an easy out, with no excuse necessary of why not to attend, because there is nothing to attend.

When the internet became really big, and information was almost instantaneously communicated to millions, that started the clock on the end of auto shows. Auto manufacturers have started pulling further and further out of auto shows. The time and money it takes to set all of the sensory stimulating displays and participate in them is expensive and time consuming.

Even with all of those reasons, I think that auto shows should remain. If the world can get back to some sort of formal normal large group gatherings, there is a benefit to an auto show that there is a captive audience that wants to be there. They are there to experience everything about the vehicle and the display. Those things are very valuable. Auto manufacturers throughout the years have created displays with specific lighting, colors, ergonomics, sounds, and even smells to distinguish their brand from all the others at the show and draw people to their booth for the experience! Buick one time even went so far as to hire a chef and did a live cooking show at their booth where they fed a select number of attendees!

Auto shows are nice as well, because you can sit in vehicles and try them out and compare them to other vehicles in the brand, or others, in a NO SELL ENVIROMENT. That is one of the biggest reasons to have an auto show. Potential customers can compare your vehicle to others all at once, without having to feel like they are prey for sales department workers to cash in on.

Along with that, I am 6’4″ and it is very important for me to sit in cars to make sure I can see out of them before I would ever consider purchasing them. I don’t buy new because I do not have the funds, but even still, I would sit in brand new cars at auto shows, to know what I might want to get in the future on the used market.

Although the internet is cool, virtual debuts can be confusing! The Ford Bronco debut was a bit of a mess. There were supposed to be 3 short films debuting it on 3 different cable channels, at roughly 8 pm, but then Ford debuted a “live” video at 7 PM. But, it was simply just a video. There was nothing “live” about it. It was a pretty big let down to me.

The Ram TRX went, although it was a virtual debut, took a more traditional auto show approach, having product specialists speak about the vehicle live on a stage in Detroit while the truck was being demonstrated both on stage and in video. It was a good combination of blending new virtual technologies, with traditional auto show elements. I wish I could have been there, and hopefully someday automotive media can once again return to these debuts.

Maybe I am just a collector of experiences and never got to be a circuit automotive journalist flying from auto show to auto show to be impressed by manufacturers so their vehicles would get better reviews. I am slowly trying to work on becoming an independent automotive journalist through All Out Octane, so maybe someday I will get to review brand new vehicles!

I did enjoy many auto shows in Detroit, New York, and Hampton Roads as I possibly could when they were still around. They will be memories I will cherish forever. Hopefully I will be able to attend and experience them once again because there are so many vehicles I want to see in person. But, with the way things are going, that time might not ever come.

Bronco Launch: Boom or Bust?

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Ford introduced the Bronco on Monday night and it was met with great fanfare and rejoicing. I have been incredibly excited for it to debut and would love to have put down a deposit on one. The website to reserve one crashed almost immediately. It will be a very successful and popular vehicle. But for as hyped as the Bronco was, the launch, especially being all virtual, did not go as well as it could have in my opinion, and here is why.

Ford teamed up with Disney Creativeworks to create three short films about the Bronco directed by Jimmy Chin. You can watch each film here, here, and here. They were shown around the 8 o’clock hour on Monday, July 13th. One on ABC, one on ESPN, and the last National Geographic. Ford also did a virtual launch on their YouTube channel.

After watching all three, I now see what Ford was trying to do and where they were trying to go. They are trying to say get off your butt and go out in nature. Stop watching it on TV, get in a Bronco, and go live. They want to show they are going back to their roots, ready to tackle the tough terrain and take on Jeep. It is showing that Ford has climbed up out of there old ways because each film has climbing in it. Jimmy is not just an award-winning film director, he is also a climber. That is evident in all three short films that he made. The climbing aspect was much better in Jimmy’s own film than it was in the other two.

Jimmy’s own film was just much better overall. He did better at making the Bronco a part of his story, sort of like a supporting role, rather than just a vehicle being driven by a celebrity. I do not want to belittle those celebrities either. Their stories were amazing and they are awesome people. I just don’t think Jimmy could incorporate the Bronco into them as well and it seemed more forced and less natural. But that is simply my opinion.

The main issue I have is this. For as much hype that had been put into these films and the Bronco launch in general, it was insanely overrated. It is also ridiculously hard to find where they said they said they were going to place these films. They said they would be available on Hulu starting July 14th, the day after the launch. Maybe they were there. I wasn’t able to check. But, I did check on July 16th and did not find them. I searched, but I didn’t see anything Ford or Bronco related. Therefore, I went to YouTube. All three films are there but they have so few views in my opinion. Ford really dropped the ball on these films, I think. The most views one of the films has is 272,000. You might think that is a lot, but when you look at the live launch they debuted on YouTube, that video has over 2.8 million views. The films to me were a total dud and a total distraction.

Ford has had issues with launches in the past, especially the Explorer. If you want to hand Ford a pass because of the pandemic, that is fine. I will cut them a little slack. But really, they have rumored the Bronco for YEARS. Ford kept changing the date because the first launch date was set to be in the spring of 2020. Then the pandemic hit and caused them to set a new date. That date was July 9th, which was OJ Simpson’s birthday. How did they not know that? When your vehicle is associated with something like that, one would think a simple Google search would tell you a birthday? Not intentionally doing that, and wanting to not cause controversy, they moved it to July 13th and said all 3 films would come out across 3 Disney network of channels. Then there would also be something on YouTube. Yet, in none of these did a CEO get up and say anything about the vehicle, or show one in action in real life. Everything was staged and filmed prior. Nothing was live. There were hardly any facts given that we didn’t already know.

If it seems like I am ranting and long-winded it is because I can’t seem to articulate how confusing this launch was. My point is this. It should have been a very simple, inspiring, and proud event. In reality, it had very few of those things.

Let me be clear though. The Bronco launch did not fail. There was so much hype about it to begin with that it really couldn’t fail. It just wasn’t as amazing as it could or should have been in my journalism degree, automotive enthusiast opinion.

Dyson Ditched Car Making

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2 and a half years later, my shirt is the same but my prediction was completely wrong.

Two and a half years ago, there were reports that Dyson was going to be working on an electric vehicle. I made a video and a blog on September 28th, 2017 where I covered the topic briefly and predicted that Dyson would have a concept on the road before a Tesla semi would be on the road. That was one terrible prediction on my part. Tesla 1, Brentton 0.

Autoweek ran an article recently that explained how the founder of Dyson spent $609 million of his own money on the electric car project, only to find out that in order to simply break even, the car would have to be sold for $180,000. If this isn’t proof that profitability in transportation and mobility services is almost near impossible, I don’t know what more you could ask for.

While I am sad that Dyson abandoned the project, and let me down on my prediction, I can also understand and respect the choice. I want to step out of the auto industry for just a moment to provide an example of high cost, low profit projects. Recently, my wife has been looking into creating a point and click video game for PC and mobile. When you add up the cost of software, talent (if you can’t do everything yourself), time, materials, a somewhat simple game can start off anywhere from 3 to 5 thousand dollars to make. People pay for quality games. In order to turn a profit, we would most likely have to sell the game for $10 which might price out our audience. If we sold it at a $1, we would need to sell over 10,000 copies to turn some small profit. We don’t know if we have an audience that large. So, after counting up all the associated costs, and estimating and understanding the industry a little more, it is not surprising that large game studios spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce a top tier game, like The Last of Us or Forza or Fifa. Then, in order to make any sort of profit, there is a reason those games are nearly $80 at launch, even with the quantities they sell them in. The cost to produce video games is an upfront, staggering cost.

Hopefully that will help shed light on just how hard it is for these EV automotive start-up companies to produce a product. The industry is cut throat and expensive. No one works for free. If you can’t turn a profit you won’t stay in business. And for what it is worth, Tesla is barely profitable. Elon can get an Eskimo to buy ice in the arctic and has had investors pour millions into Tesla. If everyone wanted their return on investment right now, the company would cease to exist.

Why Four Door?

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These are two of the four sedans that I have owned.

Growing up I really liked the BMW 3 series, specifically the sedan. I also liked the 5 series and while walking home from school everyday in 7th grade, which was around 2001, I would pass a BMW M5 that was parked in front of a local furniture store. A Volvo S60 was also parked there on the days the M5 wasn’t there and I’ll have another blog with reference to that in the future. But, the styling of the BMW with the four headlights, muscular and toned panels, and accurate proportions appealed to me as the utmost perfection in sedan design. It was also and incredible performing vehicle and as their slogan said back then, it was the “ultimate driving machine.”

I have mentioned a few cars, sedans specifically, that I grew up with a keen eye for. Knowing I probably couldn’t afford a BMW, which I couldn’t, I tried to reason with myself that maybe I could get my parents to buy me something that looked like it. The Mitsubishi Diamante was one of those cars. It has the four headlights up front, stylish body work, and great proportions.

The second car around 2001 that fit the bill was a Lincoln LS. Again, four headlights, luxurious yet sporty looking, and it had a complementing stance with proper ratios. Someone who attended the church my family went to had one, and it was always a delight pulling into the parking lot on Sunday morning and seeing that awesome silver sedan.

I was never able to convince my parents to get me any of those cars by the time I was able to drive. I was never able to save up to buy anything myself either. But, it these cars were iconic to me and to this day, I believe they fit my personality very well. They are still some of the most wonderfully designed cars in my opinion.

Memorable Magazine Murcielago

Lamborghini Murcielago
Hot Wheels doesn’t make the Lamborghini Murcielago in Verde Draco and I don’t have a picture of one in real life. I am settling for a picture of a Lamborghini I do have that was an interesting story in itself to acquire that I might tell in another blog.

Thinking back to high school in one of my previous blogs reminded me of one of the most memorable cars from a magazine I have ever seen. My first memory of this car came while sitting in the waiting room of a chiropractor. I picked up the March 2007 Automobile magazine laying on the table and flipped it open to reveal this gorgeous, aggressive, and very new, 2007 Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 in Verde Draco green.

The author, Chris Harris, was given the keys to a brand new machine and his goal was to leave England, traveling in the car, to find a road somewhere in Europe where he could test the top speed and then write all about the adventure. He loaded the car onto the train that goes under the English Channel, made his way through France, and somewhere in Belgium, the V12 beast happily hits 216 mph. Reading about a trip like that in a car so remarkable was fueling my desire to be an automotive writer.

Almost 9 years after graduating college, I am going to try to put my skills and passion to use. It is fun to see that other automotive icons close to my age have similar fond memories of particular cars that I do. In this case, Ed Bolian of VinWiki shares the same passion for a Verde Draco Murcielago, and he made his dreams come true by owning one.

You can read the Automobile article from 2007 here.

See Ed’s Lamborghini in a few videos here, here, and here. 

Automotive Literature

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It was during a study hall my junior year of high school that a huge aspect of my automotive passion grew into something far larger than just being a kid who liked cars. I wanted to do something with that passion. The pivotal moment was seeing the January 2007 Automobile magazine with the Nissan GT-R concept on the cover. After picking it up and soaking in every bit of information about that car, along with all of Ezra Dyer and Jean Jennings article, I made up my mind. I wanted to be an automotive journalist.

Upon going into my senior year, I took all the journalism classes in high school I could. I was late to the party on most, being that many were designed to be taken as a freshman so you could write for the school paper by your senior year. So, I didn’t get to do that. But every class assignment I wrote was car related some how.

I wasn’t keen on going to college but my parents wanted me to, so I went. I was accepted into Regent University, the first and only college I applied for. They didn’t have a journalism program for undergrad when I arrived, but by my sophomore year a bachelors journalism program was created and I immediately declared that my major. All throughout college I wrote about cars for every assignment that was students choice to write about. The school had no newspaper, and was pioneering the digital media segment. I wasn’t on any of those teams or classes, so there was not a lot of potential from my school to really get a solid foundation towards a career in journalism.

Even though the internet was becoming a large source for up to date automotive content, automotive magazines were some of my favorite things to get information from. It was also a lot of fun to get things in the mail. Plus they could be had for so cheap, that even as a college kid, I could afford them. Automobile, Road & Track, Car and Driver, Motor Trend, and Hot Rod, showed up on my doorstep faithfully every month. Flipping through the pages, seeing the wonderful images of cars in hand, smelling the paper that was freshly printed, it was wonderful.

Sadly, I never took the necessary steps to get into the automotive community. My passion was still primarily a dream. I didn’t own a cool car, I never applied for internships (the economy was really sucky from 07-11 while I was in college), and sadly, I didn’t utilize the internet to my advantage. I blame myself for a lot of missed opportunities and not working hard enough to become an automotive journalist. I never really believed in myself to achieve my dream.

Regardless of what happened in the past, automotive literature has kept my spark alive. I was able to write for Barn Finds for a while, which was an awesome opportunity. Now, I am taking my automotive passion and actually applying myself. These blogs will hopefully keep coming. I appreciate all of you who read them.