Friday, May 29, 2009

Selling point

My father-in-law, bless his soul, is looking into buying a new car. I'm not sure whether my mother-in-law is on board, but I was interested to hear about the thought process nonetheless. I love my father-in-law. He's a phenomenal human being. But we differ somewhat in our views of what is desirable in an automobile. I desire fuel economy and quality and will only buy foreign. He wants showy, fast, powerful, affordable, and domestic. So it was that he found himself at the local GM dealership pricing out the newest cars. Since it sounds like he took the salesman's bait hook, line, and sinker, let me deal with a few of the doozies the salesman served up for him.

1. You'd better decide whether or not to buy this car soon, because there's a good chance that to avoid going bankrupt, GM might no longer make the Pontiac line next year.

Not sure about you, but if someone told me I should buy something because the company that makes it sucks so badly at running themselves and there cars are of such inferior quality that they may have to stop making them for fear of closing shop, the last conclusion I'd come to is "Where do I sign?"

2. You don't want a small car, because when it comes to safety, basic physics wins every time. Bigger vehicles will always be safer.

This is the selling point that pisses me off the most and in my mind has contributed to a good deal of carbon dioxide emissions over the past 25 years. Sow the seeds of fear in your customer so they buy the bigger car with higher margins. Why else are there so many gas guzzling SUVs on the road? So I did some research. What exactly determines automobile safety? I came across an enlightening study that can be found here. You can read the methods and analysis yourself. I'll summarize the key points that refute this dishonest sales tactic.

1. Of all vehicle types, pickup trucks had the highest combined risk (to driver and to other drivers). Compacts and subcompacts as a whole had the highest risk to the driver, but one of the lowest risks to other drivers. Their combined risk was comparable to that of SUVs. However, if you broke the data down into the specific models, it was found that only certain subcompact and compact cars contributed to the risk. The risk to the driver in Dodge, Chevy, and Ford (sub)compacts was 2-3 times that of Volkswagen and Honda (sub)compacts. In fact, the safest (sub)compacts had a lower risk to drivers than the average SUV. Is something else in play here?

2. Does weight really determine risk? First off, if you compare fatality rates in all cars by weight, you find that there is a fairly healthy inverse relationship between risk and weight. That is, as the weight of the automobile rises, the risk to the driver falls. However, of interest, for cars of equal weight, foreign cars had on average almost 40 fewer deaths per million cars than domestic cars. So weight again is obviously not everything.

3. If you take the cars and put them in groups stratified by resale value and then compare the relationship between weight and risk in those group, the relationship disappears. That is, in cars of similar resale value, as the weight goes up, the risk to the driver stays the same. So, this has accounted for a potential confounding factor in the weight:risk equation. Maybe heavier cars aren't safer. Maybe better built cars are safer.

4. If you now take these two factors, weight and resale value and look at how strongly they correlate to risk, resale value actually has a stronger correlation to risk than does weight. So is it weight, or quality that makes a car safer?

So, next time you go to buy a big Hummer because you feel you'll be invincible in it, think again. The biggest contributor to motor vehicle fatalities is driver behavior, namely speed and alcohol use. If you drive safely, no matter what car you're in, you're protected. However, if you're unlucky enough to be hit by a speeding drunk, it doesn't matter much what kind of car you're in. But in the case that you're not unlucky, at least you'll save some money and help the planet at the same time by buying a more economical, fuel efficient vehicle. Don't let salesmen sell you fear. Buy some commonsense instead.

I need not worry

At some point in Sacha's early years, I had a slight concern about his development. I wasn't concerned about his intelligence per se but when we got back his first speech pathology assessment I must say I had some of those anxious concerns all parents have. But Sacha has had three conversations with me of late that have allayed any residual concerns.

1. I have an illustrated anatomical dictionary. One day Sacha and I started flipping through it and he asked all manner of questions about every picture. He learned about "where poop comes from" and other fancy things. It is now known as the "poop book". So he may have developed a slightly more keen knowledge of anatomy than most his age, but I didn't realize how keen.

I was at my yearly physical and to give Sarah a break I brought Sacha along with me. During the "coughing" part, Sacha says to me, "Daddy, what the docker feewin yo tessicles for?" Dr. Unger, trying not to cry from laughter says, "I'm just feeling for lumps and bumps." Sacha: "Why dere be wumps and bumps in dere?" Me: "Well, sometimes men get sick in their testicles and the doctor just needs to check to make sure daddy's aren't getting sick." Sacha: "Oh, okay. Dat good." Dr. Unger whispers to me later, "How on earth does he know what they're called?"

2. The anatomy book strikes again. One morning Sacha asks me where pee pee comes from. I told him, in my typical no holds barred, give him the whole truth fashion, "Well, when you drink juice or water, it goes in your stomach. Then it gets absorbed into your blood where's it's filtered into your kidneys. From their it goes into your bladder and when your bladder gets full it says 'Hey, Sacha, it's time to go pee pee' and then it comes out of your penis." Sacha: "Kidneys? What dey?" Me:"Oh, kidneys, they're something in your body that helps you make pee pee." A few minutes later we're sitting on the couch and Sacha says, "You got daddy knees" and then starts laughing. I said, "What, daddy knees?" Sacha says, "Yeah, daddy knees, not kid-neys." I laughed for so long I barely recovered. When I did I told my son he's a genius.

3. There is a small roadside attraction about 5 minutes away from our house that is the historic site of Mackenzie Cairn, across which lies Fort Fork, one of Alexander Mackenzie's stops on his journeys. There is a nice little path that meanders down to the Peace River where Sacha and I go once in awhile to kill time and throw some rocks into the river. Just a couple of days ago we went and had some fun. Then tonight we were going on our biweekly trip to Weight Watchers, followed by Dairy Queen. As we went to turn left out of Shaftesbury Estates to take the back road to Weight Watchers, Sacha got upset, because usually we turn right. He said, "No, not dat way. Dat way to Makenny caywin. We not go to makenny caywin. We go Weight Watchers." I said, "What? Where does this way take us?" Sacha: "To Makenny caywin where go down by wiver." I responded, totally incredulous, "This road takes us to Mackenzie Cairn?" Sacha: "Yeah, yeah, yeah, we not go dere. We go Weight Watchers den Daiwee Queen." After assuring him that this road also led to Weight Watchers, I thought about how amazing it is that my son, who is turning 3 in August, not only knows directions to local landmarks when exiting the Estates from a different exit than usual, or at all for that matter, but that he knows the word Cairn. It's the best part about having kids. They never cease to amaze.