Saturday, March 10, 2018

Auto Show 2018

Place: Shake Shack
Lunch: Chick'n Shack (no lettuce), cheese fries (w/mayo), Coke

Word of advice....avoid Mall of America on Saturdays.  That is all.  Wait, that's not all...probably avoid this chicken sandwich while you're at it.  It's fine, but it's no Chick-Fil-A, and it's certainly not worth the $6.79 they're charging for it.

The convention center is full of that new car smell.  And people.  Let's dance, Bridget.

The show felt kind of flat this year.  It seems like so many cars, especially from an interior standpoint, are just variations on the same theme anymore.  They're just not very different.  Nothing really popped this year.

Alfa Romeo

Stelvio -  Alfa Romeo's first ever SUV.  Because you can't compete in the US without one.  It has a 280hp 2.0 four cylinder (?) or a 505hp V6 in the Quadrifoglio version.  Starts around $43k, but the V6 Quadrifoglio version can set you back nearly $100k.

Audi

A6 - The 2019 model gets a new look and all the advanced Audi tech A6 fans have been clamoring for, including Adaptive Driving Assistant, an advanced cruise control that keeps you from rear-ending slowpokes and keeps you from drifting into neighboring lanes.

Q5 - Audi's mini-ute (and best seller) enters a new generation with new everything, yet not looking all that new, really.  I can't remember what the old one looked like.  Probably like this.  No V6 this time, but the new 4-cylinder is said to be pretty peppy.

Buick

Envision - Buick's Equinox-size SUV gets a style refresh just a year into its US debut because it had already been on sale in China for years and was due there.  I think it's the best looking of the GM small SUV segment, but it seems pricey for what you get.

Regal Sportback GS - A more sporty Regal Sportback.  Or something.

Chevrolet

Equinox - Oh hey look, there's now a diesel version that'll get you lots of low-end torque and about 39mpg on the highway.  Leave it to Chevy to suddenly embrace a technology everyone else is abandoning.

Silverado -  Pickup trucks are the true profit center of American manufacturers, and Chevy's newest Silverado will be ready to be picked up (see what I did there?) this Fall at your local Chevy dealership.  It's...a pickup truck.  Bigger, badder, and tougher than the last one somehow.  Doesn't look all that different to me.  More rounded, maybe?  They apparently didn't save weight with a bunch of aluminumy body work like Ford did with the F150, so those commercials where they make fun of Ford still work.

Ford

EcoSport - Ford announced quite awhile ago they were bringing in an existing vehicle from India to plug their subcompact SUV hole.  Said vehicle has JUST started showing up at US dealerships.  The thing is already kind of ugly and dated and it sure seems underpowered, which pretty much describes everything sold in India.  A lot of cars sold there today couldn't pass US crash test standards from decades ago.

Ranger - Hey, remember Ford's small/pickup?  It's back.  Why?  Because Chevy's revival of the segment with the Colorado has been a success, so Ford was all like "Me too!"  No, not like the #metoo hashtag.  That's a whole different thing.

Genesis

G70 - This is Genesis's all-new smaller sedan, something along the size of Infiniti's Q50 (and by my eye stealing more than some of its styling cues).  This is typically the volume seller for luxury/sport brands, so it should be a key product for Hyundai's new luxury line.

GMC

The GMC stand was full of custom full-size vans that would make Uncle Rico proud.  There were probably some new lineup changes to their vehicles but it was hard to tell with all that van bling.

Hyundai

Elantra GT - Hyundai's hatch version of it's compact sedan looks REALLY weird now.  Almost SUV-ish.  Which it isn't.

Kona - A new four-banger CUV with bratty styling aimed at young trendy urban overgrown kids.  Looks kinda like a tricked out Subaru Crosstrek.  The round shifter was cool.  Felt like a manual.

Infiniti

Q50 - The American version of the Nissan Skyline and Infinti's "volume" seller gets a style refresh and apparently improved tech.  It just got new engines a year or two ago.

QX50 - The all-new 2019 model, the "Car of the Show" winner this year, started arriving at dealerships last week.  Redesigned to be an Audi Q5 competitor, it shares little-to-nothing in common with the old model.  It's taller and wider than the outgoing model and rides on a front wheel drive platform with a CVT transmission.  It's Infiniti's first model to feature their new 2.0 VC-Turbo motor, the first of its kind that can adjust compression on the fly to deliver optimal power when needed and efficiency when not, resulting in high performance off the line while returning Nissan Rogue-like gas mileage numbers.  There's no V6 option at all despite being able to option this thing up to over $57,000.  It seems to have the same messy infotainment system as the Q50 and Q60 (with no Apple Car Play or Android Auto support because why would they) but also is the first Infiniti to have Nissan's ProPilot driver assist. The shifter is a knobby electric thingy.  The cupholders look awful.

QX70 - The legendary FX, as it was properly known before the idiotic Jollibee combo menu name change scandal, is done.  Over.  Bye fans of the rear wheel drive-based V6 sport SUV beast.  Who needs you.  Infiniti really hopes you'll buy a new QX50, because they're really that clueless.  What we really wanted was basically the existing QX70 with updated tech and that 400hp twin turbo.  And the FX badge back.  It deserved a far better death than this.  The new QX50 has absolutely none of the sex appeal the FX had.

Jeep

Grand Cherokee Trackhawk - It's a Grand Cherokee with Fiat-Chrysler's 707hp Hellcat V8.  Doesn't look much more badass, but it is way more totally badass.

Kia

Forte - Forte gets a new sportier look and smarter driving aids.  Still packs a four-banger under the hood similar to last year's.  For when you want to look good and don't care about performance, I guess.

Niro - Kia's Stinky Prius fighter gets a plug-in hybrid option.  It's basically the same setup as the regular Niro hybrid, but with a bigger battery and better electric motor, allowing for more time running electric.

Stinger - Kia sorely needed a 365hp twin turbo V6 fastback in its lineup, and now it has it.  Also, I'm kidding.  How in the H-E-DOUBLE HOCKEY STICKS does this make any sense in the Kia lineup?  I don't even think it's a very good looking car.  Stinger Pedestal Announcer: "This is the car many of you came to the auto show to see."  NOBODY came to see this, buddy.  NO ONE.

Lexus

UX - A new subcompact SUV that shares a platform with the Toyota Stinky Prius?  Weird, man.  So it sits lower and handles better than competitors in the segment.  Looks nice in photographs, but in person it's like the goth chick who dresses all scary to be intimidating but in reality when you see her in person and she's under five feet tall, it's just silly.  If they make an F-series, will it be called FUX?

Mitsubishi

Despite the fact Mitsubishi sells like four models in the US and probably sells like a half dozen of each tops, they still show up in a big way to this show.  There were a dozen cars on the floor to heck out and a great big driveable obstacle course ON THE SHOW FLOOR for anyone who wanted to see how the cars handled.  You want to impress me, Mitsubishi?  Let me drive one on the Jeep obstacle course.

Eclipse Cross - This abomination of the use of the Eclipse brand on a subcompact SUV is just wrong, especially on such an ordinary looking vehicle.  Wake me up when the Nissan influence starts to show up on new models.

Nissan

Kicks - An existing compact SUV in other countries making its North American debut, supposedly at the expense of the Juke.  More normal looking, I guess.  Certainly more boring.

Leaf - The all-new second generation pure electric has arrived and has far more conventional styling.  Maybe TOO conventional, especially the interior.  Range has improved too, but supposedly will have an even longer option next year.  Sucks to be you, first year adopters.  It also gets ProPilot.

Rogue - As sedan sales have collapsed, it was expected Nissan's Rogue would become the brand's top seller sometime in 2017.  Not only was that goal achieved, Rogue became the top selling non-pickup of ANY brand for awhile in the Spring.  Jeepers.  For 2018, Rogue's high-end model gets Nissan's semi-autonomous ProPilot Assist system, which keeps you in your lane and auto adjusts speed to traffic. You still can't set it and take a nap, the car will yell at you if you let go of the steering wheel.  All trims get front emergency auto-braking and...FINALLY...Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.  That should keep it up with the competition.

Ram

1500 - It's a bit lighter, more aerodynamic, and has a start/stop/torque assist sort of maybe hybrid power system thingy attached to the V6 or optionally on the Hemi.  Seems too technical for a pickup.  Danged trucks are just computers on wheels anymore.  Can't fix a danged thing yourself and...oh, sorry.  I was channeling the local NAPA parts manager there for a sec.

Toyota

Avalon - Supposedly nobody's buying sedans anymore, but Toyota built an all-new Avalon anyway.  Jerks.  There's a four-cylinder hybrid and a pure V6.  It's bigger with a freaky huge grille that looks like a dentist office visit gone horribly wrong.

CH-R - Not sure I've seen one in person before, unless i confused it for an old Matrix.  And what's up with that two-tone paint?  That just looks terrible.

Volkswagen

VW's push forward into pure electric vehicles reportedly has been moved up and will include a sedan on European roads by 2020.  The ID Buzz, that thing that looks like a VW Bus, has been approved for production.  And there's talk that IF there's a next-gen Beetle, it will also be pure electric.  I want to see that happen.

Arteon - This sedan replaces the CC, which was supposed to be a sedan with a coupe-like profile.  Someting more sporty than the Passat.  Or just get a Passat GT (see below), which comes with a VR6 instead of the turbo four in this thing.  Coming this fall as a 2019 model.

Jetta - The all-new 2019 arrives in dealerships later this year and is way easier on the eyes than the dreadful cheapened outgoing sixth generation model VW has been selling the past few years.  It's been VW's best seller in the US since it went on sale in 1980 as basically a Golf (Rabbit) with a trunk..  I suspect that's a distinction that will eventually be taken over by the Atlas SUV, but it's going down fighting.  The second generation Jetta (1985-1992) is still one of my all-time favorite car designs.

Passat GT - It's a souped-up Passat with a 280 hp VR6 and a more sporty look largely applied out of the existing VW parts bin.  It comes in four colors, none of which are Toronado Red, which is a shame.

Scirocco - That European-only Scirocco that's been around for close to a decade has been killed, allegedly a victim of Dieselgate.  What???

Volvo

XC60 - Volvo's most important smaller but not too small crossover enters its next generation with a very posh interior and some four-cylinder options under the hood ranging from around 250 to 300hp.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Szechuan

Place: McDonald's
Lunch: 10 Chicken McNuggets (w/Szechuan sauce), Mac Jr, ice water

McDonald's has been hyping the return of their legendary Szechuan dipping sauce on social media all week.  The sauce originated back in 1998 as a cross promotion with Disney's feature "Mulan", and has had rabid fans demanding its comeback ever since.  People were selling years-old packets on eBay for $800.

McDonald's brought it back in a really poorly conceived one-day promotion last year that had fans banging their heads against the golden arches, so now they've brought it back for real, with 20,000,000 of the little dipping tubs available systemwide in the US.

I never tried it the first time, so why not now.

In order to check availability, I checked sauce options in McDonald's sad and terrible app (which I've actually used a couple of times now, and it just made it sadder.)  Szechuan sauce was NOT listed among the dipping options available for McNuggets as of Monday.  After running a lunch errand today, I went to check the app again, but realized I'd left my phone at the office.  Jeepers, why didn't I just leave my pants while I was at it.  So I dropped in to the closest McDonald's.  There's no indication of availability anywhere in the open, but they have signs-o-plenty announcing that "HOT MUSTARD IS BACK!"  Seriously, who's behind McDonald's marketing coordination, and how are they still employed?

Frowning Counter Girl: "Do we have WHAT?"

Me: "Szechuan sauce."

"WHAT?"

"SZECHUAN sauce."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"SESH-WAN sauce.  For the McNuggets."

She stares for a moment, walks down to the drive through, stares at a bin, returns, holds out a packet of Szechuan sauce, and asks "THIS?"

"Yes.  That."

She walks back to the bin, drops the sauce packet, and returns to the register.  I order.  She shouts down to a random employee handling orders "HE WANTS THE SZECHUAN!" as if she knew what I was asking all along and was just messing with me.

I get my drink and wait for my food at the counter.  Because even though they have the plastic numbers for table service, they're not giving anybody those or delivering food to tables.

Next customer has ordered through the app.  He holds out his phone in front of Frowning Counter Girl, displaying his mobile order code.

Frowning Counter Girl:  "I don't know what that is.  Technology and I don't get along too well.  I like the old days better."

She then stares at him, She's not going to ask anyone for assistance.  The guy ends up moving down the counter and asking others for help.

The Szechuan sauce is pretty good.  Wouldn't be my favorite by any means, but I see why people would love it.  My all-time favorite McNugget dipping sauce was Sweet Chili sauce.  I'd like to have that back.

I've talked about how McDonald's has too many items on the menu and what they could do to slim down and be more efficient, but I really think the opposite of McNugget sauces.  Those are something simple and cheap with a long shelf life they could really capitalize on.  Offer ten different options.  Twenty.  Fifty.  Offer a world tour of sauces similar to Old Chicago's world tour of beers.  Make it a fun online social club thing.  People of all ages would have a BLAST with that.  And they'd sell more McNuggets, which have to be one of their higher margin items.

Think about it, McDonald's.  Give me back my Sweet Chili Sauce.  Keep Szechuan and Hot Mustard for good.  Add a Spicy Ranch.  A Hoisin.  A Ghost Pepper.  Banana Ketchup.  Offer a mystery flavor guessing contest like Oreo did last year.

Just go McNuts.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Mini-Serve

Place: KFC
Lunch: Two original thighs, one extra crispy thigh, Pepsi (no ice, because there wasn't any)

Confused Counter Girl: "Sooo you want...two...original thighs and one extra crispy?"

Me: "Correct."

Confused Counter Girl: *pauses, enters things* "Sooo...two original thighs, one extra crispy, and a drink?"

Me: "Yes."

Apple Pay ensues.  My food is ready before I ever leave the order position.  I leave it there while I get my iceless drink and find Confused Counter Girl standing in front of my food.

"She put a biscuit on your plate.  I know you didn't want one.  I didn't charge you for it."

"Pretty sure they're supposed to put a biscuit on the plate anyway."

Her brain locks up, reboots, then she says "It's okay."

I really only eat about two pieces worth of chicken, then save the scraps for cat snacks.  They love chicken, though it tends to make them all uppity.

Most of you have no recollection of pulling up to a gas pump, having a guy come to your window, saying to him "Fill 'er up", and having them pump your gas for you.  They'd even clean your windows and check your oil.  This practice died out in favor of self-serve by the eighties.  For awhile you could do either/or, but you paid extra for the full service.

Not so in my home state of Oregon, one of two states that has laws making pumping your own gas illegal.

"What?  Seriously?"

Yes.  Seriously.

So every gas station has what's called "Mini-Serve" where a team of people man the pumps and pump the gas.  You may have to enter your own credit card at the pump depending on the station, and they're not going to do your windows or check your oil, but they'll pump your gas.  You aren't allowed, amateur.

This is, of course, ridiculous.  It annoys me so much that I'll drive my rental car over the Washington border into Vancouver to gas up when I'm visiting Portland.  I can pump my own gas, thank you very much.

But attempts to change the law over the years have failed at the hands of the voters who don't want to pump their own gas.  "I don't even know how to."  "It seems dangerous."  "But I'll smell like gas the rest of the day."  One has to wonder what magical power the rest of the country has that Oregon doesn't know about.  How are we all not passing out from gas fumes?  How are QuikTrips not exploding on a daily basis because of the dangers of amateurs pumping gas?  I couldn't get a real job in Oregon due to my lack of college degree to save my life and had to go to the Midwest to make a living, yet these arrogant, rude, "we're better than everybody" elitists are afraid of a gas pump?

Somehow, the state government recently managed to pass legislation that starts to dismantle this.  Effective with the new year,  self-serve is now legal in counties with populations smaller than 40,000 people.

It's not a COMPLETE elimination of mini-serve.  Stations with convenience stores are still required to staff at least some of the pumps, but can also offer self-serve.

But as far as Oregonians are concerned, the world is ending.

Medford CBS affiliate KTVL ran a Facebook poll asking viewers if they were in favor of self-serve or not, and the comments were hilarious.  Endless reasons from locals why this was a bad idea like "I don't want to get out of my car in the cold weather".  Horror stories of traveling Oregonians faced with pumping their own gas in other states for the first time in their lives.

It just got better as the post went viral and the rest of the world started laughing.

And laughing.

And laughing.

There was universal disbelief that this is even an issue.  People were offering to come to Oregon to offer lessons in pumping gas and how to tie shoes.  A guy said he was moving to Oregon FOR Mini- Serve because he was tired of pouring gas all over himself whenever he filled up.  The mocking was endless.

The phase-in going forward should, of course, be that Mini-Serve becomes a premium option.  Professional Oregon gas pumpers should take notice.  Accept nothing less than $90,000 per year to be a pump attendant.  Hazard pay, you know, since this is such a dangerous skill.

You deserved this, Oregon.

You SO deserved this.