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CarChat with Jason Fried

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CarChat with Jason Fried, Co-founder of 37signals in Chicago about his favorite car, his most memorable car experience, along with his thoughts on what makes a car good, the car bailouts, the auto industry green movement and his dealership experiences.


Question. What's been your favorite car you've ever owned, as a brand or specific model?

Answer. I think, for me, I bought an Aston Martin Vantage, V8 Vantage a few years ago and that's probably been my favorite car. It's not the best car I've ever had technically, or anything like that but there's something about that car. It's hand made, I think it's the most beautiful car, still. The most beautiful car and that's probably my favorite car.

Question. What been your most favorable car experience that you've had, ever.

Answer. I remember... There's alot, but the one that sticks out in my head is when I bought my Audi S4. The first one, 2001. It was such a big upgrade for me. I had an Acura Integra Type R, or something like that. It was green, it was four-doors and I went to the Acura dealer to get it appraised, cause I was gonna sell it and I really wanted to get a BMW 3-series. That is what I really wanted. But when I went to the Acura dealer, it turned out to be an Acura/Audi dealer, McGrath in Glenview here in Illinois and I went there and as I was getting it appraised the guy goes hey, you should check out this S4. I'm like, Audi sucks. I don't want to buy an Audi. Audi is just crap, I mean my friend had an Audi. The Audi 5000. His parents had it. It liked killed someone, or whatever, so like I don't want Audi. I'm not gonna use an Audi. Audi's shit.

And then, he's like, just drive it. And so I drove this S4 2001 which was a 250hp turbo, or bi-turbo engine and it completely blew me away. It was all-wheel drive. It was fast as hell. The interior was great and it totally opened my eyes to the Audi brand. And I've become an huge Audi fan since. I've had like three or four Audis since then, and so that moment was the moment it turned me from... first of all, it was a big upgrade. And also turned me on to the Audi brand which I think over the past 10 years has been sort of the best brand in cars, and so that was the moment it all happened for me.

Question. What do you think makes a car good?

Answer. That's a tough one to answer cause there's so many things but, actually, I'll answer it the other way. What makes a car bad? I guess that may be a good way to start.

Most of the bad cars experiences I've had have come from rental cars. And I'm wondering what is it about rental cars that makes it bad. And typically, it's not so much the exterior, it's mostly for me, it's the interiors in cars. That's where you are most the time, and, you get into car, and you turn the key, and you start looking around, and you start touching things, and alot of cars I think fall flat because the materials that you are touching and the buttons aren't tight, and the shape isn't right and it doesn't do what you think it does and right there, that kind of destroys the experience for me. I don't care what it looks like on the outside. I don't care how much horsepower it has. If it doesn't have right feel when I'm touching it, when I'm using it, it's just bad.

Though I guess maybe what makes a car good for me is, careful, thoughtful details on the things that I am actually using all the time. It might be a dial. It might be a switch. It might be a button. The appropriate use of those materials at the appropriate time and the appropriate feel and weight and friction, and all those little things. Those are the things that I think make cars great. Now, of course, I want a car that looks great. That performs great as well, but I've been in some very high performance cars that fall flat on the inside and when they do that they just disappoint me. It's not about 0-60 for me, it's about the little details.

Question. Based on what has recently happened with the mid-term elections... everyone upset with a variety of thing... one of which is the bailouts and all that kind of stuff. What do you think about the help that we gave to the car manufacturers?

Answer. You know, my opinion is sort of all over the board on this. I don't like the idea of government getting involved in things like private enterprise in that level but I think in some ways it might be hard to deny the fact that it seems like it's been a good thing. GM seems to sort of be back in some way. Ford didn't take any money. It seems like it did sort of maybe help, I don't know. I don't really know how bad things were and I think that's part of it. I don't think everyone really knew maybe how bad things really were. It seem like it was bad and these companies were loosing a ton of money but I don't know the details of how it all worked out. All I know is that regardless of the temporary measures to bail a company out, the US auto manufacturers have to get better quality. Their interiors have to be better. Their exteriors have to be better. All the stuff has to be significantly better in order for it to be a sustainable recovery. Cause they might be able to... giving cars away, and so they're selling alot of cars but once they can't give those discounts anymore then what are they going to do? The competition from Japan is strong, Germany is strong. The Koreans, Kia and Hyundai. Incredibly good cars now. Super low price and good. The US manufacturers have to better than all of those if they wan to continue to make a great name for themselves.

Question. Everybody is looking into hybrid and electric vehicles and plug-ins and all this kind of stuff. What your take on the green movement in the automobile industry?

Answer. I'm pretty conflicted there. I think that the move towards hybrids is a good sort of step but I feel like alot of it is just marketing. And this is totally uninformed opinion. More gas mileage is good. Higher miles per gallon is definitely a good thing but I really wonder about the true impact of this stuff. Long term disposal of these batteries and all the electricity that's required to charge all this stuff all the time. What's the real cost here? And also, what are people doing? Are they selling cars that get decent gas mileage and then buying a new car that gets slightly better gas mileage? Is that really a good thing? Someone has to produce this new car. These cars aren't produced in super clean factories. They can't be. It's still cars. It's still alot of stuff going on, alot of materials and energy required to move the car, to build the cars and it's just like...

I think if you're going from a Ford pick-up truck that got like 10 miles a gallon or 15 miles a gallon to something that gets 50 miles per gallon makes sense. But to upgrade from something that's decent today to slightly better, I think that move itself is not really that responsible because it means that there is more demand required to build something else that was pretty good in the first place.

It's similar, in a way, to how people are converting buildings. We're currently in our office here, and our office is an old factory. Old brick and cement factory building. Some people are tearing buildings down to rebuild green buildings and that doesn't make sense when you already have a building that's been here for a hundred years, instead of retro-fitting it. I think it's sort of a similar thing where you have to really think of what's the true cost of all this stuff and if it really makes sense or not. I don't really know yet.

Question. What's your view on Dealership experience?

Answer. Oh man. Some of the worst purchasing experiences I've ever had have been in a car dealer. And, it's also been some of the most expensive purchases I've ever made so the separation between price, expectation and actual final delivery is so different. It's such a terrible thing. I don't understand why it's so bad.

I can walk into a store and buy a microwave and feel better about that than spending 50 grand on a car that I'm gonna have for five years. It's just wrong. I don't know where it comes from. Maybe its... I don't actually know.

I mean, I have had some good experiences. When I bought the Aston Martin I found that experience to be really good. Let me tell you why it was actually good.

No pressure. A very spacious dealership. Test driving the car without the sales person being in the car with me. Just complete trust. We know you're here to buy a nice car and we're gonna trust you. Which is not what I feel when I go drive other cars. I have to go with the dealer. Its always a weird experience. I feel like I'm not trusted. I feel like I need to be careful. All these thing that don't make me feel comfortable.

It's a very similar feeling when you go to Home Depot and you buy something, and then you have to check your receipt on your way out. You feel like a criminal. I feel that way sometimes when I go to a car dealer. Not like a criminal, but as someone who shouldn't be trusted.

And so the best experience I've had at car dealerships have been experiences where the dealer trusts me. The salesperson trusts me. That makes such a huge difference for me when I actually buy a car.

(Thanks to Todd Sines for the music)

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