Is Nissan encouraging reckless driving?

I don’t watch a lot of TV but I did happen to be watching the news the other night to see what coverage there was of the EMU launch when an ad from Nissan came on.

Traditionally we’re used to car commercials existing in a sort of alternative reality where not a single other car is on the road to get in the way. This one from Nissan was different though in that there was some traffic on the roads. What disappoint me though was that Nissan seem to be endorsing reckless driving with the car seemingly encouraging the driver to weave through traffic at speed putting others, especially pedestrians at risk.

In the US where it’s known as the Rouge the second part is even worse, although perhaps suggesting that in a city the fastest way around is on a train.

Come on Nissan. Surely you can do better than this.


Multi-modal cars?

Often forgotten in the argument about cars vs public transport (and walking/cycling) is that many people are prepared to be quite multi-modal. Many people who use PT also own a car (or at least have access to one) and will use what is what is the most rational and convenient mode of transport for them for their specific trips. Personally if I’m travelling I will catch a train, drive or walk depending on where it is that I’m going and I’m grateful to be able to have that choice.

However the world we see from car commercials is almost always showing off open road driving where there isn’t another car on the road. While cars are definitely useful in that situation it’s not the type of thing most people in cities would experience every day on their commute to or from work. So I was interested to read this press release from INRIX – who deal with transport data – about their partnership with BMW.

Las Vegas – 2014 International CES®– January 6, 2014 – INRIX is partnering with BMW to help reshape personal mobility worldwide with the introduction of the industry’s first in-car intermodal navigation system.

Debuting in BMW ConnectedDrive systems in the new i3 and i8 electric vehicles, INRIX Intermodal Navigation is the first in-car service to integrate local public transport connections into journey planning.

The service monitors real-time traffic conditions alerting drivers to faster alternative modes of transportation when major delays occur along local routes. Upon selecting an alternative mode, the system provides turn-by-turn navigation to the nearest public transport station in time for the next departure.

“In an increasingly urban, time-compressed and socially-conscious marketplace, the future of the automobile depends on our ability to market mobility as much as it depends on horsepower, styling, or fuel economy,” said Rafay Khan, Senior Vice President of Sales and Product, INRIX.

“It’s our shared goal with customers like BMW to meet drivers’ demands for greater mobility and sustainability in the connected car.”

Now if this is as it sounds then it’s a great move by BMW and hopefully many more car companies will consider doing it. I particularly agree with the comment that the market is changing and overall urban mobility is becoming a key concern. It will certainly be interesting to watch how (or if) that feature is advertised to the public and it will be also fascinating to see if peoples habits change if after getting in the car it starts telling them that PT is a faster option.

Marketing the Dream, not the reality

Cars are extremely useful devices for getting around, they are generally comfortable, they can carry all of your crap (depending on the size of them), they provide personal space, driving can even be quite fun but perhaps most importantly they leave when you want and they go where you want which helps to give us more choice in how we get around. Of course in Auckland especially, we acted like a kid given free rein in a candy shop that completely gorged itself on lollies and chocolate.

However that doesn’t mean cars don’t have their downsides. I expect that we will eventually solve the issues surrounding their dependence on fossil fuels however there is one major issue that will continue to exist, they don’t play well with others. The freedom and choice that cars provide quickly goes out of the window when there are no alternatives and when thousands of others want to make the same journey as you at the same time. That is a key part of the reason as to why we developed the Congestion Free Network proposal. But this post isn’t about the CFN, instead I want to look at one of the reasons cars have been so successful, their marketing.

I believe that one of the key reasons that cars have been so successful is that car manufacturers have done an excellent job at selling the dream that cars represent and what is the key way they do that? By showing their cars as the only vehicle on the road. Typically this means driving on open roads in away from the city where there is no-one to slow you down while at the same time showing off some of the amazing surrounding scenery (either from New Zealand or somewhere else overseas) or an iconic activity that people associate with (like a family going on a summer holiday).

Now of course getting out to see the country or going on a family holiday (often the same thing) are excellent reasons for having a car but for most people and for most of the time the reality is quite different. The “daily grind” means staying in the city and commuting to and from work all at the same time as a lot of others. Occasionally we will see an ad set in an urban area yet amazingly even then the roads magically flow free and are almost always filmed at night when we don’t have congestion problems anyway.

Below are a few examples of recent ads.

This one from Audi is definitely a very pretty ad showing off some great New Zealand scenery but it’s also funny how the urban scenes they show are of a car taking off down a shared space (Fort Lane) – an areas where pedestrians have priority and of the streets above the Britomart train station (which really should be shared spaces too).

This one from Toyota is perhaps one of the few that shows the reality of city streets before the driver decides to avoid the traffic and head off on an adventure in the countryside

Or how about this one Mazda which is set in a city centre with wide streets yet there are no other cars about and continuous green lights.

Just to make it clear, I don’t have a problem with companies marketing their products and highlighting the best points about them, why bother otherwise. I also don’t expect them to start selling cars as “being part of the congestion” but what is very clear is that the dream and the reality are quite different.

God created transit

A great little “commercial” from the folks at Next City that poignantly illustrates the value of good transit to everyday peoples lives.

Next City made the above video in response to the Dodge Ram superbowl commercial, which the felt conflated car ownership with good old fashioned hard working salt of the earth types. Presumably they took exception to the connotation that you can’t be an honest and productive human without a new Dodge in the garage!

This is what the creator, Diana Lind, had to say:

I can’t deny that the “God Made a Farmer” Super Bowl ad for Dodge RAM trucks was beautiful. The imagery was Americana at its finest. Paul Harvey’s voice, which animated the pictures, in and of itself stunned me. Like other ads that have come out of the Chrysler car company, it put a lump in my throat.

And yet the ad, like the one about soldiers for Jeep, conflated the merits of people with those of cars. Which seems a bit sad for 2013, when in the past six months climate change has reared its ugly head and begged us to change our consumption economy for something a bit more sustainable. And the nostalgic imagery — as if we only believe in farmers and soldiers to represent the best of humanity, and as if buying a car is a noble act — started to offend me.

So I thought I’d try making my own video in response. Keep in mind it’s my first foray into creating a video and I didn’t have much time to do this (between my own job and my own transit riding). But I hope it strikes a chord for anyone else who felt that transit and the people who ride it got short shrift from the Super Bowl ads.

You can view the original car commercial here: