Observing cars in different locales is instructive. Incredible street photography Instagrams I see from my friend Adria Ellis’ Cuban trips show a country that, judging from their mid to late 1950’s cars, simply stopped in time. (Adria travels the world and her iPhone street photography is absolutely amazing. Click here to view her Instagram feed and remember – this is 100% shot on an iPhone.)
In our last trip to Europe, it wasn’t surprising to see small cars everywhere, though a Dodge Dakota truck certainly stood out (physically and visually) on a side street in Salzburg. Walking along streets of parked cars in Germany, you could see their owners took pride in their vehicles. Interiors were clean, as were the exteriors. Paris was more a mixed bag with less of a fastidious attention to exterior care. Italy? A big step down in owner valuation with nicks, dings, and dents in much greater abundance. It’s a hard life being a car in Italy.
A winter trip this year to Texas took us through the heart of the oil patch’s Permian Basis. And judging from the car dealerships packed with inventory, parking lots in front of restaurant lunch hangouts, and parking lots at Walmart, it’s pretty clear that Detroit has their pick-up truck assembly lines running on overtime. Never, ever have I seen so many pick-up trucks.
In Vermont, it’s all wheel drive Subarus. Subes also show up Colorado ski towns, but in the higher end resorts, they’re seemingly outnumbered by Audi all-wheel-drive models. In Denver, the mobility motor conveyance of choice is the SUV in all sizes and more often than not with a dog riding shotgun. Denver has mild winters and the majority of the population doesn’t ski, but that doesn’t really matter.
Then there’s the State of California. In a recent trip that took us from Palm Springs in the south to Sacramento in the north (map readers and experienced drivers will know this as the world which exists between I-10 and I-80) it took me a few days to get used to not only the volume of traffic but the cars themselves. What I observed is that California has become the small car capital of the United States. Our little Ford Focus fits right in with dozens and dozens of its siblings. Alongside were braces of Hondas, Nissans, Mazdas, and tiny Chevy’s. And it’s pretty clear why there are so many smaller cars on California highways. You know the minute you pull up to a gas pump where you’re paying about a buck more a gallon than in most other states.
Californians have started figuring out that small can be as beautiful as it is practical. And some of that thinking is percolating into the young generation’s preoccupation with Tiny Houses and the RV industry’s fastest growing market segment — B-vans.
Just like our increasingly diminutive cars, RVs are undergoing a rethink in size, with buyers considering smaller alternatives in both trailers and motorhomes. But just as it is in cars, lifestyle, driving, and travel, needs are different for singles, couples, and families. It’s great to have so many products to choose from these days, but with choice comes the heavy weight of decision and trade-offs. A mobile condominium? A petite parkable van? It’s a great problem to have and one I happily embrace.