U. S. North to South: Seattle WA and Portland OR, welcoming Bob

1. Bob Seattle 3Bob will be my ride for the next three weeks. 

If you thought I got lost somewhere in southern Alaska, you thought wrong! After last stopping in Ketchikan Alaska, we are now hitting Seattle in Washington state and for the remaining part of this U.S. North to South series I have the privilege to drive a 2015 Ram 2500 Tradesman Crew Cab 4×4 Turbo Diesel. I baptised last year’s Ram 1500 Albert, and this year I will follow the letters of the alphabet, just like for hurricanes. My ride for this U.S. North to South drive will be named Bob. First impressions below, where we also elucidate the mystery of Ford Seattle license plates 2.000 miles up north in Barrow, Alaska…

2. Bob Seattle 4

But first, I hear you ask: why a male nickname? Here’s the thing: in France where I am from, everything is sexualised (nothing new here) and everything has a gender. Trucks, including pickups, are male, while passenger cars are female. So even though I have now called Australia home for thirteen years, naming my truck Barbara is just wrong, very wrong to me. So Bob it is. This Ram 2500 Tradesman Crew Cab 4×4 8′ Box Turbo Diesel retails for $48.565.

Bob is a Heavy Duty Turbo Diesel

A little bit over a year ago when I took the wheel of Albert the Ram 1500, I was surprised at how car-like nimble it was. Bob is a whole different story altogether. Even though it is part of the same family of pickups and counted together in the monthly sales charts, stepping up from a Ram 1500 to a Ram 2500 is exactly like going from a car to a truck. Last year I would have liked Albert to sound more manly: as astoundingly frugal as it was (I reached 30 mpg), the 3.0L Ecodiesel did not sound like I was driving an actual truck. With its 6.7L Cummins Turbo Diesel engine, Bob is every bit of the truck I had always dreamt of driving across the United States. Sounds like a truck, and feels like a truck to drive too.

3. Bob Gearbox

Being European I am used to handling manual gearboxes, I have done so all my life to the point where automatic feels eerily unnatural to me. Here too Bob is a step-up though. Contrasting with the automatic rotary shifter featured on the Ram 1500, Bob’s manual lever is gigantic and lodged on the dashboard – not the floor – feeling like a good old-fashioned truck – or bus for that matter. Giving away its primary function as workhorse, Bob’s first three gears are very short, making for interesting starts at red lights and a full contrast to the Tesla Model S I drove earlier this year!

4. Bob Seattle 2

Bob sits very high on its wheels, requiring a windshield-side handle and muscled legs to jump in. Its 8′ box makes it a longer vehicle than most in the city, so I feel taller and bigger, and I also take a lot more space on the road. All this combines very nicely to give a quintessential U.S. truck experience. It took me a day to get used to his little quirks, but Bob and I are now ready to roll! First stop: downtown Seattle. Navigating this monster in the (very) steep and narrow Seattle streets is a baptism-by-fire akin to my Manhattan experience with Albert last year. Parking on the street is no option: there are no (free) parking spots large enough. My only way out was the outdoor oversize section of an underground parking lot. Full-size pickup trucks are definitely frowned upon in green-obsessed Seattle…

5. Seattle Chowder queueOnly in Seattle: two hour-queue for a chowder.

5. Seattle Elephant Garlic

Now onto Seattle as a city. I had no expectations, but wasn’t thrilled either. Healthily grounded after two full weeks spent in mostly remote Alaska, I was somehow looking forward to a more “sophisticated” experience for lack of a better word. But the town’s crowd of latte-sipping hipsters, suit-wearing buskers and queue-making chowder-eaters have left me unimpressed. Pike Place Market is a must-see but nothing out of the ordinary for a Frenchman. It was however nice to enter the very first Starbucks coffeeshop ever built, located nearby. I think it’s time to hit the road.

4. Toyota Prius Taxi SeattleToyota Prius Taxi in Seattle 

But before we do so, a word on the best-selling cars in Washington state (See all the sales figures for the ten states visited here). With Seattle as the main population hub, it’s a passenger car-dominated state with the Top 3 sellers belonging to that segment: the Toyota Camry, Corolla and Subaru Outback. Although less prominent than in Alaska, the Subaru craze is still raging here indeed, as is the case the entire Northwestern part of the United States. A healthy amount of privately-owned Subaru Outbacks can be spotted all through town and outside as I witnessed during a day trip to Snoqualmie Falls. In fact, the best-selling “light truck” in WA and 4th overall is the Subaru Forester, outselling the Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado in a rare achievement.

6. Toyota Prius SeattlePike Place Market in Seattle

Seattle is the kingdom of eco-friendly cars. The tone is given as soon as we leave the airport with a Tesla depot in full view housing dozens of Model S awaiting delivery. A multitude of Toyota Prius can be seen streaming along its streets, with the majority of the town’s taxis being Priuses too. All recent launches in the category are well represented, including the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt and three BMW i3 spotted in a matter of hours.

7. Ford F-150 Seattle2015 Ford F-150 in Snoqualmie Falls.

Compared to Alaska, the car and truck landscape is definitely newer: there are no more old F-Series on the roads while they are still legion up north: I only spotted one 1980s model in two days. I also saw my first Scion iA and new generation Hyundai Tucson of the trip. On this last point, Hyundai is grabbing a much higher market share on the Washington car market than it was in Alaska, with a constant flow of Elantras (#4 passenger car here so far in 2015) gracing the Seattle roads.

8. Chrysler 200 SeattleChrysler 200 in Seattle

Seattle may be green, yet it is still socially awkward: while the traffic was at a standstill for miles on all lanes of the highway on the way back from Snoqualmie Falls, the two-people vehicle lane was totally empty…

11. Plymouth Seattle

Just miles south of Seattle in Renton near the Seattle Tacoma airport, I was able to elucidate a mystery I mentioned while still in Barrow in Northern Alaska. There I spotted a number of Fords with a Sound Ford license plate. According to the Sound Ford website, it is about to celebrate 40 consecutive years as the #1 Volume Ford dealer in Washington. A quick chat with Derek, salesman at Sound Ford Renton, tells us why we can find cars from this dealership all the way up northern Alaska 2.000 miles away: “Yes we do ship a lot of cars to Alaska indeed. Here around Seattle you have a dozen Ford dealers in the area, so the competition is intense. Our retail prices are much lower than what Ford is able to charge in Anchorage, Alaska. Customers purchase their cars on our website, give us instructions as to which port and barge to drive the car to, we unload the car in the barge and they pick it up in Barrow. Barge transport to Alaska costs around $1.000 and even when factoring that cost in, these customers end up saving $5.000 to $10.000 per vehicle by purchasing it here instead of in Anchorage.” It all makes sense now, and looking at the most frequent cars in Barrow I would guess a lot of Ford F-150 pickups have made the leisurely 3-week barge trip around the Bering straits, waving at Russia on the way.

10. Bob Optimus PrimeBob and Optimus Prime

It’s now time to take Bob on the road and for his first day of highway we are headed south to Portland, Oregon. On the way and thanks to a tip from fellow TTAC writer Cameron Aubernon I got Bob to meet with Optimus Prime from the latest Transformers blockbuster movie, keeping him on his toes and showing him that even though he was a monster on the road, he was still no match for the modified Mack truck…

12. Smart Fortwo PortlandSmart Fortwo in Portland

According to the Lonely Planet, Portland is “an up-and-coming destination that has finally arrived and a can’t-miss stop on your adventures in the Pacific Northwest”. Once again and I’m sorry I feel this way, but I found it to be an over-rated snobbish town. This is not what I am doing this drive for, rather big skies and National Parks. The car park in Portland however makes for interesting observations: more Smart Fortwos here than in the rest of the U.S. combined (only a slight exaggeration), Teslas Ecocab taxis and customers that have fully embraced the revived Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon mid-size pickups.

11. Subaru Outback PortlandFavourites in Portland: the Subaru Outback and Forester.

Looking at the official car sales figures for 2015 in Oregon, we find an eerily similar picture than that of Alaska: the overall best-seller is the Ram pickup, so Bob feels right at home, followed by the Subaru Outback, Toyota Camry and Subaru Forester. The Ford F-150 is knocked out to 4th overall, with the Toyota Tacoma at #4 light truck confirming the taste of Oregon customers for mid-sized pickups.

I won’t spend the night here but will drive a further couple of hours east to sleep in The Dalles, at the border between Washington and Oregon, in the first of many Motel 6 hotels I will stay at during this trip. The good news in this part of the country is the low gas prices: from $2.729 a gallon of diesel in Anchorage to $2.299 Seattle and $2.599 in The Dalles. That’s up to a full dollar per gallon less than what I was paying last year, and will make up for the weaker fuel economy of my Ram 2500, standing in the low twenties for now.

Next we cross Idaho to reach Glacier National Park in Montana. Stay tuned!

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