USA Coast to Coast 2014: Final destination LA + Final Albert review

Albert Hollywood 3Albert made it to Hollywood

You can see all my USA Coast to Coast Reports here! *

This is it! After 5.722 miles or 9.209 km Albert and I have made it across the United States of America from Coast to Coast and have arrived in Los Angeles. This is the final instalment in this Coast to Coast series. It features Los Angeles car landscape and impressions, a final long-term review of Albert and my Top 10 highlights of the trip.

Los AngelesNearly there…

The drive from Palm Springs to Los Angeles is supposed to be a breezy 2 hours, which rapidly escalated to 4 hours due to a gigantic highway traffic jam before and upon entering I10. I know some of you suggested to take the Palms to Pines Hwy (74) straight to the Pacific Ocean for a much more enjoyable experience however we opted for the (supposedly) fastest way as we were running out of time and daylight for Santa Monica Pier snaps before returning Albert the day after. Well to tell you the truth I still wish we took the Palms to Pines option because we ended up taking as much time to reach Santa Monica Pier on the excruciatingly boring I10. Oh well, next time…

Albert Santa MonicaAlbert posing next to Santa Monica Pier

Move over Texas, California is where drivers are truly reckless, whooshing past on the right lane at over 100mph. To their credit though, Californian drivers ended up being very predictable in their recklessness, and provided you expect everyone will drive 20mph above every indicated speed limit, it is actually possible to weave through the traffic at high speed driving a full-size pickup truck, an object getting rarer and rare as we approach Los Angeles.

Santa Monica 1The Pacific Ocean at last

I won’t deny it, I got a little emotional when I spotted the Pacific Ocean for the first time approaching Santa Monica Pier. You don’t realise until you do it for real, but the USA is a very large country and even though I took a much longer route than I could have (but also I believe much more interesting), it takes a while to cross it. Can’t help but think of the first Western pioneers travelling on horse-carts in constant danger of being attacked by hostile Native American tribes. Well done you guys I say. Or maybe I have it all romanced in my head, having watched too many Western movies.

Los Angeles 2Everyday traffic in Los Angeles CA

Back to reality in LA which is, I’d rather be honest for a minute, just one big fat and endless traffic jam. Take a wrong turn to a different interstate and by the time you turn around and find your way back in stalled traffic, even if you take the first exit humanely possible, you’ve just lost 45 minutes right there. For those of you readers who live in LA: I do not know how you do it!

Honda Insight Los AngelesHonda Insight in Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles CA

Squeezing Albert through the tiny (one way?) uphill streets of Hollywood Hills in order to find the perfect spot for his selfie enabled me to discover how Hollywood stars, producers, filmmakers and reality TV personalities (can’t use the word star here) spend their money, but also how faithful they are to their first hybrid love. Proof: this first generation Honda Insight papp’ed above. As a reminder the Insight was the first hybrid car to go on sale in the US in December 1999 – 6 months before the Prius.

Toyota Corolla Los AngelesToyota Corolla in Hollywood Observatory, Los Angeles CA

Unsurprisingly, Los Angeles – and in particular the Hollywood area – is the kingdom of Toyota Prius. They are absolutely everywhere and seeing 3 of 4 in a row in traffic is a common occurrence. After all, it’s Hollywood actors such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Dustin Hoffman, Sandra Bullock, Natalie Portman, Orlando Bloom and Julia Roberts that essentially did all the advertising for this car, so nothing more logical than seeing it plastered at every street corner in Hollywood. The Prius family (also including the Prius c small hatchback and Prius v MPV) is the best-selling nameplate in California. True to form, the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla are also very common in Los Angeles as their respective California state rankings (#2 and #5) indicate.

But let’s stop beating around the bush – I know a lot of you have been eagerly anticipating the final review of Albert. So without any more delay, here it is below in all its glory.

Albert Hollywood 1

Albert great

The truck we all know as Albert by now is a Ram 1500 ecoDiesel Tradesman Crew Cab 4×4 Model Year 2014. All-in-all and I will say this in all honesty, I have been extremely impressed with Albert. This was the first time I got to drive a full-size US pickup truck over a long distance and I was expecting a laborious drive at best. Turns out, the Ram 1500 combines features from a spacious passenger car, some of the convenience of an SUV and the practicality of a pickup truck. The best of all worlds? Quite possibly so… Here is what I particularly liked about Albert.

30 mpg

FUEL ECONOMY

  • Reaching a 30 mpg average over thousands of miles – even for a short time after a particularly long highway drive – was in my view the most impressive feat Albert achieved during this Coast to Coast trip. The EcoDiesel 3.0L V6 engine is just perfect for this type of vehicle and trip, in fact it makes you wonder why other manufacturers haven’t launched diesel variants for their base full-size pickups yet. GM will do so next year with the mid-sized Colorado and Canyon and this will be interesting to follow, as pickup buyers don’t differentiate between full-size and mid-size pickup as frankly as manufacturers do, so in effect the upper versions of the Colorado and Canyon are competitors to the base variants of the Ram 1500 like Albert.
  • Albert’s fuel economy gauge (below the average) updates in real time, and this is a great way to influence it once you digest what triggers it to go up and down as you drive. Essentially driving as smoothly as possible on the highway, not rocket science but seeing the instant fuel economy vary second by second is a great way to keep you honest.
  • Albert’s final fuel economy over the entire trip stood at an excellent 26.2 mpg over almost 6.000 miles. Had I not spent hours stuck in traffic in LA and New York it would have been even higher, but I guess that brings the ‘city’ mileage into the combined equation and keeps the average realistic. 26.2 mpg combined is outstanding for this type of vehicle and confirms the Ram really is the most fuel efficient full-size pickup around. These figures are actually markedly better than the official EPA fuel economy figures advertised for this specific 1500 EcoDiesel 4×4 model: 27 mpg highway, 22 mpg combined and 19 mpg city. It is also way better than the equivalent 2015 Ford F-150 4WD models: the ecoboost 2.7L gets 23/18/20 mpg highway/city/combined and the 3.5L gets 23/17/19 mpg.

8. Albert New Mexico

HIGHWAY PERFORMANCE

  • This is one of the areas where I had the least expectations for Albert, in fact I was a little sceptical of how comfortable and/or enjoyable a full-size pickup ride would be on thousands of miles of highway, day in, day out. When I set out on this Coast to Coast trip a few of my automotive press colleagues raised eyebrows asking why oh why did I not opt for a ride like a Ford Mustang. “Driving across the States at high speeds? You may as well do it in style!” they said. My motivation was simple: I wanted to cross the country in a quintessential American vehicle, and the Mustang ticks that box – granted, but one that defines America’s tastes in vehicles like no other. No other country in the world worships full-size pickups like the US and Canada do. In one word, what makes American consumers different to the rest of the world is those pickups. I was prepared to sacrifice driving pleasure to experience what the majority of Americans do when they roll their full-size pickup truck around. And the truth is I didn’t have to sacrifice much, or anything for that matter.
  • The 3.0L EcoDiesel V6, on top of being very frugal, has also been set up to not let you down when you need it most. The best example of this happened on Californian highways before hitting standstill in downtown Los Angeles. I had to reach LA before sunset to ensure optimal photo exposure. So for two hours I needed to weave through fast-moving yet heavy traffic as fast as physically possible, ignoring speed limits (sorry) and changing lanes every 10 seconds or less to be sure to advance to the next inch of free highway space as effectively as possible. A good way to test Albert’s psycho driving skills.
  • Californian drivers, in their regimented recklessness, allow this to happen by keeping traffic fluid but most importantly I am happy to report that no other vehicle was able to link Palm Springs to Los Angeles faster than Albert on that stretch of road. The engine and its 8-speed automatic transmission responds without delay when called upon to overtake suddenly, giving you torque when and where you need it. Very reassuring and to my view very satisfying for a vehicle of this weight.
  • Pushing Albert above 100mph in New Mexico did not transform the cabin into a whirring, shaking hell in the least. In fact Albert swallowed the increasing speed levels very stoically indeed. Engine noise is (somewhat disappointingly – I miss the gargling diesel sound) kept to a very low level at all speeds: driving at 60 or 110mph brings almost no difference. Certainly not what I expected from a diesel pickup. Pleasantly surprised.
  • When not in need of nervous driving, the Ram 1500 can easily slot itself into a very precise cruise control you can adjust to the mile and that returns to the pre-set figure once you have accelerated to pass a slower vehicle. A standard ‘set and forget’ system common on most vehicles today but a welcome addition to a set of features that made driving Albert on the highway for 6.000 miles a total breeze. Among them also: an ergonomic driver seat that left me with no back pain even after many stretches of 8-hour drive days in a row.

Albert Charleston

CITY DRIVING

  • Taking the wheel in Uptown Manhattan NY on the first day Albert was delivered to me was daunting. The width of the truck and the tiny, double-parked-to-the-brim one way streets did not seem to agree with each other in the least at the start. For the first couple of minutes only though. Very responsive commands and efficient power steering make Albert extremely manoeuvrable and very predictable in its movements.
  • So much so that once used to the enormous size of the vehicle, reverse parking becomes an effortless manoeuvre you could almost achieve with one thumb on the steering wheel (almost). Although I do consider myself a reverse parking ace thanks to very smart French driving school instructors in my youth, I have to admit I didn’t expect Albert to be more nimble than my mom’s good old tiny Peugeot 206. And it was.
  • Driving Albert in America (even in cities) gives it what you could call an unfair advantage as U.S. roads and streets are for the most part built to accommodate this type of pickup truck’s turning circle, however it does work. U can U turn in one go on most roads.
  • Finally as a confirmation of the very low cabin noise review on the highway, you have to prick up your ears to hear the engine when stopped at a traffic light. Stepping out to take pictures on a busy Manhattan street, it is impossible to guess whether the engine is running or not, as a heavy duty engine cooling system will never betray its running state with loud breathes.

3. Albert Death Valley 1

SUSPENSION AND HARSH CONDITIONS DRIVING

  • A bout of late-night driving in a particularly weakly-lit suburban Dallas street resulted in Albert having a forced speed date with a sizeable middle-street sidewalk: after the initial surprise, the truck’s suspension absorbed the change of terrain admirably and forgave my mistake to the point where the passengers hardly noticed.
  • Admittedly I didn’t push Albert into truly harsh 4WD driving as Monument Valley’s unsealed and sometimes abrupt drive was as close as it came to being unleashed in the wild. Still, it did the job as a willing workhorse would: flawlessly.
  • Albert hardly noticed we ventured into Death Valley. It seemed he was made for this type of harsh climate, and the climb to Coffin Peak was not even sanctioned by heavy engine cooling panting at the end. Nup, silent. Content. Impressive.
  • Unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to test Albert’s towing capabilities during this trip, however the next US trip will definitely correct this.

Ram 1500 ecoDiesel Albert gearbox

SPACIOUS, NO NONSENSE INTERIOR

  • At $35.805 base price and $40.495 for the model I have driven, Albert is a lot of truck for the money. I can fit easily in the truck bed and sleep there for the night. But where I was surprised to find that much space was clearly inside. Albert is a Crew Cab meaning the equivalent of a large passenger car inside, with a truck bed stuck on the back of it. When I talked about the best of all worlds earlier, that’s what I meant. I wasn’t the only one impressed by interior space: I showed Albert to a few moms that couldn’t believe how much they could fit in the back row. Plenty of leg space both at the front and back added to Albert’s extensive width and a middle front seat folding back means you can fit 6 people quite comfortably in this base Ram.
  • Call me stupid but somehow I am used to having a trunk in which to hide my luggage when I drive. Seeing the open truck bed when I took Albert’s keys I had a half-second of horror thinking my photographer would throw a sizeable tantrum at having to leave his $5.000 photo equipment bags for all to see on the back seats at each of our stops. Not to worry: the back windows are heavily tinted so you can store your luggage there without anyone knowing.
  • The dashboard and commands are simple but sufficient and intuitive for the most part. They may not be complete as as we’ll see further down but this is a functional truck to operate smoothly for sure. You can see a more detailed review of Albert’s commands here.
  • There were some clever bonuses that just put a smile on my face every time I used them. Having started to drive at a time where discmans were all the rage (the CD version of a walkman – if you were born after 1990 just ignore these lines), I just sigh with contentment every time I step into a car with a USB port. Simple pleasures I know. The gearshift rotary dial on the central console (pictured above) replacing the traditional shift lever on the steering column both freed leg space and made me very happy, as well as the coin holder located inside the central container and keeping Albert in touch with its Tradesman label, roots and target market. Finally the cup holders are tight enough to unscrew a bottle with one hand while driving. Very handy indeed.

Albert back Death Valley

Albert improve

Some of these improvement points come from the fact that Albert is the very base Tradesman model and therefore has been optioned-out to the max. Still, I would have expected the below features to be included.

HEADLIGHTS

The Ram 1500 Tradesman Crew Cab 4×4 Spec sheet says one of the exterior features is Halogen Quad Headlamps. They are simply not strong enough and I found myself scrambling to action high beams while already being on high beams. Change the headlights if you buy one of Albert’s brothers.

COMMANDS

Although globally intuitive, there are a few missing elements in Albert’s commands. There are no volume and track rockers on the back of the wheel, which means you have to fiddle with the central console every time you want to change anything. It keeps your eyes away from the road for too long and could be fixed by actually adding a right control bar on the back of the wheel: at the moment there is only a left one. The GPS is also MIA, which is kind of a big deal when crossing the country. Luckily the Google Maps app of my iPhone was totally up to the task and the USB port kept it fully charged at all times.

HEAVY RAIN DRIVING

A caveat here is I drove Albert on arrival in Savannah GA in the worst stormy rain I ever got to drive in in my entire life (true story). Cars were literally stopped in the middle of the highway for lack of visibility, or driving off their lane without realising it. Heavy rain driving is my pet hate, and Albert’s wipers were not fast enough to handle this type of weather which, based on the comments I got from the locals, seems to be rather frequent in that part of the country. High speed driving under heavy rain did not seem like a great idea with Albert either as the weight of the truck can mess with clean braking and the tail tends to wobble a little – pun intended.

TRADESMAN LOOK

By this I mean Albert’s black front grille and bumper. I will confess I have spent the most part of the trip hesitating between liking this look and not liking it so much. And I still haven’t decided. It does make Albert appear rough around the edges and ready to rumble in a good way. Although I do love the chrome of his higher spec’ed brothers…

Albert Hollywood 2

10 highlights

I’ll finish this series by very subjectively selecting my 10 highlights of the trip, they are all linked to the corresponding reports, just in case you missed any of them. I hope you enjoyed the journey!

1. Elvis Presley museum in Memphis

2. Bourbon Street and jambalaya in New Orleans

3. Blue bird café in Nashville

4. Modern living in Palm Springs

5. Driving Albert through Manhattan

6. Majestic Monument Valley

7. Motel-ing it all through the trip

8. Art deco roadside stops along Route 66

9. Surviving Death Valley

10. Real America in Fort Worth – Texas

A big thank you to FCA/Ram for lending me this Ram 1500 EcoDiesel Tradesman, without which none of this would have happened.

Stay tuned for more world travels!

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USA Coast to Coast 2014: Palm Springs, California

1. Albert Palm Springs 1Albert in West Cielo Drive, Palm Springs CA

You can see all my USA Coast to Coast Reports here! *

Many thanks to David Curry for the photos in this report.

After surviving Death Valley we now arrive at our last stop before reaching the Pacific Ocean in Los Angeles: Palm Springs California, the mid-century architecture mecca of the world. The traditional Photo Report, car landscape study, Palm Springs trivia and a guide to the unmissable architectural attractions in town are below. Don’t forget to click on any picture to enlarge!

2. Ford Thunderbird Palm SpringsThe Ford Thunderbird is the Hero in Town in Palm Springs CA

Before we go into some Palm Springs trivia and the reasons behind this small desert town’s popularity, I have to spend a bit of time on the Hero in Town: the 11th and last generation Ford Thunderbird, on sale from November 2011 to June 2005. I had seen a couple in New Orleans but apart from that the Thunderbird had been extremely discreet, in line with its poor sales during its short-lived career. That was before Palm Springs. Very noticeable notably in its vintage colours – turquoise, torch red and bright yellow – they are everywhere to be seen in town. Obviously not the most frequent car in the Palm Springs streets, but way more popular here than in all the cities I have visited so far in this Coast to Coast trip… combined.

As opposed to the 9 generations in between, the 11th generation Ford Thunderbird followed a then-recent trend for retro styling initiated by models such as the VW New Beetle, Chrysler PT Cruiser and Mini Cooper, and used design cues from the first generation Ford Thunderbird launched in 1955. In this context, its popularity in Palm Springs is more understandable, as it suits the mid-century architecture, furniture and car obsession in town.

1955 Ford ThunderbirdThe original 1955 Ford Thunderbird

Living in Palm Springs means you probably own a house designed in the fifties, with the corresponding vintage furniture you have accumulated throughout the years, so it only makes sense to own a car that takes its design cues from this era. It’s the second-best option to owning a car actually made in the fifties. Add to this the unusually low ratio of family with kids in Palm Springs (15% of households) and you have the perfect breeding ground for vintage-looking 2-seat coupés/cabriolets like the Ford Thunderbird.

3. Palm SpringsCasa Blanca Motel in Palm Springs CA

Though it was initially well received by the automotive press in its first year of existence, many publications changed their mind after a few years, with Car and Driver Magazine even making it one of the “10 Most Embarrassing Award Winners in Automotive History”. Ford expected sales of 25,000 units per year, but despite a great start in 2002 which saw dealers charging well over the manufacturer’s suggested retail price and 31.121 units produced, subsequent years did not reach half that figure. Forbes attributed this failure to lack of marketing: “Ford dealers have been successful selling $40,000 trucks but have little experience selling automobiles in the near-luxury price range. If there was a marketing effort by Ford Motor, I wasn’t aware of it. Naturally, sales didn’t meet expectations.” said Forbes writer Jerry Flint.

Ford Thunderbird production:

Year Production
2002 31,121
2003 14,506
2004 12,671
2005 9,220
Total 67,518

Source: Wikipedia

4. Albert Palm Springs 2Albert in Palm Springs CA

Now that we have cleared the cult status enjoyed by the 2002 Ford Thunderbird in Palm Springs, let’s get into some trivia. Palm Springs is a desert resort city located just 107 miles (172 kilometres) east of Los Angeles within the Coachella Valley in California. It is home to just 44.552 inhabitants and enjoys over 300 days of sunshine a year. The city became a fashionable resort in the 1900s when health tourists arrived with conditions that required dry heat. Palm Springs was more comfortable in its microclimate because the area was covered in the shadow of Mount San Jacinto to the west and in the winter the mountains block cold winds from the San Gorgonio pass. In the 1920s, Hollywood movie stars, attracted by the hot dry, sunny weather and seclusion, started building homes and estates here.

5. Palm Springs House 1Palm Springs house in Monte Vista

After World War II, architectural modernists flourished with commissions from the stars, using the city to explore architectural innovations, new artistic venues, and an exotic back-to-the-land experiences. Inventive architects designed unique vacation houses, such as steel houses with prefabricated panels and folding roofs, a glass-and-steel house in a boulder-strewn landscape, and a carousel house that turned to avoid the sun’s glare. In 1946 Richard Neutra designed the Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann House. A modernist classic, this mostly glass residence incorporated the latest technological advances in building materials, using natural lighting and floating planes and flowing space for proportion and detail. Culver (2010) argues that Palm Springs architecture became the model for mass-produced suburban housing, especially in the Southwest. This “Desert Modern” style was a high-end architectural style featuring open-design plans, wall-to-wall carpeting, air-conditioning, swimming pools, and very large windows.

6. Dodge Challenger Palm SpringsDodge Challenger in Palm Springs CA

Although the home of dozens of striking mid-century houses, it’s relatively hard to find a reliable list of must-see architecture in Palm Springs online. The Palm Springs Modern Committee however sells (for a mere $5) an awesome map of Modern Palm Springs, featuring no less than 82 mid-century landmarks, their location, exact address, date of construction and corresponding architect. A goldmine, also available as an app on palmspringslife.com/psmodapp. I highly recommend it and can happily report I have spent a good 5 hours making sure none of the 82 landmarks went unchecked.

8. Albert Kaufmann House Palm SpringsAlbert reverse parking into the world-famous Kaufmann Desert House in Palm Springs CA

The highlights among these 82 landmarks are – very subjectively – with their construction date and architect:

  1. Franz Alexander House (1954 – Walter White), Palevsky Residence (1968 – Craig Ellwood), Edris House (1953, E. Stewart Williams) and pretty much all houses towards the up-end of West Cielo Drive. Breathtaking views from here and casually manicured desert gardens. To me, the essence of Palm Springs. I’m moving here now!
  2. Village Manor – Orbit In hotel (1955 – Herbert W. Burns)
  3. Kaufmann Desert House (1946 – Richard Neutra)
  4. Casa Blanca Motel (1970s renovation – Hugh Kaptur)
  5. Most houses around Monte Vista and Camino Sur in Palm Springs North
  6. House of Tomorrow / Robert & Helene Alexander Residence, Elvis Presley Residence 1966-1967 (1962 – William Krisel)
  7. City National Bank / Bank of America (1959 – Victor Gruen Associates)
  8. Coachella Valley Savings & Loan No. 3 / Chase Bank (1960 – E. Stewart Williams)
  9. Dinah Shore Residence (1964 – Donald Wexler) but would have been better to see inside the house – Google it for pics
  10. Frank Sinatra Residence (1947 – E. Stewart Williams) here again better inside than out – see Google for pics

One disappointment: Southridge Drive in Palm Springs South offers fantastic views down below on the city but no way to stop the car to take it all in as it is fiercely guarded. That means both the Steve McQueen Residence (1968 – Hugh Kaptur) and Bob Hope Residence (1978 – John Lautner) are off limits along with a couple of other landmarks.

Albert Elvis house Palm SpringsAlbert in front of the House of Tomorrow (Elvis Presley’s residence 1966-1967) in Palm Springs CA

9. Bank of America Palm Springs1959 Bank of America building in Palm Springs CA

7. Nissan Versa Palm SpringsNissan Versa and Chrysler 200 in Palm Springs CA

Now onto the Palm Springs car landscape. Apart from the surprising (but logical) frequency of 2002-2005 Ford Thunderbirds, Palm Springs is the first town in this Coast to Coast trip where the Toyota Prius is truly successful. Once again this is logical: we are in California where the Prius family tops the sales charts, and on top of it we are in a very wealthy town – which has proved to be a good pre-requisite for environmentally aware customers that want to show that even though they spend gallons of water on their golf course, they still care for the earth enough to drive a hybrid car. Hollywood stars were a big part of making the Prius mainstream, and they still have residences here. In fact, it seemed that as we were here on the weekend, every second person we spoke with lived in LA and only spent a weekend in their 2nd home in Palm Springs here and there. Such a hard life…

10. Nissan Sentra Palm SpringsNissan Sentra in Palm Springs CA

Even though the hispanic population in Palm Springs is only 25% vs. over 50% for most parts of California, Nissan still very strong here with the Versa fighting for the title of best-selling nameplate in Palm Springs, and the Sentra potentially inside the Top 5. A hypothetical ranking based on meticulous street observation of the most recent cars in town gives us:

1. Honda Accord

2. Nissan Versa

3. Toyota Prius

4. Honda Civic

5. Nissan Sentra

Beyond the absolute best-sellers, other observations on the Palm Springs car landscape include the particular popularity of GMC with the Sierra, Acadia and Enclave very successful, the rarity of Ford F-Series (in accordance with Californian sales charts) with only a couple of private F-150 spotted, the Audi A3 sedan already making its mark and a shiny-as-new 1987 Ford F-150 spotted in the centre of town. Most pickups are company cars used for road work (there is a lot of it in Palm Springs) and are the heavy duty variant, for example the Ford F-350 or Ram 2500 Tradesman, my very own Albert’s big bro.

8b. Albert Palm Springs Car Wash 1How much more perfect can this picture be?

Best-sellers in California – Full Year 2013:

Pos Model 2013
1 Toyota Prius (all models) 69,728
2 Honda Civic 66,982
3 Honda Accord 63,194
4 Toyota Camry 56,788
5 Toyota Corolla 52,167
6 Ford F-Series 41,671
7 Honda CR-V 31,850
8 Nissan Altima 31,029
9 Toyota Tacoma 28,182
10 BMW 3 Series 27,026

A quick reminder of the best-sellers in California last year, and this time (as opposed to Death Valley) we are getting a little closer in Palm Springs with the Prius, Accord, Camry and Corolla all very frequent. It would appear Nissan over-performs in Palm Springs as well, particularly the Versa and Sentra.

12. Albert Palm Springs 5Albert in front of the 1965 Tramway Gas Station, now Palm Springs Visitors Center

Let’s finish on a review of the Orbit In Hotel where I stayed while in Palm Springs, described by Time as “the place to stay” in Palm Springs and a “modernist heaven”. For once the critics have it right. A quintessential mid-century modern property set around a saline pool with all rooms sporting designer furniture by Eames, Noguchi, Jacobsen and many more, the Orbit In was actually relatively cheap for the luxury it offered (from $149 per night). Plus the owners, a lovely couple, were there almost the entire time making sure every one was happy. Once you pay for the room, everything is free including cocktails during the cocktail hour which ended up lasting 3 hours, breakfast, daytime sodas and snacks, wifi and cruiser bicycles to borrow. A typically American generosity that, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting to find in one of the poshest hotel in this uber-posh town. The cocktail (3) hour(s) brought all guests together to exchange travel stories and our Coast to Coast trip with Albert made them all envious. As they should be!

Next is the very last episode of this series, the arrival in Los Angeles and my final review of Albert. Stay tuned so you don’t miss it!

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USA Coast to Coast 2014: Death Valley, California

Albert Badwater with sea levelAlbert’s first incursion below sea level at Badwater, Death Valley CA

You can see all my USA Coast to Coast Reports here! *

Many thanks to David Curry for the photos in this report.

We now leave Las Vegas to enter the final state of this Coast to Coast trip: California. Crossing the state line, we enter Death Valley National Park and this is a perfect location for an extended photo session with Albert. I give you the Photo Report, California sales data, Death Valley trivia and a review of how Albert coped with Death Valley heat below.

Ford F-150 AmargosaFord F-150 at Amargosa Hotel, Death Valley Junction CA

Just past Nevada is Death Valley Junction, home of the sleepy Amargosa Hotel and… Opera House. Yep. In the middle of the desert. We almost missed this gem and are so glad we persevered despite windows decidedly harbouring a ‘closed until further notice’ look. The Amargosa Opera House, aka Martha Becket’s Opera House (more detail on www.amargosaoperahouse.com), has a fantastic story worth relating here.

In March 1967 while finishing her One Woman Show tour of America, actress, dancer, choreographer and painter Marta Beckett came to Death Valley Junction to repair a flat tire at the former service station. While exploring the abandoned buildings, Marta found the old social hall in pretty bad disrepair. She rented the building, moved and has lived here ever since! Marta began performing to empty seats as she was not known yet, so she decided to paint an audience as murals inside the Opera House. She began performing to a live audience in February 1968 and did so for over 40 years. Now aged 90, Marta still lives in a room in the adjacent Amargosa Hotel, but was resting when we visited. We would definitely have said hi otherwise!

Amargosa (2000), Todd Robinson’s documentary about Marta Becket, won a 2003 Emmy Award for cinematographer Curt Apduhan.

3. Albert Death Valley 1There’s no denying it now Albert…

Less than 20 miles further West from Death Valley Junction is the actual entrance of Death Valley National Park and time for Albert to prove he’s been here with a pose next to the road sign above. It was late September when we visited so still in the midst of summer. As its name indicates, Death Valley is a pretty extreme place to be finding ourselves in. The free Visitor Guide and Map available at information points peppered through the park airs stark warnings for all visitors. Among them:

  • Clothing keeps you cooler. If you are not wearing a shirt, sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat you are not prepared to walk anywhere in Death Valley! 
  • The most common cause of death in the park is not heat but single car accidents. A moment of inattention can send you, your car and your loved ones flipping into the rocky desert! 

Death valley deaths

But this remains my favourite warning:

  • Do not rely on technology! Your cell phone will not work in most of the park. GPS devices frequently tell Death Valley visitors to turn off well-travelled roads, and take “shortcuts” over the desert and into canyons. Common sense and good judgement are far more reliable

Sadly, Death Valley keeps justifying its name year after year and this Summer there has been 2 heat-related deaths in the valley.

4. Death ValleyThe view upon Death Valley from Coffin Peak

But how hot is it really in Death Valley? Based on temperatures recorded at the official weather station at Furnace Creek down at what felt like the hottest point in the entire National Park, the average maximum temperature is at its coldest in December at 65°F (18°C) but reaches 110°F in June (43°C), 116°F in July (47°C), 115°F in August (46°C) and 106°F in September (41°C). True to form, Albert’s exterior temperature gauge was stuck at a balmy 105°F (40°C) the entire time we were down the Valley. Not that impressive? Wait there’s more…

5. Chevrolet Impala Coffin PeakChevrolet Impala in Coffin Peak, Death Valley CA

The highest temperature ever recorded on earth was at Furnace Creek on 10 July 1913 at 134°F (57°C). A high temperature of 129°F (54°C) is the closest we have come to tying this record and was recorded on 17 July 1998, 6 July 2007 and 30 June 2013. The heat is coming back strong as you can see… Another interesting record is the driest stretch of weather: only 0.64 inches of rain over 40 months between 1931 and 1934.

6. Albert mpg Coffin PeakAlbert’s mpg average right after the Coffin Peak climb – still a very good 24.2 mpg.

One way to escape the heat is to climb the steep paved road to Coffin Peak and Dante’s View, easily the most breathtaking viewpoint in the park, more than 5000ft (1524m) above the floor of Death Valley. From here you can simultaneously spot the highest and lowest points in the contiguous USA: Mount Whitney at 14,505ft and Badwater at 282ft below see level. The climb is harsh but Albert hardly noticed, with no overheating, no engine ventilation on for decades after we parked (contrary to all other vehicles parked here) and a fuel economy average down, granted, but to a still very impressive 24.2 mpg – that’s higher than the EPA average for the all-new 2015 Ford F-150. This would end up being the lowest mpg Albert would display in the entire trip.

7. Chevrolet Spark Coffin PeakChevy Spark and a slew of rentals at Coffin Peak, Death Valley CA

Expectedly, being almost a tourist-only region, 95% of vehicles in circulation in Death Valley are rentals, but interestingly people haven’t seemed to shy away from the smallest, arguably more ‘tender’ options in these harsh conditions like the bright red Chevy Spark pictured above or the Nissan Versa. The traditional rental staples as described in my Monument Valley report are back with a vengeance: Chevy Impala, Tahoe and Suburban as well as GMC Yukon and Yukon XL, along with the Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave as pictured above in Coffin Peak.

8. Albert Coffin Peak 3Albert in Coffin Peak, Death Valley CA

All in all though, the most frequent car in Death Valley is a rental Ford Mustang, seemingly the preferred way to complete a one-day tour from Vegas. I remember last time I was in Vegas there were special offers for 1-day Mustang convertible rentals that made them cheaper than the smallest car available – difficult not to be tempted, and apparently these ‘special’ offers are still on to this date. Talking about the devil/Mustang, I saw a camouflaged 2015 model zip past Albert as well as a hardly-camouflaged Jaguar XE. Death Valley is a notorious extreme weather testing ground and each summer day a couple of manufacturers are torturing prototypes on the valley’s roads. Last time I was here in 1995, I saw a string of Smart Fortwos a full 3 years prior to their European launch, and at the time they weren’t even scheduled for a North American career which made their presence here all the more interesting…

9. Chevron Furnace Creek 1Lucky we didn’t have to refuel here… (in Furnace Creek, Death Valley CA – 22 Sept 2014)

9b. Chevron Shoshone…nor here! (in Shoshone, Death Valley CA – 22 Sept 2014)

Remoteness and being in one of the worst places in the world for a car breakdown have encouraged service stations in the Valley to practice simply outrageous gas prices, a full 2 dollars per gallon above the prices that were the norm in Las Vegas at the time of our visit (see pictures above). These have receded by now but remain way above the national average. According to Gasbuddy.com, as at 27 November the Furnace Creek Chevron station (first picture) was selling Regular Gasoline at $4.22 per gallon and Diesel at $4.51. Shoshone Chevron prices were unavailable, but should still be at a shamefully extravagant $4.50 Gas and $5 Diesel even if they decreased at roughly the same rate as in Furnace Creek. That’s close to double the national average! Funny thing is Shoshone is much closer to ‘civilisation’ than Furnace Creek yet gas prices are even higher.

10. Ford E-350 Furnace CreekFord E-350 in Furnace Creek, Death Valley CA

Furnace Creek perfectly earned its name by displaying a hair dryer-like heated wind that grips you to never leave you alone as soon as you leave the car, making your eyes water. Even though the visitor centre encourages to turn off air con in the car to lessen strain on the cars and minimise the risk of breakdown, I knew Albert wouldn’t let us down, and he didn’t. In fact, our Ram 1500 ecodiesel was at its best in the heat and a mix of gravel roads and seemingly infinite stretches of bitumen. This workhorse is made for galloping.

11. Albert Devils Golf Course 3Albert at Devil’s Golf Course, Death Valley CA

Another attraction right in the bed of Death Valley is Devil’s Golf Course, an immense area of crystallised salt deposited by ancient salt lakes and eroded by wind and rain into jagged spires. So incredibly serrated that “only the devil could play golf on such rough links.”  On a windy day (not when we were there), you can apparently hear a metallic cracking sound as the salt pinnacles expand and contract.

12. Devils Golf Course 2Devil’s Golf Course, Death Valley CA

13. Devils Golf Course 3Devil’s Golf Course, Death Valley CA

14. BadwaterBadwater, Death Valley CA

Finally our last stop in Death Valley was Badwater, the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere (read the Americas) at 282ft or 85.5m below see level. Death Valley belongs to a worldwide geographic rogues. Finding oneself below sea level is an extremely rare occurrence, a map displayed at Badwaters actually shows only 16 other ‘minus’ locations worldwide, including the Dead Sea in Jordan/Israel at -1360ft / -414m, Lake Assal in Djibouti at – 508ft / – 155m and Lake Eyre in Australia at -49ft / -15m. Like most of these locations, Death Valley was not created by a river’s erosion. Movements in the earth’s crust have dropped it to such great depths.

14. Matt BadwaterIt’s bloody hot out here! In Badwater, Death Valley CA

We’ll finish on the official best-sellers in California, although as we have seen earlier, these do not translate into the car landscape of Death Valley, but are rather a reflection of the Los Angeles and San Francisco markets.

Best-sellers in California – Full Year 2013:

Pos Model 2013
1 Toyota Prius (all models) 69,728
2 Honda Civic 66,982
3 Honda Accord 63,194
4 Toyota Camry 56,788
5 Toyota Corolla 52,167
6 Ford F-Series 41,671
7 Honda CR-V 31,850
8 Nissan Altima 31,029
9 Toyota Tacoma 28,182
10 BMW 3 Series 27,026

California is the second state and in this trip after New York to not feature any pickup truck in its official Top 5 best-sellers, with the Ford F-Series ranking at a paltry 6th place, and the Toyota Tacoma at #9. One can argue the Honda Civic is the real Californian best-seller, as the entire Prius family (including the c small car and the v MPV) is accounted for in its sales figure. Honda also brilliantly places the Accord at #3 and the CR-V at #7 while Toyota positions the Camry at #4 and Corolla at #5. Very impressive performance of the BMW 3 Series in 10th place with over 27,000 sales.

15. Toyota Corolla BadwaterToyota Corolla in Badwater, Death Valley CA

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USA Coast to Coast 2014: Las Vegas, Nevada

Nissan Versa Albert Las VegasNissan Versa with Albert and Las Vegas in the background 

You can see all my USA Coast to Coast Reports here! *

Many thanks to David Curry for the photos in this report.

We are now leaving in our path beautiful Monument Valley to drive through Arizona and arrive in Las Vegas, Nevada. A very different official Top 5 best-selling models than the entirety of the dozen states we have just crossed, some crazy Vegas vehicles, the traditional car landscape analysis and all the things you didn’t know about the state of Nevada are below.

Ford F-150 Tonka Las VegasTonka-tuned Ford F-150 in Las Vegas NV

Although Nevada is mostly desert and happens to be the driest state in the entire United States, its name comes from the Spanish nevada, meaning “snow-covered”, after the Sierra Nevada, a mountain range now almost completely located in California. Confused? I was too. Daytime summer temperatures rise as high as 125 °F (52 °C) compared to nighttime winters getting as cold as −50 °F (−46 °C). Surely one of the widest temperature differences in the whole country. The land corresponding to present day Nevada used to be part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, becoming Mexico in 1821, then gained by the United States in 1848 after the Mexican-American War. Nevada became the 36th state in 1864, as the second of two states added to the Union during the Civil War- the first being West Virginia).

Chevrolet C3500 Las VegasChevrolet C3500 in Las Vegas NV

Population-wise, talking about Nevada roughly equates talking about Las Vegas, as over two thirds of the 2.8m strong population of the state lives in the Clark County – Las Vegas metropolitan area. This also means around 75% of all cars roaming the state do so in or around Las Vegas, having a big impact on which nameplates are the most popular here as we’ll see shortly.  With a population of just 40,000 in 1900, Nevada was then and by far the least populated state in the country, however establishment of legalised gambling and lenient marriage and divorce laws transformed the state into a major tourist destination, with the myriad of jobs associated with it. Also, Nevada is the only state where prostitution is legal, though it is illegal in Clark County and Washoe County which contain Las Vegas and Reno, respectively.

Ford F-150 Las Vegas 2Ford F-150 in Las Vegas NV

From the end of World War II onwards all the way up to 2003, Nevada’s population was the fastest-growing in the US percentage-wise. For example, between 1990 and 2000, Nevada’s population increased 66%, while the USA’s population as a whole increased by just 13%. This population increase owes a lot to immigration rather than natural growth, and today, the majority of the population in Las Vegas and Reno (the two main metropolitan areas in the state) was born in another state or country. Also worthy of note is the fact that in 2010, illegal immigrants constituted an estimated 8.8% of the population, the highest percentage of any state in the country.

Nowadays the fastest-growing areas have ‘migrated’ (no pun intended) to the outskirts of Las Vegas, with northern suburbs  Henderson and North Las Vegas among the USA’s top 20 fastest-growing cities of over 100,000. Final piece of trivia: the capital importance of tourism in Nevada translates into a record: the most hotel rooms per capita in the United States. Nevada has one hotel room for every 14 residents, compared to a national average of one hotel room per 67 residents.

5. Nissan Altima Las VegasThe Nissan Altima, not the Ford F-150, is the best-selling vehicle in Nevada. 

Best-selling light vehicles in Nevada – Full Year 2013:

Pos Model 2013
1 Nissan Altima 4,590
2 Toyota Corolla 3,923
3 Hyundai Elantra 3,280
4 Toyota Camry 3,243
5 Ford F-150 2,781

Source: JATO Dynamics

Instead of speculating any further, now that you know everything worth knowing about Nevada, let’s get straight into official sales figures, courtesy of JATO Dynamics. And what a different sales charts this is. Due to the almost total urbanisation of the population, pickup sales are very, very much lower than almost every other state in the country. The best-selling pickup is, expectedly, the Ford F-150 but it only ranks 5th here with 60% of the leader’s sales. If you have been following this series for a while now the best-seller in Nevada won’t really be a surprise…

6. Toyota Corolla Las VegasThe Toyota Corolla is #2 in Nevada. Here in Las Vegas about to get a hair cut AND a tattoo.

We have seen that as we get closer to Mexico, Nissan gets stronger and stronger in the sales charts. This reflects the growing share of Hispanics in the states’ population and their preference for Japanese and Korean brands, notably Nissan which is by far the most popular manufacturer in Mexico with 1 in every 4 sales. The Nissan Altima then very logically takes the lead of the Nevada sales charts in 2013, with 17% more sales than the Toyota Corolla, making its first appearance in the official Top 5 of any state we have crossed so far at #2. The Hyundai Elantra and Toyota Camry make up the rest of a Top 4 100% non-American. For more detail on the car buying preferences of America’s ethnic population check out the New Mexico article here.

7. Toyota Tundra Las VegasWalmart and Toyota Tundra: two staples of the Las Vegas landscape.

Outside the official Top 5 best-sellers, the following nameplates struck me as particularly successful in Las Vegas. The Nissan Versa is the Hero in Town with a large proportion dedicated to rentals, with the Sentra also very frequent. We’ve seen that pickup trucks are markedly less popular here than almost all states we have visited so far bar perhaps New York and Washington DC, and this is verified in Vegas streets. The Toyota Tundra could come as ‘high’ as #2 pickup truck in Vegas after the F-150 based on its frequency in the areas of town I have visited. I also spotted a few new generation Chrysler 200 (almost certainly rentals) and an unusually high amount of Toyota Avalon.

Albert Nissan Versa Note Las VegasAlbert smartly posing next to an Albertsons sign and Nissan Versa Note near Henderson NV

Not unlike in Albuquerque, driving away from the overly touristic Vegas Strip is the perfect way to get lost in deserted streets and come face-to-face with a flurry of cool, vintage pickups, some of them almost in mint condition. Ford F-150 and Chevy Silverado or all ages still grace the back streets of Las Vegas today. The taxis in circulation in the city are also a unique mix of previous gens Chevy Impala and Malibu, previous gen Ford Escape hybrid, Dodge Grand Caravan, Scion xB (the first time I see such an important a fleet of Scion taxis during this trip) and Toyota Prius. Trying to be eco-friendly here, the taxis of Las Vegas, as if to be forgiven for all the sinning (?) happening on a daily basis in town.

Las Vegas gas priceLas Vegas gas Cash and Credit price difference

I know what you’re thinking: here I am writing a report about Las Vegas and there hasn’t been any exclamation mark in sight yet. The casinos! The Strip! The gambling! The lights! The Wynn Hotel! The wedding chapels inside the casinos! The Cirque du Soleil shows! Alcohol! Drugs! Food buffets! Cigars! Vice! I guess I must be getting old, or I have been here too many times already. This is the third time in fact, and although the first two left me mesmerised by so much excess, so much money flowing into oblivion and so much air conditioning in the middle of the desert, this time I found Vegas tired.

Dodge Ram Las VegasDodge Ram at Casino Royale, Las Vegas NV

Perhaps it was just me that was starting to get tired, with now almost 5000 miles since my New York departure. I found the Beatles Cirque du Soleil show very professional, enthusiastic but copy-pasted, the Strip actually rather depressing under the rain, and the Top of the World panoramic restaurant’s waitresses’ smile just that tad bit too forced to make us feel really welcome. But I’m sure Vegas will be reborn shortly, as it has done so many times in the past.

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USA Coast to Coast 2014: Monument Valley, Arizona-Utah

Albert Monument Valley 1Albert all set for his first Hollywood movie.

You can see all my USA Coast to Coast Reports here! *

Many thanks to David Curry for the photos in this report.

I think most of you will agree that a Coast to Coast trip wouldn’t be complete without the obligatory stop at the very photogenic Monument Valley. So after pausing in New Mexico at Albuquerque and Gallup, we now drive north on US 163 to reach the legendary set of so many Hollywood Western movies, located across the Arizona/Utah state line. The vehicle landscape analysis, official sales data, a special feature on the most popular rental cars in the country, an update on how my valiant Ram 1500 ecoDiesel (Albert) is behaving and a healthy amount of spectacular and oh-so American pictures are below.

Gallup Las VegasToday’s New Mexico-Arizona-Utah-Nevada stretch, courtesy of Google Maps.

Ford F-150 ArizonaFord F-150 in Arizona

Crossing Arizona on the way to Monument Valley, the ratio of pickup trucks in the traffic goes up to 70% compared to around 60% in New Mexico before crossing the Arizona state line, logically as this is one of the most remote and rural parts of Arizona. The new generation GMC Sierra is stronger than usual, Ram pickups are now almost exclusively the Tradesman base model identical to the one I am driving (Albert) and there is a strong heritage of previous generation Chrysler 200 but no new gen yet. The Ford F-150 2-door base model like the one pictured above rules Arizona roads as it does in numerous U.S. states.

Nissan Altima Monument ValleyNissan Altima in Monument Valley AZ

The most recent Arizona sales data I managed to get my hands on dates back from the first half of 2012, courtesy of MSN Autos. At the time, the Ford F-150 logically topped the sales charts with 5,839 units, but the two other nameplates on the podium are a bit of a surprise: the Ford E-250 at #2 makes its first appearance that high in a sales ranking so far in this Coast to Coast trip, simply because rental company U-Haul registers most of its E-Series models in this state, and the Nissan Altima ranks third, confirming the trend that dictates U.S. states close to the Mexican border to particularly favour Nissans.

UPDATE: JATO Dynamics has now made Full Year 2013 data available to me for Arizona and the results are very different.

Best-selling light vehicle in Arizona – 2013:

Pos Model 2013
1 Chevrolet Silverado 8,022
2 Ford F-150 7,362
3 GMC Sierra 6,893
4 Ram Pickup 5,959
5 Toyota Camry 3,953

Source: JATO Dynamics

The Chevrolet Silverado spectacularly takes the lead thanks to the new model, it is the second state the Silverado wins so far in this Coast to Coast trip after Oklahoma. The F-150 comes at a close second followed by the GMC Sierra hitting its best state ranking so far (my observations are finding their confirmation here) and passing the Ram Pick-up. The Toyota Camry is the only passenger car in the Top 5.

Dodge Ram Monument ValleyDodge Ram 1500 in Monument Valley AZ

Even though we only dipped into Utah to enter the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, with the valley drive located entirely in Arizona, I thought it’d still be worthwhile sharing some official Utah models sales data, as this is what BSCB does after all!

UPDATE Best-selling light vehicles in Utah – Full Year 2013:

Pos Model 2013
1 Ram Pickup 5,211
2 Ford F-150 4,164
3 Chevrolet Silverado 3,212
4 Hyundai Elantra 2,425
5 Chevrolet Cruze 2,122

Source: JATO Dynamics

Surprise on top: the Ram pickup is the most popular vehicle in Utah, topping a state’s sales charts for the first time so far in this Coast to Coast trip thanks to 5,211 units sold state-wide, a comfortable 25% margin over the Ford F-150 in 2nd position. The Chevrolet Silverado logically rounds up the podium but the remaining two nameplates in the Top 5 appear at this level for the first time: the Hyundai Elantra brilliantly takes the lead of passenger cars at #4 ahead of the Chevrolet Cruze.

Monument Valley 1Monument Valley AZ

From halfway between Gallup and Monument Valley onwards, the majority of the traffic is composed of rental vehicles as this qualifies as one of the most touristic areas in the country. Most popular are the Chevrolet Captiva, Equinox and the ever-present Impala, Nissan Versa, Sentra and Kia Sorento. The Ford Explorer seems to be the only ‘legit’ Arizona success on our journey – read not rental-based. Not long ago, The Truth About Cars published info about America’s top rental cars and this confirms my observations in and around Monument Valley.

America Top rentals. Picture courtesy of Polk Automotive

In 2013, almost all Chevy Captivas (now discontinued) went to rental fleets and nearly 75% of GMC Yukon XL did. This is indeed a model I have encountered at a very high rate since the start of this Coast to Coast trip, along with the GMC Yukon coming at #7 and a bit above 40% and the Chevrolet Suburban at #8 and a round 40%. Unsurprisingly, the Chevrolet Impala is 4th in the list of cars with the highest sales ratio to rental fleets at just under 60% and the Chrysler 200 ranks 6th, while 3 Dodge close the Top 16: the Avenger, Caravan/Grand Caravan and Charger.

Monument Valley 2Monument Valley AZ

Now that we have cleared the sales aspects of both Arizona and Utah, let’s get into some Monument Valley trivia. This is the second time I visit this breathtakingly beautiful region, the first time was exactly 20 years ago. I will never forget how shocked I was that the area was actually so small, with in fact only a handful of these striking-looking buttes. These have featured in so many movies, ads and TV shows that if you have never visited the area it is easy to imagine that the entire West of the country looks like this. In the words of movie critic Keith Phipps: “Its five square miles have defined what decades of moviegoers think of when they imagine the American West.”

Stagecoach. Picture courtesy nytimes.comA scene of Hollywood movie Stagecoach set in Monument Valley.

Monument Valley has been featured in at least 50 Hollywood movies. The first one, John Ford’s 1939 film Stagecoach, starring John Wayne, has had an enduring influence in making the Valley famous. John Ford shot a whopping nine additional Westerns in the Valley, including My Darling Clementine (1946), Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), Wagon Master (1950), Rio Grande (1950), The Searchers (1956) and How The West Was Won (1962).

Albert Monument Valley 3Albert in Monument Valley AZ

Other notable Hollywood movies featuring Monument Valley include Billy the Kid (1941), Angel and the Badman (1947), Sergio Leone‘s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), Easy Rider (1968), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Thelma & Louise (1991)Forrest Gump (1994) and Mission: Impossible II (2000). Most recently, in 2014’s most popular movie at the worldwide box-office Transformers: Age of Extinctionthe scene in which the surviving Autobots reunite was shot in Monument Valley.

Monument Valley 3Monument Valley AZ

Monument Valley pickup trucksMonument Valley pickup trucks

The implied association with John Wayne’s tough, macho character also made the Monument Valley buttes a natural choice as the background for the Marlboro Man from the 1950s onwards. Finally, the rugged desert scenery for the Coyote and Road Runner cartoons takes much of its inspiration from Monument Valley.

Albert ArizonaAlbert getting some Love’s after being pushed hard.

This is the part of the trip where we pushed Albert a little more than before: the Monument Valley drive is 100% unsealed and at time rather abrupt climbs or drops. For the first time in this trip I was glad to be driving a pickup truck with a 4WD option rather than a standard sedan rattling its bumpers on scorched rocks. Don’t get me wrong this was no harsh terrain, but having to slow to an almost stop in order to negotiate ruts wasn’t uncommon. Also, the way to and from Monument Valley had very little traffic so we encouraged Albert all the way to 100mph and he seemed to enjoy this newfound freedom to its fullest. The result upon arrival in Las Vegas NV: a fuel economy shooting back up to 28.8mpg average! Well done Albert.

Albert mpg Vegas NVAlbert’s fuel economy after a day at high(er) speeds – and a morning parked under the sun, hence the extravagant outside temperature…

Toyota Camry Ford Escape Monument ValleyFord Escape, Toyota Camry and Albert at John Ford’s Point in Monument Valley AZ

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USA Coast to Coast 2014: New Mexico

1. Dodge Dart Albuquerque 2The Dodge Dart is the hero in town in Albuquerque NM

You can see all my USA Coast to Coast Reports here! *

Many thanks to David Curry for the photos in this report.

After detailing the history and milestones of the Old Route 66 from Oklahoma to New Mexico, we now pause in New Mexico to analyse the vehicle landscape in Albuquerque and Gallup. This, a special feature on ethnic car buyers’ preferences and state-wise sales data below.

2. Ford F-250 GallupFord F-250 in Gallup NM

First a bit of trivia about New Mexico: this state is the 5th most extensive (121,589 sq mi or 315,194 km2), the 36th most populous (2.1 million inhabitants) and the 6th least densely populated of the 50 United States. Inhabited by indigenous peoples of the Americas for centuries before European exploration, New Mexico then belonged to the Imperial Spanish viceroyalty of New Spain, then part of Mexico, a U.S. territory before finally becoming the 47th state in 1912. During World War II, the first atomic bombs were designed and manufactured at Los Alamos NM.

3. Ford F-150 GallupFord F-150 in Gallup NM

New Mexico is often mistakenly believed to have borrowed its name from the nation of Mexico. This couldn’t be further from actual facts: New Mexico was originally given its name in 1563 by Spanish explorers who believed the area contained wealthy Indian cultures similar to those of the Mexica (Aztec) Empire. It was only centuries later in 1821 that Mexico, formerly known as New Spain, adopted its name after winning independence from Spain. Interestingly, the two developed as neighbouring Spanish speaking communities, with relatively independent histories.

4. Chevy GallupVintage Chevrolet in Gallup NM

Population-wise, among U.S. states New Mexico has the highest percentage of Hispanics (47%), including descendants of Spanish colonists and more recent Latin American immigrants. We will see a little further that this has an impact on new car sales in the state. It also has the second-highest percentage of Native Americans after Alaska, and the fourth-highest total number of Native Americans after California, Oklahoma, and Arizona – notably Navajo, Apache and Pueblo tribes.

7. New Mexico License plateNew Mexico licence plate

As a result, New Mexico’s culture is unique in the United States for its strong Hispanic and Native-American influences, both of which translated into the state flag: the red and gold colours are inspired from the flag of Spain, while the ancient sun symbol comes from the Zia, a Pueblo-related tribe. Last bit of trivia more closely related to my Coast to Coast Photo Report: we have now driven 4.000 miles since departure from New York City… That’s it for the trivia, now let’s get into the car landscape in the state, with a focus on its largest city Albuquerque as well as Gallup, further down the Old Route 66.

5. Albert AlbuquerqueMy Ram 1500 ecoDiesel Albert in Albuquerque NM

The best-selling models in New Mexico over the Full Year 2013 were as follows:

Pos Model 2013
1 Ford F-150 4,757
2 Chevrolet Silverado 3,601
3 Ram Pickup 3,368
4 GMC Sierra 2,214
5 Ford F-250 Super Duty 1,837

Source: JATO

8. Ram Pickup AlbuquerqueRam Pickup in Albuquerque NM

These figures make New Mexico the second state only so far along my Coast to Coast trip to crown 5 pickup trucks as its Top 5 most popular vehicles, after Oklahoma. Again this can be attributed to the relative rurality of the state but is still a remarkable achievement. At some stages during our crossing of New Mexico in remote areas towards the border with Arizona, up to 60% of all vehicles in circulation were pickup trucks. In Albuquerque, the Ford F-250 lifts its game to almost come as high in popularity as the F-150 as it has sometimes been the case in a few towns so far in this trip. In Gallup NM, the Chevy Silverado seems even stronger than usual and the Ram Pickup’s most popular variant is the Tradesman base model like the one I have been driving (Albert), and this for the first time in this Coast to Coast adventure.

5. Ford Econovan AlbuquerqueFord Econovan in Albuquerque NM

Onto real-life observations in the busy streets of Albuquerque and Gallup. The age of cars is stuck at a much older level than I have been used to during this crossing of the nation, only difference is in New Mexico a lot of these vintage items reach levels of cool unheard of before. Cue 1970s Ford Econovan, 1980s Ford F-150, and a plethora of souped up older generations Dodge Ram Pickups and Chevy Silverados. They say New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment, I say it’s the Land of Car Coolness.

6. Hyundai Elantra AlbuquerqueHyundai Elantra in front of the legendary Frontier Restaurant in Albuquerque NM

In a fascinating turn and in complete contrast to the Top 5 best-sellers state-wise, the most striking element of the car landscape in Albuquerque is the strength of smaller passenger cars, both in numbers and diversity, to a level that I had not seen since Washington DC. I will advance a very simple reason for this phenomenon:  the high ratio of students in town, which houses the University of New Mexico. I saw the first two Fiat 500L of this entire trip in this city, as well as very healthy numbers of Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus, Nissan Sentra, Versa, Kia Soul, Toyota Corolla and VW Jetta.

8. Albert New MexicoAlbert on the New Mexico state line

But 3 passenger cars stand out even more, and on top of them a complete surprise: the Dodge Dart. A failure since its botched “manual only” launch 2.5 years ago, the Dart has struggled to break into the 50 most popular vehicles in the country. In Albuquerque however, it is as common as the Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic, up there among its competitors in its segment. This is also supported by a very strong heritage of Dodge Neon which was the predecessor to the Dart, discontinued in 2005. So we have an Albuquerque community clearly fond of compact Dodge sedans here, which is an extremely rare feat!

15. Dodge Dart AlbuquerqueMercury Sable and Dodge Dart in Albuquerque NM

Decades of precise vehicle landscape observation in hundreds of cities around the world have given me a solid experience at estimating the best-sellers based on their frequency in traffic, and I rarely get it very wrong. I would see the Dart snapping up a spot in the overall Top 10 Albuquerque best-sellers, at least for a few months since launch. I was not able to confirm nor infirm this observation with hard figures, and if in fact the Dart is at its best in the USA in Albuquerque, this is the most well-kept secret in US car sales statistics as both Melloy Dodge and Larry H. Miller, the two Dodge dealerships in town, repeatedly refused to comment on this (positive) anomaly. Bizarre. If one town has unlocked the Dart’s sales potential, I’d have assumed they’d show off about it. I’m still making the Dodge Dart the Hero in Town in Albuquerque.

9. Toyota Tacoma AlbuquerqueToyota Tacoma in Albuquerque NM

The second passenger car standing out in town is the Chevrolet Impala, and although it is notorious that a large part of Impala sales are to fleets and rentals, Albuquerque is among the towns I have visited so far where it is the most popular, and being neither the most touristic nor the more corporate town of them all, a boost from ‘real’ private sales has to be in order. The third one is a new entrant in my long list of successful cars in various states, regions and cities along this Coast to Coast trip: the Ford Fiesta sedan. Very discreet up until now, a whole herd of them is bustling through the streets of Albuquerque as I write these lines. Here again a perfect student car which could explain its popularity in town.

14. Fiat 500L New MexicoFiat 500L in Albuquerque NM

These last 3 models were the most striking standouts compared to their national ranking, but a large majority of passenger cars are Japanese, with Toyota, Nissan and Honda the most common. I have already covered the fact that as we get closer to the border with Mexico where it is #1 overall with a world-best 26% market share, Nissan’s popularity rockets up. This is also true in New Mexico and Albuquerque, and a recent study of new car sales to ethnic buyers by IHS Automotive confirms it all.

Most ethnic brands - USABrands with the highest rate of ethnic buyers (Source IHS via Autonews)

According to IHS, new vehicle consumption among ethnic consumers, defined as African-American, Asian and Hispanic buyers, is up 8% year-on-year over the first 6 months of 2014 vs. 4% for the overall industry, with Hispanic consumption up an even more impressive 10%, in effect lifting the overall US car market up. Ethnic population growing faster than the national average, this is a very important trend in the U.S. new vehicle market as the share of ethnic buyers in the overall market is bound to become more and more prominent. The side-effect of this is manufacturers doing well with ethnic buyers have great chances to see their national market share outperform the market in the next decade. There should be a red flag here for the Detroit Big 3 as ethnic buyer patterns show a strong preference for foreign brands – albeit most of the cars they purchase still being made in the U.S.

13. Nissan Versa AlbuquerqueNissan Versa in Albuquerque NM. Nissan buyers are 36% ethnic, the highest of any brand.

Unsurprisingly based on our observations during this Coast to Coast trip so far, Nissan is the brand with the highest share of ethnic buyers in America at 36%, followed by Mitsubishi (35%), Toyota (33%) and Honda (31%) while Dodge is the only American brand in the Top 13 brands with the highest rate of ethnic buyers in 5th place with 30%. Could this partly explain the tremendous success of the Dodge Dart in Albuquerque? Notice the exceptional strength of premium marques such as Lexus, BMW both at 29% of ethnic buyers, Mercedes at 28%, Acura at 28% and Maserati at 27%.

Top 10 brands to Ethnic buyersBrands with the highest volumes to ethnic buyers (Source IHS via Autonews)

In terms of market share, Toyota holds almost 18% of the 1.6 million new vehicles ethnic consumers have bought over the first 6 months of 2014 vs. 12.2% share of the overall national market, followed by Honda at 12.2% vs. 8.1% and Nissan at 11.1% vs. 7.9%, Chevrolet at a timid 4th place with 8.6% share vs. 12.6% nationally, while Ford is at an even more unimpressive 8.4% share, that’s almost half the market share it has with the entire American population at 15%.

This is it for New Mexico, next stop is Monument Valley at the border of Arizona and Utah, so stay tuned!

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USA Coast to Coast 2014: Driving the Old Route 66 (Part 2)

Biker Shamrock TXHonda-proud in Shamrock TX

* You can see all my USA Coast to Coast Reports here! *

Check out Part 1 of this Old Route 66 Report here – many thanks to David Curry for the photos in this report.

Now that I have shared with you my impressions on the local vehicle landscape and bit of history about the Old Route 66, it’s time to get straight into it and go through a few roadside highlights. We will be covering the Oklahoma section of Route 66 including Texola, then Shamrock TX, Amarillo TX, Tucumcari NM, Albuquerque NM, ending at Gallup NM.

17. Ram 1500 Albert Shamrock TXAlbert in Shamrock TX

2. Drivethru Laundry Elk City OKDrive-thru Laundry in Elk City OK

1. Oklahoma

This section of Route 66 from Oklahoma City to the Texan border is for the most part unmarked, partly because many of the brown-and-white Historic Route 66 signs have been stolen, but also because the road now goes by a variety of other names. Luckily, the friendly staff at the Clinton Oklahoma Route 66 Museum provided us with a very detailed booklet with which it was virtually impossible to miss out on any worthwhile roadside highlights. We are plunged into the legend of Route 66 at the modern Lucille’s Roadhouse, granted not a remnant from the times when the Route was fully exploited, but complete with a very useful panorama of the Route’s highlights by state all the way to Los Angeles, countless memorabilia and great dinner and breakfast.

3. Route 66 Museum Elk City OKRoute 66 Museum in Elk City OK

The Clinton Route 66 Museum gets us up to speed on all aspects of the history of Route 66 as well as its impact on the wider automotive world, a section I have covered in detail in Part 1 of this dedicated Route 66 Report. Thirty miles further down the Route, the National Route 66 Museum in Elk City is a lot more commercial and a lot less appealing.

4. Oil Change Sayre OKTruck & R.V. Oil Change in Sayre OK

Passing through sleepy Sayre and Erick is the opportunity to take in a different rhythm and true American countryside. For the first time in this Coast to Coast trip, I discover the existence of drive-thru laundry and drive-thru ATMs, establishments long gone in Australia where I live, let alone in France where I grew up. The existence of such commodities, though entertaining to me, is also a fascinating insight into communities truly centred around the use of the car as, by far, the main (only?) way to get by.

5. Texola OK2Texola OK

The last town on the Oklahoman part of Route 66 is Texola, less than a mile off the Texas state line, and a dust devil away from being a ghost town. Eerie abandoned or semi-abandoned buildings coexist with sleepy country houses while road trains break the deafening silence as they shift gears, preparing for the only stop sign in town.

10. Texas State LineTexas State Line after Texola OK

11. U Drop inn Shamrock TXU-Drop Inn and Tower station in Shamrock TX

2. U-Drop Inn and Tower Station in Shamrock TX

The first striking roadside landmark in Texas is 16 miles into the state: the U-Drop Inn and Tower Station in Shamrock. When it opened on April 1, 1936, the U-Drop Inn was the only café within 100 miles of Shamrock, and the local newspaper considered it as “the swankiest of the swank eating places”. The building shape is inspired by the image of a nail stuck in soil and it features two flared towers with geometric detailing, curvilinear massing, glazed ceramic tile walls, and neon light accents. The U-Drop Inn inaugurates a very pleasing habit we will see all along Route 66: parking vintage cars or truck next to the roadside highlights add a certain flair to all these stops.

14. Chevy Truck Shamrock TX1937 Chevy Pickup Truck parked in front of the U-Drop Inn Café

The building has traditionally held two separate businesses: “Tower Station”, a gas station on the western side that used to sell Conoco-branded fuel (hence the “Conoco” signage on the highest tower), and the “U-Drop Inn”, a café on the eastern side. Despite the work of time and various owners, these two sides have consistently housed the same types of businesses they were originally designed for. That is while it was open for business up until the late 1990s. After being listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997, the building was purchased by the First National Bank of Shamrock, which then gave it to the city, which in turn restored it thanks to a US$1.7 million federal grant. It now operates as a museum, visitors’ center, gift shop, and the city’s chamber of commerce. Unfortunately it was closed for the day by the time we hit it.

16. Biker Shamrock TXReady to roll – In Shamrock TX

A group of bikers were getting ready to get back on their Route 66 trip towards Oklahoma City as Albert parked near the U-Drop Inn and that made for a very friendly banter, exchanging notes, itineraries and highlights so far. A last bit of trivia on this building: the 2006 Pixar computer-animated film Cars, set in the cartoon village of Radiator Springs but inspired by real Route 66 landmarks, has its own version of Tower Station: U-Drop Inn’s unique design and architecture is portrayed as an automotive body shop owned by the character Ramone, a Chevrolet Impala lowrider.

13. Old and New Shamrock TXOld and New – in Shamrock TX

19. Magnolia Shamrock TXInside the Magnolia gas station in Shamrock TX

3. Magnolia gas station in Shamrock TX

The other landmark in Shamrock TX, set away from the actual Route 66, is the Magnolia gas station. This is a perfect example of a faithful restoration that isn’t overdone. If the U-Drop Inn, although splendid, can arguably appear ‘too new’ in its restoration, the Magnolia gas station in Shamrock is astounding in that it looks beautiful but rusty enough to appear like it is still open for business.

22. GMC Fire truck detail Shamrock TXGMC Fire Truck detail in Shamrock TX

18. Ram 1500 Shamrock TXAlbert posing in front of the Magnolia gas station in Shamrock TX

Our experience here was heightened by the fact that the building appeared to be left unattended as we were snapping hundreds of pics of Albert posing next to it. It literally was as if we could take over the business and get it all started again, ready for customers and vacationers eager for a fresh drink, an ice-cream or some gas. The interior of the building, a simple room complete with an epoch cash resister and a list of tire prices along with hundreds of details left untouched since the golden time of Route 66, is a little gem as well. Unmissable if you get to this part of the country.

23. Cadillac Ranch Amarillo TXCadillac Ranch in Amarillo TX

4. Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo TX

At the opposite end of the Magnolia gas station (taste-wise?), another interesting Route 66 landmark in Texas is Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo. I say ‘interesting’ because although a Top 5 landmark on all Route 66 guides, this is actually no more than an art installation located on private land a fair bit away from any road yet accessible to the public. As a result, it is virtually impossible to find once night falls as there are no signs pointing to it nor is it lit at night… Interesting, indeed.

Never mind, a morning visit showed a very colourful, striking and oh so American-symbolic display of 10 Cadillacs half-buried nose-first in the ground, representing a number of evolutions of the car line from 1949 to 1963, most notably the birth and death of the defining feature of mid twentieth century Cadillacs: the tail fins. The angle at which they are buried supposedly is the same as the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt (what the…?). The main feature of this installation is the fact that writing graffiti on or spray painting the vehicles is encouraged, and boy is there some serious spray painting action going on, with various layers of paint on each cars sometimes as thick as 5 inches, and hundreds of spray paint can carelessly left behind on site.

Let’s finish on some trivia of course: the installation was quietly moved in 1997 by a local contractor to a location two miles to the west, to a cow pasture along Interstate 40, in order to place it farther from the limits of the growing city, both sites belonging to the local millionaire Stanley Marsh 3, the patron of the project. The cars are periodically repainted various colours: once white for the filming of a television commercial, another time pink in honor of Stanley’s wife Wendy’s birthday, another time all 10 cars were painted flat black to mark the passing of Ant Farm artist Doug Michels, in 2012 they were painted rainbow colors to commemorate gay pride day. New paint jobs traditionally last less than 24 hours without fresh graffiti…

35. New Mexico State LineNew Mexico State Line

25. Blue Swallow Motel Tucumcari NM

24. Blue Swallow Motel Tucumcari NMBlue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari NM

5. Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari NM

We now cross into New Mexico to reach Tucumcari. The most iconic roadside hotel in town (on Route 66?) is the Blue Swallow Motel. Built in 1939 and opened in 1941, it was originally called the Blue Swallow Court, but quickly renamed to Blue Swallow Motel when the property was updated with neon signage proclaiming “TV” and “100% Refrigerated Air”. In the Pixar animated film Cars, neon lighting at the Cozy Cone Motel displays Blue Swallow’s “100% Refrigerated Air” slogan. Named by Smithsonian Magazine as “the last, best and friendliest of the old-time motels”, the Blue Swallow Motel remains in profitable operation today, with each room including vintage lighting and period furniture and complete with a 1950s Pontiac Eight parked in front. Unfortunately I didn’t get to stay in as it only has 18 rooms which were fully booked.

27. Ram 1500 GMC Sierra Tucumcari NMAlbert + GMC Sierra in Tucumcari NM

29. Care for your car Tucumcari NMIn Tucumcari NM

30. Palomino Hotel Tucumcari NMPalomino Motel, Tucumcari NM

31. Ram 1500 Tucumcari NMDoesn’t get any more iconic than this…

32. Studebaker Champion Tucumcari NMStudebaker Champion in Tucumcari NM

33. Ram 1500 Tucumcari NMAlbert in Tucumcari NM

34. Plymouth Special Deluxe Tucumcari NMPlymouth Special Deluxe in Tucumcari NM

6. Main street in Tucumcari NM

With Old Route 66 running through the heart of Tucumcari, the rest of town is the most picture perfect collection of epoch gas stations and motels I have found along the road, with many old-timers parked on the sidewalks for all to admire. Studebacker Champion, Plymouth Special Deluxe… you name it, it is probably on display here. Indeed, a large number of the vintage motels and restaurants built in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s are still in business today despite intense competition from newer chain motels and restaurants in the vicinity of Interstate 40, which passes through the city’s outskirts on the south.The obligatory bit of trivia about Tucumcari has to mention the billboards reading “TUCUMCARI TONITE!” placed along I-40 for many miles to the east and west of the town, inviting motorists to stay the night in one of Tucumcari’s “2000” (later changed to “1200”) motel rooms.

36. Frontier Restaurant Albuquerque NMFrontier Restaurant in Albuquerque NM

7. Albuquerque NM

Following Route 66 naturally leads us through Albuquerque where Central Avenue, the main artery, is Route 66. It passes through Old Town, Downtown, the university and Nob Hill. Full description of the Albuquerque car landscape will be covered in my next Report, and for now we will stop right across the university for a well deserved lunch at the Frontier restaurant. Outstanding Mexican food, picturesque people-watching and dirt cheap prices. What more do we want? Nothing.

39. El Rancho Gallup NM“Charm of yesterday… Convenience of tomorrow”. Hotel El Rancho in Gallup NM

8. Gallup NM

Our last stop on Route 66 before we return to it in Los Angeles is Gallup New Mexico, a bustling little town where almost every second shop sells Native American jewellery. Logical: the town is located in the heart of Indian Country and the site of the world-famous Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial held each August for more than 90 years. It also serves as the Navajo and Zuni peoples’ major trading centre. No actual jewels for us, just the lodging jewel in town: the El Rancho Hotel. The “Charm of yesterday… Convenience of tomorrow” slogan displayed on the facade couldn’t be more appropriate.

37. El Rancho Gallup NMEl Rancho Hotel in Gallup NM

Awesome ambiance, a splendid Southwestern lobby, posh but relaxed-enough restaurant and bar and friendly staff allowing me to work on my laptop before, during and long after breakfast: no wonder all great Hollywood actors from the 1940s and the 1950s stayed here. Plus the period-looking dinner and breakfast menu is a souvenir take-away. Perfect.

38. El Rancho Gallup NMHotel El Rancho – Gallup NM 

In fact, the El Rancho Hotel was built by the brother of a movie magnate, D.W. Griffith, opened in December 1937 and was straight away a gathering place for the famous, the perfect stayover location due to its proximity to Monument Valley where an infinite amount of Hollywood movies were shot. Ronald Reagan, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn and Kirk Douglas were among the many stars listed in the guest register. Up to today: the movie “Bottom of the World” was being shot in town as we stayed in Gallup.

This concludes our coverage of Old Route 66, next we will look into the New Mexican car landscape and sales in detail, so stay tuned!

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USA Coast to Coast 2014: Driving the Old Route 66 (Part 1)

1. Ram 1500 Albert Route 66Albert on the Route 66 in Tucumcari New Mexico. 

* You can check out all my Coast to Coast Reports here! *

This is it! After stopping in Oklahoma City, we are now on one of my most anticipated stretches of road in this entire trip: the Old Route 66, or the Mother Road as it is fondly called. Even though I didn’t have enough time to drive Route 66 in its entire length from Chicago to Los Angeles, I still managed to hop on it for a good 1/3 of its length, all the way from Oklahoma City OK to Gallup NM, driving alongside Interstate 40 which ended up replacing it and visiting places such as Clinton OK, Texola OK, Shamrock TX, Amarillo TX, Tucumcari NM and Albuquerque NM. We will hop back onto Route 66 later in this Coast to Coast trip in California. A thorough visit of this part of Route 66 full of photographs as well as my impressions on the vehicle landscape in this region of the United States are below.

Route 66 mapThe stretch of Route 66 we are following

This part of Route 66, arguably the most ‘historic’ as this is where it all started, sweeps through 3 states: Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. Although New Mexico car sales data will be covered in more detail in my next Report, it is worth noting that looking at the Top 5 best-sellers in each of these states, a passenger car only appears once: the Toyota Camry at #4 in Texas. Indeed the entire Top 5 in both Oklahoma and New Mexico are monopolised by full-size pickup trucks, the first two states displaying this since the start of my Coast to Coast trip.

Ford F150 F250 Route 66Ford F150 and F250 Super Duty in Sayre OK

Best-selling light vehicles in Oklahoma – 2013:

Pos Model 2013
1 Chevrolet Silverado 13,994
2 Ford F-150 11,517
3 Ram Pickup 9,762
4 Ford F-250 Super Duty 4,932
5 GMC Sierra 4,712

Source: JATO

Ford F250 x 2 Route 662 x Ford F-250 Super Duty in Elk City OK

Chevrolet Silverado Route 66 1A Chevrolet Silverado in our mirror near Elk City OK

Best-selling light vehicles in Texas – 2013:

Pos Model 2013
1 Ford F-150 96,663
2 Chevrolet Silverado 78,047
3 Ram Pickup 67,378
4 Toyota Camry 36,953
5 Ford F-250 Super Duty 33,305

Source: JATO

Ram 2500 Route 66Ram 2500 in Elk City OK

Ford F250 Shamrock 2Ford F-250 Super Duty in Shamrock TX

Best-selling light vehicles in New Mexico – 2013:

Pos Model 2013
1 Ford F-150 4,757
2 Chevrolet Silverado 3,601
3 Ram Pickup 3,368
4 GMC Sierra 2,214
5 Ford F-250 Super Duty 1,837

Source: JATO

Matt Route 66You know you’re in full-size pickup heartland when the squeegees are also full-size.

If the Ford F-150 dominates in Texas and New Mexico, the Chevrolet Silverado, #2 in both states, takes the lead in Oklahoma, kicking the F-150 to #2 there. The Ram Pickup, my very own Albert, remains very stable in third position of all states explored here while the Ford F-250 Super Duty manages the very impressive feat of ranking inside the Top 5 in all of these states as well, peaking at #4 in Oklahoma. The GMC Sierra appears twice: at #4 in New Mexico (its best state ranking so far in this trip) and #5 in Oklahoma, and finally as I mentioned above the Toyota Camry makes a lonely appearance at #4 in Texas.

Dodge Pickup Route 66Vintage Dodge Pickup near Foss OK

That is for official stats, but what does real life observation tell us? Having the opportunity to slow down and take the secondary road that the remnants of Route 66 have become enables us to take in the sleepiness of most towns we crossed. This is the heartland of pickup country, 2 or 3 pickup trucks of various ages parked in front of each house and no sedan in sight isn’t rare. The 2-door white ‘tradesman’ Ford F150 rules here, the F250 Super Duty is even over performing on its Top 5 ranking in the parts of the states we crossed, I would put it on the podium and even potentially in first place in Elk City OK. Even though we were in Texas for part of the journey, the locally-produced Toyota Tundra is much less frequent on this stretch of land as is the Nissan Altima, reversing a trend we have seen since Tennessee and as we approached the Mexican border.

7. Chevrolet Impala Route 66Chevrolet Impala rental in Elk City OK

Being a particularly touristic part of Route 66, the ratio of rental cars is on a steep rising curve, with the favourites being the Chevrolet Suburban, Tahoe and Impala. This isn’t any different to what I have seen on American roads since my departure from New York City.

Now that we have cleared the vehicle landscape in this part of the country, let’s get straight into Route 66 highlights, starting with a bit of history on this legendary stretch of road, courtesy of the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton OK, a very authentic, thorough and friendly-manned little museum way more interesting than its larger, commercial and fake-looking counterpart a few miles further down the Route in Elk City OK.

Route 66 ca. 1920Road conditions on Rock Island railroad crossing OK ca. 1920 (Picture courtesy ODOT)

The beginning

The numerical designation 66 wasn’t assigned to the Chicago-to-Los Angeles route before 1926, but the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum traces the history of the first paved road system in Oklahoma, the foundation of what would become U.S. Route 66. $1 million was allocated in 1917 for the construction of the Oklahoma state road system, with the first paving laid in 1918 on a stretch that would later be Route 66. From the outset, public road planners intended U.S. 66 to connect the main streets of rural and urban communities along its course for the most practical of reasons: most small towns had no prior access to a major national thoroughfare.

IMG_9968Paving an Oklahoma section of what would become Route 66, ca. 1920

Paving and traffic growth

U.S. 66 was first signed into law in 1927 as one of the original U.S. Highways. Much of the early highway was gravel or graded dirt. Due to the efforts of the U.S. Highway 66 Association established by Tulsa businessman Cyrus Avery, Route 66 became the first U.S. highway to be completely paved in 1938. Traffic grew because of the geography through which it passed: much of the highway was essentially flat and made it a popular truck route. In the aftermath of the Great Depression of 1929, a large part of unemployed workers found their salute in the construction and paving of Route 66, and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s saw many farming families, mainly from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, and Texas, heading west on the Route 66 course for agricultural jobs in California.

AAA service station Route 66 1930AAA Route 66 service station in St James MO ca. 1930

Being the first truly long distance highway in the U.S., Route 66 encouraged the development of more than a few iconic highway habits that are still at play today…

The filling station

One of them is the filling station: on a road that stretched for over 2000 miles, gas stations became a necessity. Before the establishment of dedicated gasoline stations, fuel was purchased at liveries, repair shops or general stores. The drivers poured gas into buckets and then funnelled it into their gas tanks. By the 1920s, with the growing popularity of the automobile, filling stations became the lifeline of Route 66. One could not travel along Route 66 without stopping at a filling station approximately every 70 miles because cars had smaller gas tanks then. Between 1920 and 1930 the number of gas stations in the U.S. increased from 15,000 to 124,000. They evolved from the simplest concept, a house or shack with one or two service pumps in front to a more elaborate model with service bays and tired outlets, selling a particular brand of gasoline.

First Parking meter Oklahoma City 1935The first parking meters in the world were installed in Oklahoma City on 16 July 1935 (above).

The parking meter

With the increase of traffic generated by Route 66, businesses began to develop along Main Street and the need for parking became an issue. In order to control parking and to encourage turnover of users, a method of device had to be created to curb the problem. Two professors of engineering from Oklahoma State University devised the parking meter as a viable solution to the increasing need for Main Street parking control. The first of their meters was installed in Oklahoma City on 16 July 1935 as part of a 175-meter experiment. They proved very successful and were soon implemented all over town. The rest is, well… history. Because it was relatively easy to abuse a parking meter system, many town established patrolling meter person which became a hot topic along Route 66.

Truck Route 66 1940Capital Steel & Foundation truck in a no passing zone of Route 66 east of Oklahoma City ca. 1940

Commerce

One of the earliest arguments for new and better roads such as Route 66 was commerce, and it did not take long for truckers to take advantage of new opportunities. With the inability of the railroad system to handle the growing volume of traffic during World War II, over-the-road trucking traffic increased. Paved roads opened small towns and rural consumers to efficient and low-cost truck delivery. Of the 25.000 trucks registered in Oklahoma in 1926, most used the paved highways and competed directly with the railroads. Responding to complaints from railroad companies the state legislature passed a regulatory law in 1929 that set truck rates and routes.

Oklahoma buses 1940

Bus travel

The bus industry, born in the early 1920s, boomed during the 1930s and 1940s. Bus lines had to get permits from the State Corporation to operate over fixed routes. Bus stops were located at gas stations, hotels, grocery stores and restaurants. The bus driver stopped if a flag was hanging outside, the flag later replaced by a light. Bus traffic increased dramatically during World War II and peaked after the war. In 1944, Oklahoma was served by 31 bus companies, with the heaviest traffic located along Route 66. Several towns on the Mother Road, such as Oklahoma City and Tulsa, had as many as eight different bus companies serving their area.

Burma-Shave advertising Route 66Iconic Burma-Shave advertising signs on Route 66

Snow Cap Drive-In Route 66Snow Cap Drive-In in Seligman AZ

Blue Swallow Motel 1939The Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari NM was created in 1939

Oklahoma Roadside Park Route 66Route 66 sign for Roadside park in Oklahoma

Motels

Route 66 was affected by the expanding economy and middle-class vacationers. This led to several changes – the most dramatic was the expansion of the variety of overnight accommodations. In the 1920s, local merchants had set aside campsites near downtown business districts to keep potential customers nearby. Entrepreneurs quickly developed additional camp areas with services, on the edges of towns. Campsite cabins were soon equipped with cots, chairs, and camp stoves, costing from 50c to 74c per night. By 1926, most cabins included a bed, table, benches and water pitcher. Check out my review of the best motel chains in the U.S. as part of this Coast to Coast series here.

Route 66 sign

The end

The beginning of the end for Route 66 came in 1956 with the signing of the Interstate Highway Act by President Dwight Eisenhower who was influenced by his appreciation of the German Autobahn network as a necessary component of a national defense system. Super highways, with divided lanes, limited access and no Stop signs were first built along Route 66 in California and Illinois. In 1976, when the states of California, Illinois and Missouri removed the old 66 shields from the road, the Mother Road ceased to exist as a continuous stretch of highway. In 1984, Arizona also saw its final stretch of highway decommissioned with the completion of Interstate 40 just north of Williams, Arizona. The U.S. Route 66 officially ceased to exist in 1985, with no single interstate route designated to replace it. Within many cities, the route became a “business loop” for the interstate. Some sections became state roads, local roads, private drives, or were abandoned completely.

Today, it requires careful planning to follow Route 66 on the part I travelled along, with many ‘jogs’ across Interstate 40 required, and a mile-by-mile map sometimes necessary. Next I will go into the detail of the most interesting stops along Route 66 from Oklahoma City OK to Gallup NM, including:

1. Texola OK

2. U-Drop Inn and Tower station in Shamrock TX

3. Magnolia gas station in Shamrock TX

4. Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo TX

5. Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari NM

6. Main street in Tucumcari NM

7. Albuquerque NM

8. Gallup NM

… so stay tuned for Part 2 of this Route 66 section of my US Coast to Coast 2014 Photo Report!

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USA Coast to Coast: Oklahoma – last stop before Route 66

Chevrolet Silverado Oklahoma September 2014In Oklahoma, the Chevrolet Silverado hits its highest state ranking so far in this trip…

* You can check out all USA Coast to Coast updates as they get lived here! *

Thanks to David Curry for all the pictures in this report

After driving from New Orleans, Louisiana through Texas via Houston, Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth, we now enter the region of the US of A called the Great Plains in the Oklahoma state to reach Oklahoma City. This is our last stretch of the trip before we roll onto legendary Route 66… If Texas was the kingdom of pickup trucks, their proportion in the overall traffic is actually even higher in Oklahoma, with sales statistics to prove it – along with a surprise state sales leader… These, my Oklahoma impressions and a review of my Ram 1500 ecoDiesel (“Albert”) interior ergonomics below.

Ford F250 Oklahoma CityThe Ford F250 Super Duty ranks 4th in Oklahoma.

First let’s start with a bit of trivia about the Oklahoma state, one of the country’s fastest growing thanks to natural gas, oil and agriculture among other things. It gets its name from the Choctaw phrase “okla humma”, meaning “red people” and used to describe Native American people. 39 Native American tribes are located here and more than 25 Native American languages are spoken in Oklahoma, second only to California. Oklahoma was originally used to label a project to create an all-Indian state that failed, along with a later similar attempt named Sequoyah.

Ram 3500 LonghornRam 3500 Longhorn Pickup

Oklahoma has the second-highest number of Native Americans of any state (around 330.000), and at 8.6% of the population compared to just 2.4% in 1950, Oklahoma ranks third highest in the country below only New Mexico at 9.4% (6.2% in 1950) and South Dakota at 8.8% (3.6% in 1950). It is also one of only 7 states where the share of Native Americans in the population is above 1.5%, along with Montana (6.3%), North Dakota (5.4%), Arizona (4.6%) and Wyoming (2.4%). Oklahoma is nicknamed the Sooner State, in reference to the non-Native settlers (“sooners”) who staked their claims on the choicest pieces of land prior to the official opening date, and the Indian Appropriations Act of 1889, which opened the door for white settlement in America’s Indian Territory.

Ram 1500 ecoDiesel Albert OklahomaMe with Albert in Oklahoma City

Oklahoma state map. Picture courtesy of Smart-Traveler.InfoOklahoma state. I drove North on the I35 to OKC then West on the I40 towards Amarillo.

Oklahoma is home to 3.8 million “Okies” including almost 600,000 in its capital Oklahoma City, and its second largest city, Tulsa, was considered the Oil Capital of the World for most of the 20th century. Last bits of trivia: 1. Cimarron County in Oklahoma’s panhandle is the only county in the United States that touches four other states: New Mexico, Texas, Colorado and Kansas. 2. An Oklahoman business man, Cyrus Avery, began the campaign to create U.S. Route 66 using the stretch of road from Amarillo, Texas to Tulsa, Oklahoma. But this is another story that I will cover in my next Report…

Dodge Challenger OklahomaDodge Challenger in front of the Oklahoma City Symbolic Memorial for the 1995 bombing.

As I mentioned at the start of this article, the proportion of pickup trucks in the overall traffic is even higher than in Texas, even though the latter is considered the kingdom of pickup trucks. This is due to the relative rurality of the state, with Oklahoma and Tulsa being pretty much the only sizeable urban centres. This observation translates into official sales statistics in a very striking way: the Top 5 best-selling light vehicles in Oklahoma over the Full Year 2013 being all pickup trucks, making it the first state to achieve this feat so far in my trip. But wait there are more surprises…

Ford F250 Oklahoma City 3Old and new… in Oklahoma City

Best-selling new light vehicles in Oklahoma – Full Year 2013:

Pos Model 2013
1 Chevrolet Silverado 13,994
2 Ford F-150 11,517
3 Ram Pickup 9,762
4 Ford F-250 Super Duty 4,932
5 GMC Sierra 4,712

Source: JATO

Albert Stockyards CityAlbert in Stockyards City, Oklahoma

Also for the first time in this Coast to Coast trip so far, the Chevrolet Silverado outsells the Ford F-150 to claim the Oklahoma crown, and not by a tiny margin: almost 1,500 units separate it from Ford’s best-seller… The Ram Pickup rounds up the podium, and after making its first appearance of the trip in any Top 5 in Texas, the Ford F-250 Super Duty is up one notch to a fantastic 4th place in Oklahoma thanks to just under 5,000 sales in 2013. The GMC Sierra makes a comeback into the Top 5 (it ranked 4th in Louisiana) thanks to 4,700 sales.

Nissan Altima Honda Accord Toyota Camry OklahomaNissan Altima, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry: rare passenger cars in Oklahoma

Note prior data from other sources (including MSN Autos) claim the Nissan Altima is the best-seller in Oklahoma. I will interpret this as being the best-selling passenger car, continuing a trend we have seen in Tennessee and Mississippi, because the clear dominance of pickup trucks excludes all possibility the Altima could threaten any of the pickups mentioned above in the overall Oklahoma sales charts.

Ford F150 Stockyards City3 x Ford F150 in Stockyards City

A must see in Oklahoma City is the National Memorial for the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P Murrah Federal Building, America’s worst incident of domestic terrorism. The Outdoor Symbolic Memorial rests between two twin Gates of Time, framing the moment of destruction (9:02 am on April 19, 1995). The East Gate has graved into it 9:01 and represents the innocence of the city before the attack. The West Gate has 9:03 in it, the moment Oklahoma City was changed forever. The Memorial has 168 empty chair sculptures for each of the people killed in the attack, including 19 small ones for the children. A beautiful, moving and humbling experience. There is a real feel in this place that the event will mark the city for the rest of its existence. This, combined with the fact that this National Memorial is widely considered as the single location in Oklahoma most worthy of a visit (and I agree), was a bit of a wake up call for me. After having visited the National September 11 Memorial in New York City and the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, this was the time I truly took stock of the country’s sometimes violent history.

Ram 1500 ecoDiesel Albert gearboxAlbert’s gearbox knob in all its glory

Now that we are well into this Coast to Coast trip at over 3000 miles since our starting point in New York City, it is time for me to update you on my ride Albert, my valiant Ram 1500 ecoDiesel, and today I’ll go into its day-to-day commands ergonomics. Hundreds of routine commands and adjustments all through the trip so far are a fast-track way of testing how natural and intuitive Albert is to drive. Firstly my overall impression, and if you have read my coverage of the last Beijing and Paris Auto Shows you will now I am very picky as far as interiors are concerned: Albert does not know the word flimsiness. All instruments inside are and feel sturdy and robust, day after day, thousand miles after thousand miles. Albert is tough and made for work.

I have said this before and I will say it again, I love the gearbox transformed into a simple dashboard knob, freeing leg space for a potential third person in the front row. Once you train your brain to not use that knob to adjust air con – located just next to it, all is good and well in the best of worlds.

Ram 1500 ecoDiesel dashboardAlbert’s centre dashboard console. Simple and functional (click on image to enlarge)

Overall, the dashboard of this Ram 1500 ecoDiesel Tradesman is simple but functional, with no superfluous buttons. Is a navigation system superfluous? When you use this truck to and from work yes, but on a Coast to Coast trip no. Oh well, my iPhone and the Google Maps app are now best mates, and the centre dashboard console screen is content just telling me what song I’m listening to. The three cup holders accommodate every size of Starbucks coffee or watered down McDonalds to-go Coke thanks to flexible rubber padding, and the USB port hidden inside the large container in-between the two front seats enables to both play all the music on my iPhone and keep the latter hidden from view.

The rest of Albert’s ergonomics review and the Full Photo Report are below.

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USA Coast to Coast: Everything is bigger in Texas

1. Ram 2500 Long Horn Fort WorthRam 2500 Long Horn in Fort Worth – Texas

You can check out each Coast to Coast report here

Many thanks to David Curry for the pictures in this article.

The Coast to Coast reports are back, and after New Orleans we now land in Texas, literally the land of pickups trucks. This time Albert, my Ram 1500 ecoDiesel feeling now absolutely at home, took me to Houston, Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth before heading North to Oklahoma City. Texas makes it look like the rest of America I have visited so far wasn’t really trying. It may sound cliché, but everything is bigger in Texas. My impressions as well as official sales data courtesy of JATO are below.

New York Oklahoma CityUSA Coast to Coast trip so far. Map courtesy of Google Maps.

First a bit of trivia about Texas, one of the most symbolic States of the United States. The name Texas is derived from the word “tejas” which means “friends” or “allies” in Caddo language. This term was used by the Spanish themselves when they controlled the area to describe both the region and the Caddo people, a confederacy of several Southeastern Native American tribes who inhabited what is now East Texas, Northern Louisiana, southern Arkansas and Oklahoma. Today the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma is a single federally recognised tribe.

2. GMC Sierra DallasGMC Sierra in Dallas, Texas

At 26.4 million inhabitants, Texas is the second most populous State in the U.S. after California, and would feature at #47 worldwide if it was an independent country at exactly the same figure as Afghanistan and in between such nations as Saudi Arabia (30.8 million) and Australia (23.6 million). It is the second largest State after Alaska at 268.600 sq miles (or 696.241 km2), larger than France. Main cities are Houston (2.2 million inhabitants) and San Antonio (1.4 million) with the largest metropolitan area being the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex at 6.4 million souls and its capital being Austin at 885,400 inhabitants.

3. Toyota Tundra DallasToyota Tundra in Dallas, Texas

Texas has had a tumultuous history, being successively ruled by various nations: Spain, France then Mexico until 1836 when Texas became an independent Republic, before joining the U.S. as the 28th state in 1845. Texas is also called the Lone Star State, and its flag features a single star, a reference to its former status of a independent republic and as a reminder of the state’s struggle for independence from Mexico. Now. Trivia is out of the way, let’s get down to business.

4. Albert Texas State lineAlbert posing next to the Louisiana/Texas State line

And first things first, a few reports ago I said “I still am yet to spot a true American lunatic driving frankly dangerously, and I have found American highways one of the most relaxing and predictable driving experiences of my life.” That was in South Carolina. Well. I am now eating my words as everything changes the minute you cross the Texas State line. Lunatic drivers are more frequent than non-, unpredictable lane changes are the norm and speed limits are a long lost memory. To my advantage, pickup trucks rule the highways and ‘standard’ cars have no issues getting out of the way as soon as I get too close, not wanting to break my cruise control. So far so good.

5. Ford F150 Dallas 3Ford F150 in Dallas, Texas. Albert looks tiny next to it!

I started this article by saying Texas made me feel like the rest of America I had seen so far wasn’t really trying. Example: the huge highways around Houston. The I10 that circles the city at times becomes a 7 lane-highway. I simply had not seen such a thing at any time before and especially not in Los Angeles where I’ve been a few times (anyone care to correct this?), however this may be linked to the scarceness of public transport in Houston. Most interestingly, far from being an over-zealously built and unnecessarily grandiose undertaking, the 7 lanes were put to good use on a Saturday night at 9pm, each one filled with a regular flow of cars driving at speed limit or more. Impressive.

Bigger highways, but also bigger car dealerships. I drove past the largest dealership I’ve seen so far on the trip on the I10 a few miles West of Houston: Don McGill Toyota of Houston. Their website lists an inventory of 1.500 cars on site. Although I didn’t drive past it, It’s also worth noting the Fred Haase Toyota World dealership on the I45 North of Houston: the #1 Tundra dealer in the world and #1 volume dealer in Texas overall, with 2.860 vehicles on inventory right now. While huge, these are however not the largest dealerships in the country: the crown goes to Longo Toyota near Pasadena in California which is simply the largest car dealership in the world. No less. 15.000 vehicles sold a year, 50 acres, 500 employees, 30 languages and dialects spoken and complete with Subway restaurant and Starbucks café on site… It’s a different planet. But we digress…

6. Pickups DallasPickup trucks and motels. Now we truly are in America.

Texas is the kingdom of pickup trucks. Proof: according to Polk, pickup sales in the state were 3 times that of the #2 pickup market (California), and Texas accounts for 1 in 6 full-sized pickups sold nationally, whereas it holds only 8% of the national population. Even more impressive: the Houston metro area alone would rank #5 among pickup markets if it were a separate state. Dallas would be #7, as more pickups are sold just in the Dallas and Houston areas combined than in any other U.S. state, including No. 2 California. And more: even excluding both Dallas and Houston, Texas would still be the No. 1 pick-up state in the country!

6b Pickups Fort WorthPassenger cars are becoming rarer and rarer. In Fort Worth, Texas.

As a result, pickup truck manufacturers obviously pay particular attention to the Texan market, and most have special editions named in reference to this state: Ram has the LongHorn, Ford has the F-Series Texas Edition, Chevrolet has the Silverado… Texas Edition also while Toyota has the Tundra 1794 Edition named for the ranch, founded in 1794, upon which the truck’s assembly plant is located in San Antonio. At the State Fair of Texas in Dallas late last month, Toyota also unveiled a Tundra Bass Pro-Shop Offroad Edition available only to customers in the Gulf states region. Interestingly, only Toyota manufactures its full-size pickup truck locally in Texas and has recently relocated its headquarters from California to the Lone Star state. Last year at the launch of the new generations Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra, Automotive News noted that General Motors was piping as much as half of their initial national supply of 2014 pickups to Texas… Partly helped by their good health here, national sales of full-size pickup trucks hit 2 million units in 2013 and for the first time since 2007.

11. Ford F250 Fort WorthFord F250 in Fort Worth, Texas. The Ford F250 is the #5 best-seller in Texas.

But what are the best-selling vehicles in Texas overall?

Pos Model FY2013
1 Ford F-150 96,663
2 Chevrolet Silverado 78,047
3 Ram Pickup 67,378
4 Toyota Camry 36,953
5 Ford F-250 Super Duty 33,305

Source: JATO

Ford and Chevrolet take advantage of their extensive rural dealer network to take the top two spots with the F-150 just below 100,000 units, by far its best state score in the country, and the Silverado at almost 80,000. Seeing 3 or 4 current generation F-150 in a row is not uncommon on Texan highways. The Ram Pickup rounds up the podium at 67,000 and surprisingly, unlike Louisiana, the Top 4 is not 100% composed of pickup trucks with the Toyota Camry managing to point its much smaller bonnet in 4th position – albeit with just a little more than half the sales of the Ram. Tellingly, the Ford F-250 Super Duty makes its very first appearance in any State’s Top 5 so far thanks to a mammoth 33,305 sales in Texas. Interestingly, Toyota doesn’t place the Tundra inside the Top 5.

7. Chevrolet Impala DallasChevrolet Impala in Dallas, Texas

Thorough observation of the traffic on Texan highways also reveals the following: there are more Ford Edge and Cadillac XTS here than anywhere before during this trip, the new generation Chrysler 200 and Chevrolet Impala are back on the roads for the first time since Memphis, and the Toyota Tundra is strong but even though it is produced locally, it was more frequent in Northern Virginia or Western Louisiana. Austin struck me as a hipster chic town with more Lexus, Infiniti, Toyota Prius and Nissan Leaf, less pickup trucks and the strongest heritage of previous generation Toyota Corolla so far in the trip. The Nissan Altima and Honda Accord should top the sales charts there.

10. Chrysler 200 Dallas with Kennedy detailsChrysler 200 in Dallas, Texas

The Ford F-150 clearly dominates the Dallas vehicle landscape, potentially holding up to 10% market share there and way above the Chevrolet Silverado, more so than Texas-wide. The base version with plastic bumpers (playing in the same sandpit as my Ram “Albert” 1500 Tradesman) is the Car of the state. A truckload of them all through Texas and in Dallas in particular, pun intended. There were almost no F-250 and F-350 in town, only outside on working sites (makes sense) and the new generation Chrysler 200 was stronger again in Dallas. As whole, both the Nissan Armada and Titan are a notch stronger in Texas than they are in the rest of the states I visited so far.

Highlights of the trip in the Lone Star state were the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas (see above), another very thorough museum this time about JFK’s assassination, and Fort Worth, which you might say is touristic yet oh so reassuringly and symbolically Texan. I bought a cowboy hat and belt. I had to. When in Texas… Meanwhile Albert, my valiant Ram 1500 Tradesman truck with ecoDiesel, has now crossed the 3,000 miles milestone in this trip, standing at 3,144 miles (5,069 km) by the time I arrived in Dallas. Fuel economy now stands at 26.4 mpg, still above the 24 average advertised by Ram for city/highway. Very happy with that one.

Next stop: Oklahoma City.

Full Photo Report below.

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