USA Coast to Coast 2014: Washington DC

1. Toyota Corolla Washington Toyota Corolla in Washington DC (these ones are from Maryland – for illustration purposes)

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After managing to drive through Manhattan and out unscathed, we are now travelling 250 miles South West to the country’s capital city, Washington DC. But first, I’ll answer a few of the questions you asked in my first article. I did parallel park my 6 by 2.5m Ram pick-up in Manhattan on a crowded West Village street only one hour into starting the engine and felt very proud. French being my mother tongue I never can get quite used to calling a truck a she: in French a truck is a he so my Ram will be referred to as Albert from now on… As a lot of you have noticed it is the Tradesman level, a trim that normally doesn’t get lent to the press which is why you haven’t seen it that much on car websites yet.

Dodge Durango Lincoln MKZ WashingtonDodge Durango and Lincoln MKZ in Washington DC

The Ram 1500 crew cab 4×4 I am driving has a US$35,805 base price. Add-in the Tradesman package including carpet flooring and satellite radio, 8-speed automatic transmission, 3.0-Liter V6 EcoDiesel engine and destination charge to arrive at US$40,495. Depending on the rebate you can negotiate with your dealer you can potentially get that back down to the base price or below. A lot of you have rightly asked about fuel economy. A road trip across the US in a pick-up truck immediately conjures up images of an endless flow of dollar bills being sunk into overly thirsty fuel tanks. Not so here.

Ram 1500 WashingtonAlbert proudly posing before the Capitol in Washington DC

Aware of the lengthy trip I was embarking in, Chrysler smartly lent me an EcoDiesel, launched only last February and one of the main reasons behind the nameplate’s sales surge in 2014. Back in February the EcoDiesel trucks set a new Ram record with the initial allocation of 8,000 units filled by dealers in just 3 days. Over that period the EcoDiesel variants represented half of all Ram 1500 pick-up orders and overall Ram expects EcoDiesel models to account for 15% of 1500 Series orders this year. So my Albert is quite the popular new kid on the block.

VW Jetta WashingtonVW Jetta in Washington DC

The reason behind this success? The EcoDiesel delivers 28 mpg highway, currently the best fuel economy for a full-size pick-up truck, compared to 24 mpg for the Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra and 23 mpg for the current Ford F-Series. The 4×4 variant I have gives up one mpg to 27. Ford launched a challenge to Ram’s mpg crown with its new generation aluminium-built F-Series which will start deliveries in February 2015, however at an estimated 27 mpg for the all-new 2.7-Liter stop-start V6 it doesn’t quite match the RAM EcoDiesel yet.

Chevrolet Silverado WashingtonChevrolet Silverado in Washington DC

All these claims but what happens in the real world? I won’t reset the mpg average at all during the entire trip, which should provide me with an all-trip average assuming Chrysler reset it before lending the truck to me. After 3 days and about 500 miles the mpg average stands at 25.3 keeping in mind there were 3 hours of virtual standstill in Manhattan – and therefore atrocious mpg – to begin with. So we are in line with a best-in-class score so far, and Albert is turning out to be not so thirsty after all.

Buick Enclave WashingtonBuick Enclave in Washington DC

Back to Washington DC, and this being a very small and touristy District, please bear in mind that my observations may not be limited to cars registered within Washington DC even though I tried to discard cars not registered here. As always this is not an exact science, rather a feel for the changing vehicle landscape as I traverse the country. State by state data published by Business Insider indicates that DC is the only State/territory in the country to crown the Toyota Corolla. And as it was the case in New York City, I am pleased to announce that street observations match sales data which is always a great validation. The new generation Corolla has already taken charge of the Washington traffic: I saw more of them in the few hours I was in the (relatively small) town than I saw in New York in 3 days!

Toyota Prius C WashingtonToyota Prius C in Washington DC

Overall my impression is that passenger cars are smaller than they were in New York City with less Toyota Camry and Honda Accord and more Nissan Sentra, Versa, Hyundai Elantra and VW Jetta. Case in point: I saw my first two Toyota Prius C of the trip here. Hyundai also seems to be enjoying very strong sales here: I spotted a few new generation Sonatas. Nissan is as solid as it was in New York with numerous Altima spotted but less Maxima – in line with the smaller car park.

2002 Saturn Ion Washington2002 Saturn Ion in Washington DC

I would like to be able to tell you that I saw more pick-ups here but this is only marginally the case and we are still frankly in sedan and SUV territory. The Toyota RAV4 did come across more frequently, both as taxis and private cars. A couple of more Washington observations: the most popular and almost only Jeep seems to be the Wrangler, the current generation Buick Enclave is a success as is the Tesla Model S and the Washington region has a love for the defunct Saturn brand: whereas I had not picked one up yet during the trip before, I spotted three 2002 Saturn Ion in the space of a few blocks!

Next we will be driving through Virginia, North and South Carolina to Charleston. Stay tuned!

Full Washington DC Photo Report below.

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USA Coast to Coast 2014: New York City

3. Ford E-Series New York 1Ford E-Series in Times Square, New York City – September 2014

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You may remember my Trans-Siberian Railway series that took us from St Petersburg through to Mongolia and Beijing last year, and my recent Western China Photo Report that explored the Chinese ‘far West’ to Kashgar and the Karakoram Highway up to the Pakistani border to discover what rural Chinese consumers preferred. On to the next road trip: this time crossing the United States of America from the East to the West coast, departing in New York and arriving in Los Angeles. Last month the US new light vehicle market rebounded back to levels not seen since January 2006, so what better timing than now to explore it in detail, observing specificities in the automotive landscape as we go through various cities, States and regions.

2. Times Square New York 2Times Square, New York City – September 2014

What will I drive during this trip? I wanted a quintessentially American vehicle that also made sense under a sales performance angle – let’s not forget my specialty is sales statistics – and the folks at Chrysler have been kind enough to lend me a RAM 1500 4×4 crewcab ecodiesel for the trip. It will be a great opportunity to describe the ride from my perspective: someone living in Australia where pick-up trucks are also very popular but much smaller, and born and raised in France where roads are tiny and petrol is (almost) pricier than gold… The RAM Pick-up is the biggest gainer in the US Top 12 so far in 2014 with a 22% sales increase over the first 8 months of the year. We’ll try and find out whether this is justified. Regular impressions about my RAM 1500 will pepper these reports all the way to Los Angeles.

1. Toyota Camry Nissan NV200 New YorkToyota Camry and Nissan NV200 in Times Square, New York City – September 2014.

The starting point of this Coast to Coast Road Trip is New York City. 2012 data published by JATO shows Honda at #1 here, followed by Toyota, Nissan, Ford and Hyundai. Model-wise, the Honda Accord leads the way ahead of the Honda CR-V, Honda Civic, Hyundai Sonata and Toyota Camry. A very non-American ranking indeed! And observation in the streets of the crowded megapolis confirms these figures: the Honda Accord is definitely king while the CR-V is so frequent that it becomes ‘transparent’: one at every corner across all generations and virtually part of the furniture. The Honda Pilot is also way more frequent in NYC than its national ranking should lead it to.

4. Nissan Sentra BrooklynNissan Sentra in Brookyn – September 2014

The Toyota Camry is one of the taxis of choice in NYC, if not the #1, so it is logical that it comes up high in the ranking, as it is also popular with private buyers. Note also the popularity of the Toyota Sienna with taxi companies. However the new generation Toyota Corolla is only as popular as the new Mazda3 – meaning, not a lot. And yes, Nissans are everywhere, especially and surprisingly the Maxima, but also the Altima, Sentra and Versa, as well as the new official New York taxi: the awkward-looking NV200.

Ford E-Series New York 2Ford E-Series in New York City – September 2014

In each city/State I visit I will nominate one or a few Heroes in Town, models that I was surprised to see a lot more often than their position in the US sales charts would indicate. The Hero in New York City is the Ford E-Series. This is an observation I remember already making the last time in was in town almost a decade ago. Pick-up trucks are not popular in New York, perhaps because of their wide and long dimensions, instead vans like the E-Series and the Chevrolet Express/GMC Savana rule the roost. Although based on the ones I saw, the E-150 looked as big as a F-150, let alone the E-250 and E-350! It would therefore have more to do with a usage habit, a little bit like vans are more popular than pick-up trucks in Europe, and also the fact that vans don’t need any modifications to lock and secure their load, left in the open and prone to robbery in a pick-up truck. A very interesting particularity of the NYC vehicle landscape indeed.

3. Toyota Highlander New YorkToyota Highlander in New York City – September 2014

Other surprisingly frequent vehicles in New York include the new generation Toyota Highlander, seemingly way more popular than the previous gen and already ramping up numbers in the taxi fleets. I also spotted a lot of Ford Fusion and Buick LaCrosse as well as an impressive amount of new generation Chevrolet Suburban and GMC Yukon XL and quite a few Jeep Cherokee. Minicars I potentially will only see here in the entire trips: the Smart Fortwo and Fiat 500 in good numbers and my first BMW i3 spotted near Battery Park.

5. Ford F-250 New York 2There are still some pick-ups in New York: Ford F-250 in Brooklyn

11. Ford C-Max New YorkFord C-Max in New York City – September 2014

The Ford C-Max is starting to point its bonnet relatively frequently as a New York taxi, in any case already more of them seem to be in circulation than Toyota Prius+, also quite frequent. Last New York specificity: the Lincoln brand is extremely strong: I spotted all generations of MKS and MKT with its trademark extravagant back lights in surprisingly high numbers.

8. MV-1 Minicab New York 2

9. MV-1 Minicab New YorkMV-1 Minicab in New York City – September 2014

Finally, a New York oddity: the MV-1, a vehicle I had never seen before. This is a wheelchair-accessible minicab produced by the Vehicle Production Group from October 2011 to February 2013 and by AM General, the company best known for having built the Humvee for the military, since March 2014. I did not see a flow of them but enough to pick my attention and wonder what the heck that car was – still a very exciting albeit rarer and rarer feeling!

6. Ford Fusion New YorkFord Fusion in New York City – September 2014

I took delivery of my RAM 1500 in Uptown Manhattan, Inwood to be precise. Coming from countries where such large vehicles are extremely rare and having had not many opportunities to install myself inside a typical American pick-up truck before, I won’t lie to you, it was a big shock when I hopped up onto the driving seat. Huge. Everywhere. Inside and out. Making me nervous when trying it out for a few blocks to get my marks. It only needs someone double parked to make simply driving from one end of a New York City street to another a perilous exercise.

Matt RAM 1500 New YorkHappy RAM driver. That was before the trip down Broadway…

But surprise: only a couple of minutes after powering it on, it actually feels almost like driving a nimble little European car thanks to very responsive commands and efficient power steering. In a way simpler, even: the automatic gearbox has become a volume-like button placed just under your right hand. Fun. Now to remember not to actually use it to amp up the volume on the radio. The RAM 1500 (as any other rare pick-up here) does not feel in its element in New York though, high perched and way above the line of sight of most vehicles. New York is the kingdom of taxi drivers. Time to leave.

7. Lincoln MKS New YorkLincoln MKS

To say a worthwhile goodbye to this fascinating city, I thought I’d drive down the entire length of Manhattan from North to South via Broadway. Big mistake. If the first 60-odd blocks are surprisingly quiet and fast, it gets very messy below 100th street. Repeated and disrupting roadwork, endless one ways making it excruciatingly difficult to get back on track once you get sidestepped, single lanes, the notorious metal panels on the ground that sound like the entire street has crumbled down a sink hole under you, traffic so slow you could almost manage a power nap without anyone noticing and pedestrians getting pedantic if you dare to actually drive when your light is green. It all sounds iconic when you walk around taking tourist snaps, but when driving a 6 by 2.5m truck that hardly fits in one lane while not being able to see the cars below you, it’s definitely not.

Dodge RAM New YorkBlack RAM 1500 Express

Now to extricate oneself from the island via the ridiculously cramped two-lane Holland Tunnel (where are the 6-lane highways when we need them?) and off we go to Washington DC, a mere 3 hours drive from New York – the same duration it took me to get out of New York in the first place. Baptism of fire for my valiant RAM.

Full New York City Photo Report below.

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