Last week in Portugal, I accidentally stumbled upon a sequel to my previous post about how rental companies can spoil the first impressions about cars and carmakers.
I had reserved a Fiat 500 with AVIS, but they handed me the keys to a Peugeot 208 instead because the 500 wasn't available. It was well past 11 pm when I collected the keys at the counter, complete with directions to the first floor of the parking garage adjacent to the terminal.
Once inside the car, I adjusted the seat and steering wheel and fired up the engine. The tranquillity of the night was shattered by an obnoxiously loud alert accompanied by a mysterious Portuguese message on the dashboard. Fortunately, an orange tire icon accompanied it, suggesting a low-pressure warning.
I reluctantly got out of the car and found no AVIS staff in sight. The tires looked fine to me. I contemplated trekking back to the terminal to consult with the night desk attendants, but my willpower ran out. So, I decided to ignore the warning. It turned out to be the right move, as the tires didn't lose any more air over the next two days.
Then, another warning light came on - the unfastened seatbelt. With all other seats being empty and my seatbelt securely fastened, I added it to the list of things I would ignore.
Before setting off, I attempted to set the satnav, but more Portuguese appeared on the screen. With my reading glasses stashed away in the bag in the boot, I didn't search for the language setting and remained clueless about what the screen was trying to convey. I assume the satnav was out of order, or I hadn't paid for it. With no idea how to rectify either and a decisive aversion to walking back to the terminal, I opted for Google Maps on my iPhone. Of course, there was no holder for a phone, so I embarked on my journey with the phone wedged precariously between the steering column and the dashboard.
After a mile or so, right after merging onto the motorway, I realised the chilly air in the car wasn't due to a cold engine but rather the absence of heating. Lacking my glasses and not eager to randomly press all buttons on the panel for the heater switch, I fiddled with the touchscreen until I stumbled upon a slider that seemed to do the trick.
Immediately after, I attempted to shift into sixth gear, only to find it nonexistent. I was driving a five-speed manual.
How much did this car cost me? A mere €9.50 per day. All the other add-ons like insurance, airport fees, and the rest slapped on an additional €130 (I'll definitely delve into that in another post), but the car itself cost me a grand total of €19 for a two-day trip. This was the price of the Fiat 500, but since it was unavailable, I paid that for the 208.
Clearly, €9.50 a day isn't enough to cover even the basic trim, let alone a more luxurious version, satnav, or, as it turned out, proper maintenance.
Imagine if I were the target audience for the Peugeot 208, including inexperienced or older drivers. Would I have wanted to address the tire pressure and unfastened seatbelt warnings before hitting the road? Would I have appreciated having a working satnav and controls in English? Would I have taken a pit stop on the motorway to fix the heating? Most likely, but all that would have cost me time and patience, delaying my arrival at the hotel after a long day and flight. In the process, it would have undoubtedly stirred up a lot of frustration, partly directed at AVIS and partly at the car itself.
The €9.50 per day would also leave me with the impression that 208 is a bottom bargain car without any frills, satnav, or a 21st-century gearbox, where warning lights on the dashboard are normal.
So, car manufacturers, to make the first experiences memorable for the right reasons, you might want to attach a few strings to the massive discounts offered to rental companies.
Buy only cars with six-speed or automatic gearboxes.
Don't ever disable the satnav.
At all international airports, set the default language to English.
Keep the air conditioning on; everybody needs it.
Ensure the cars are well-maintained with no warning lights anywhere.
I may not have the economics behind these rules, but when it comes to making a first impression, they will make a world of difference!