Democratic Motors

The past few weeks, I’ve been hit by several frothing, angry, irrational “fans” of a particular pseudo-MVNO/VoIP provider here and elsewhere calling me a hater and other silly names despite my not doing a post on the subject since July 2014, and never particularly pointing out more than the known downsides and costs of their most favoritist mobile provider in the world in relation to other providers elsewhere, as usual. I’ve even got some supportive comments from others, but I’ve felt uncomfortable greenlighting their comments as well, as a couple of them have been barbed with so much venom against our mutual adversary I felt it crossed a line I’m not comfortable supporting. I try to speak truth in love, and though I know I can get snarky at times, I try to stick with just the facts.

That said, I think it may be analogy time. Grab some hot cocoa and snuggle in, chillun’. Unka Daley’s gonna tell you a story.

The Tale of Democratic Motors

Democratic MotorsLet’s paint a picture, shall we? You’re in the market to purchase a new electric car with cash, and one dealership called Democratic Motors offers this fantastic deal on a new Shovey Spork. This dealership specializes in selling only Shovey EV cars, specifically the Spork and Voit. These Sporks normally sell for $30k as equipped, but this car lot will sell it to you for $15k cash. The Voit is normally $40k as equipped, but they also sell it for the lower price of $30k. They also promise you that you have a 30 day money back guarantee if you don’t like it for any reason. They even have slightly used models for an additional $5000 off, but you lose the 30 day refund option.

You’ve also heard good things about this dealership from a few other people on the internet the past couple years raving about how cheap it is for them to drive around in these cars, so you take a look anyway despite that jerk next door who bikes everywhere and only has some cheap, ratty looking Hundo Civvy from 1990-something in the driveway. He keeps grumbling that this particular Shovey dealership used to give away cars and “free” insurance to people for referring others just to create buzz, that there’s a terrible legal agreement attached, and keeps telling you his own car costs are under $70 a month, but he rarely drives anywhere. This guy’s clearly some kook, but you like the idea of paying less for your own cars, because the two Dudge Durancos in your driveway have really been cramping your pocketbook lately, despite them only being a couple years old. Huh, what was that kook’s name anyway… Da-dal… Dalton… Dallas… Dullard… heh, who cares! He’s just some hippy kook.

So you go to Democratic Motors where they tell you they have four affordable insurance and power packages for these uber-cheap cars that you can switch around between at any time, up to three times a month. For as little as $50 a month, they will cover all ongoing ownership costs and let you drive all you want for only the cost of your own electricity! To facilitate this amazing vehicle in these promises to make it look even more cost effective, they add a solar panel to the roof that “provides all the power it needs to drive during the day” so you don’t have to “plug it in” and charge the batteries unless you want to, but it’s recommended that you use the outlet to keep costs low because it costs them extra to let you use the solar panel and batteries anyway. Of course, the solar panel is also deactivated at the $50 price point, but you can still plug it in. For $100 a month or more, they’ll activate the solar panel. Additionally, they have $250 and $400 a month packages where they’ll enable some “extended range” battery packs promising an additional range of up to 5000 miles a month after dark and on cloudy days without being plugged in. The $250 insurance and battery pack will only let the car get up to 45mph on the battery, which is plenty for city driving, and even the legal minimum speed on most highways! The $400 pack lets you go up to 80mph, but isn’t available on on the Spork, you have to buy the more expensive Voit if you want to do highway driving at those speeds.

There’s a catch, though. There are no test drives before purchase. There is no EV tax rebate for these cars, and you have to agree to a very lengthy legal agreement stating that you literally cannot pay for insurance through anyone but them. To enforce this, no other insurance company in the nation but this dealership will insure this vehicle for you. But there’s no contract, you can stop paying their insurance any time you like and they’ll just deactivate the car and let you sell it to someone else. You’re hesitant, but then they remind you that this insurance will let you drive as much as you like (unlimited mileage) without shortening the warranty, and they show you that the insurance and fuel costs through them run a quarter of all the other insurance companies offering the same full comp and collision with zero deductible on a $2.5m policy where the driver is covered for up to 50k miles a month, plus there’s no consumable gasoline or oil costs. You drive several thousand miles a month, so a single low price sounds great, and theirs? $100 a month per car. Sunk cost of ownership anyway, right?

There you go. They told you you could drive all you wanted without any problem on any of the four insurance/power package prices, promised a refund if you didn’t like it, and the sales guy seems so earnest and honest. He’s trying to save you money on a necessity in life, including the ongoing costs, after all. Seems simple enough despite the lengthy legal agreement, and by golly, who wants to read fifteen pages of fine print before signing on the dotted line? It’s a new car that’s cheaper to run than 90% of the other cars on the road already no matter what package you choose by their logic. All the driving you can handle for only $100 a month… such a deal!

You decide to buy two Sporks, one for you, one for the wife… because gosh darn it, it’s going to lower your vehicle costs by buying these cars and increase your comfort and quality of life at the same time! An EV car that’ll drive all you want for just the cost of insurance! You sell the two Durancos to cover the cost of switching.

You get in the cars after purchase and you discover they replaced the dashboard and cockpit controls with their own proprietary interior that is almost but not quite laid out like a normal car. It’s not uncomfortable, but it’s… a little detached from the road and quirky. The clock is never accurate and you can’t reset it, the radio can only tune in the local Mariachi station, sometimes the steering, brake and acceleration pedals randomly feel mushy but it doesn’t seem dangerous, the seats aren’t adjustable, and the display is 100% in metric units despite you living in the United States, but it’s okay. It’s your first new car (and an EV, to boot), so you figure they’re all probably like that. No problem!

Of course, they also glossed over the fact that that $50/month package doesn’t include the solar panel and technically the “extended range” battery packs are just them activating and deactivating the other 90% of the storage batteries, so you couldn’t actually drive the car much beyond your driveway and the private driveways and roads of your friends without it being plugged in anyway, so it’s good you went with the $100 packages after all. Still pretty cheap, right? You got this fancy new EV that lets you roll around in the lap of luxury around town!

…at 10-15mph with a maximum range of five blocks on a full charge when it’s cloudy or dark as you discover, because the solar panel only produces enough power to sustain that 15mph under the conditions of noon in Death Valley. You find you can drive it all you want and as fast as you want, but it has to either be oppressively sunny or plugged in all the time if you want to go faster than a bicycle or farther than a stone’s throw. But you need to do a fair amount of driving on cloudy days and away from the power outlet, so what about that $250/month package with a battery pack? That $100 could still work for the wife anyway because she doesn’t drive much, but not you. Even at the higher rate, that’s still a little cheaper than the gasoline, insurance and a lease per month for some other new fancy car getting driven that much and it’ll give you the range you need. Of course, you have to plug it in at home to help charge those batteries in any expedient fashion, but that’s okay. So you switch packages and drive your new car 5000 miles the first three weeks on the new package price as it’s been a busy month and it doesn’t hurt to put the car through its paces and “get your money’s worth”. Then you get a notice telling you you’re not allowed to do that again for the next year unless you want to be fined $50k plus $100 for every mile you’ve driven over that on the battery and have the car permanently disabled. Normally you only drive 1500-2000 miles a month, but every once in a while… anyway, you’re still only out $350 for the month for both cars (plus an additional undisclosed state mileage tax of another $50 a month, you discover) but it’s still cheaper than those Durancos, you reckon.

Your wife’s car is also having issues turning left, and though they promised the full warranty on the car, they didn’t tell you that the only way to service any mechanical problems is by yourself asking other owners of your car online about how to fix the problems as there’s no dealership mechanics who will work on it for you. The mileage thing was livable, but that combined with this? A bit ridiculous, so you decide to return both your cars and take advantage of the 30 day refund. Your wife’s car was driven 70 miles and looks pristine, and you drove your car over 5500 miles where you picked up a small rock that left a scratch on the hood and a tiny chip in the windshield. Back at the lot, they take your cars back and tell you not to worry with a smile and friendly handshake, and that your refunds will be issued within 7-10 business days after you dropped the cars off. Thanks for trying them anyway! Crap, you didn’t remember that they wouldn’t give the money back immediately. You may have to rent a car until they cut the check, or buy a cheap beater or something else on credit… Fjord’s running some sort of deal on new hybrid cars with that “Switcheroo” ad or something you keep seeing while watching NICS:SUV:NYC:10018 on NBCBS. Hmmm…

Two weeks later, you get a refund check of $10,000 in the mail from your original $30,000 payout and $400 usage bill for the month. You call and ask why, and the dealer reminds you that the tire wear on your wife’s car reduced her refund by $5000, and that the tire wear, small scratch and windshield chip voided your own refund. It was right there in the legal agreement that you signed, after all. You object vehemently!

But there it is… hidden in that fine print you didn’t think mattered are these clauses about a $50k+ financial penalty about driving more than 5000 miles in a month on the solar panel and extended battery packs, or 150 miles outside any city limits or interstates and on dirt roads under the same power restrictions; and there’s also “damage costs” for any 30 day refunds. On the Spork? $5000 is deducted from your refund price for minor cosmetic damage on any surface or any tire wear. A chip in the windshield or a minor dent in any body panel results in no refund at all. Any damage beyond that such as a damaged charger port, damage from any accident, or any attempts at trying to repair or modify the vehicle to bypass their restrictions or try and qualify for the lesser damage deduction results in no refund at all. With the Voit, a $5000 deduction is made from the refund price for minor cosmetic damage on any surface or tire wear. A chip in the windshield or a minor dent in any body panel results in a $15,000 deduction. Any damage beyond that such as a damaged charger port, damage from any accident, or any attempts at trying to repair or modify the vehicle to bypass their restrictions or to try and qualify for the lesser damage deduction results in no refund at all.

A week later, you get your first power bill since the purchase, and notice those cars you had to plug in increased your household electrical usage considerably. Good thing the power company doesn’t charge per kilowatt hour…

Kids, if this sounds like a such a raw deal for a car – even if it could theoretically work for some people willing to compromise quality for quantity, why would it sound like such a good idea for a smartphone?


Underlying article image “Car Salesman With Car” (without Democratic Motors logo) provided by Every Car Listed and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).

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