Time for a new car

My current car is a 2002 Grand Am GT. I bought it for $16,000 in 2004, when gas was less than a buck a liter, with 46,000km on the odometer. It represented great value at the time; it was loaded with features like a sunroof, Monsoon stereo system, 16″ chrome alloy wheels, and ram air V6 power that delivered plenty of torque for impressive launches. The headlights would turn themselves on automatically, the traction control would keep me out of trouble, the oil life system would advise me on when it was time for an oil change, and the beefy sway bars with the wide tires would keep everything in order even during the hardest of cornering. It has a practical side as well; with four doors, it’s a decent family sedan that takes regular unleaded and gets okay gas mileage.

2002 Pontiac Grand Am GT
My ’02 Grand Am GT

Over a decade after I bought the Grand Am GT and with 210,000km on the odometer, I can’t really complain too much; it’s been reliable, but it’s not the car it used to be. The foam on the back speakers has rotted, and being a Monsoon system, are not standard, so are expensive to replace. The power mirror switch is broken from its mount, and one of the non-replaceable map lights built in the rear view mirror has burned out. The body cladding has kept it looking great, but the inevitable rust is starting to show through in places. Not having done anything to the car the entire time I’ve owned it, I’m aware that I’ll need to do significant work to keep it roadworthy; things like replacing the water pump, radiator, and all the engine seals are probably going to be the tip of the iceberg. The headlights are hazy, the trim along the windshield, having lifted out, is now being held in with an adhesive, and occasionally the turn signal decides not to work. That said, it still starts and runs good and strong, but let’s face it: It’s an old car, and things aren’t going to get better. With gas well over a buck a liter, the “Okay” gas mileage isn’t okay anymore. I think I’d like to end my relationship with my Grand Am GT while we’re still on good terms.

1990 Micra
1990 Micra

Other things in my life have changed since I bought the Grand Am GT. The economy has become less stable, so I find myself driving longer distances for work. I am going to downtown Toronto a lot more than I ever have since owning my last Micra for my career. Given the instability of the economy, having reliable transportation is an absolute must. The price of gas right now is hovering between $1.20 and $1.30 a liter, so fuel economy is becoming more important to me than ever. I still want a car that’s good for my family; I need a back seat with its own doors, and, given that my son is now the tallest in his class, headroom and legroom in the back seat is important. I also need a trunk with the ability to carry large, bulky items from time to time. I need a car that will continue to be reliable and trouble-free, and would like to keep my on-going maintenance costs as low as possible. It’s no wonder I’ve been having dreams that I still have my 1990 Micra stored in my garage; over the past year, I’ve found myself waking up from those dreams wishing that I could still buy a car like that.

Generous headroom for the whole family!
Generous headroom for the whole family!

My recent trip to the 2014 auto show confirmed that the 2015 Micra will be an even better value than my 1990 was. It has all of the good characteristics of my old Micra, like generous headroom and legroom front and back, a solid, all-aluminum engine that’s accessible and appears reasonably easy to work on, a tight turning radius, a small size, and, starting at $9,998, has a purchase price lower than anything else in its class. In fact, it’s priced cheaper than many used cars. In addition to this, it’s a thoroughly modern car with features like ABS brakes, plenty of air bags, vehicle dynamic control system, rear floor heating ducts, and options like cruise control, heated mirrors, 4 speed automatic, and even a backup camera. The Micra never had it so good!

So, that just about sums it up. I’ll be buying a new car this year, and if the test drive goes well, it looks like it’s going to be the Micra. I can hardly wait!

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Why it’s Canada-only

The media has been scratching its head on why the Micra is only going to be sold in Canada and not the United States. Some have reasoned that people living in the United States have a bias against hatchbacks. Others have supposed that the Micra doesn’t meet US regulations. I don’t think these are the reasons at all.

The real reason, I think, is that they’re tweaking a car that’s already being sold in Europe, Australia, and other countries that have one thing in common with Canada that they don’t with the United States: They measure all of their speeds and distances in kilometers. It’s highly unlikely there are any current Micra instrument clusters in the Nissan parts bin capable of displaying speed in miles per hour, or distances in miles. Given the limited market for a car like the Micra in the US, and given that they already have it covered with the Versa Note, it wouldn’t make sense to re-tool to accommodate, while a Canadian-spec Micra would only need minor changes that would work in any of their current markets.

I’m confident that eventually the US will get their Micra, but only if it’s successful in the Canadian market. Our sales numbers will dictate whether or not they’ll design a US spec gauge cluster for the Micra. Using the Canadian market as a test bed to introduce (or re-introduce) European products of this nature to the North American market is brilliantly prudent.

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Why Micra?

micrarearIt might seem odd to some that I really like the Nissan Micra, even in light of the fact that I currently own cars that would be considered “Better” by our current cultural standards. Indeed, even at the time I bought the Micra for $2500, there were cars available for that price that some may consider more appealing. So, why the Micra?

When I bought the Micra, my way of thinking had evolved considerably. I was 20 years old and wanted a better life for myself, so I set aside my ego and worked things out. I went to college the following year after reasoning that I could earn at least twice as much as I could without a post secondary education, and with an interest-free student loan, would represent an investment in myself that would pay off in one and a half years for a three year program. I learned to use a spreadsheet and did financial forecasts, using real data. I had achieved my goal ahead of time, landing a summer job with a large IT company after my second year.

During my summer employment, I had earned enough money to buy a used car. Once again, I set my ego aside and, based on my previous experience, decided that, in spite of the fact that I preferred coupes and driving stick, a four door automatic car would most likely have been treated a lot better than would a two door stick shift. I also reasoned that, if I focused on smaller, low powered cars with minimal features and options, my money would buy me something newer with lower mileage and that would give me better gas mileage. My money would go a lot further all around; it all made perfect sense.

The Micra represented the clarity of mind that drove my success at the time. I was not embarrassed to drive it as some might suspect; quite the contrary. I drove it with a great sense of pride. I had bought the car entirely within my own means; it wasn’t a gift, and yet it was clean, reliable, and rust-free; a difficult task for any College student making it on their own. The small engine meant that $20 worth of gas (at 1995 prices) got me back and forth to school every day, as well as weekly trips to the laundry mat, grocery store, and my part-time research and development job for an entire month before needing to put another $20 in the tank. The reliability of the car meant no surprise expenses, and I was always on time. The short wheelbase, good ground clearance, light weight and small tires made it handle well in the snow. I could park in impossibly small parking spaces, and carry large, bulky things easily in the hatchback. My plan was working out better than expected.

My first Micra parked in front of our first new house
My first Micra parked in front of our first new house

I quit smoking, graduated college, married my wife, bought my first (and second) house, started my career, and saw the birth of my son while driving that car.  Nothing ever got to me; even when my brother-in-law laughed at me and asked me if I thought his car was better than mine, I simply stated that I thought my car was better for me because my Micra was the car that took me everywhere I needed for little more than the cost of the little bit of gas it used; his car didn’t do that for me. I never paid any mind as to how much the gas would cost, or even the effects of wear and tear. I didn’t want anything that didn’t truly make me happy or my life better, and my Micra reminded me of that. My life was efficient and fun, like my car.

One thing I always wanted was to be able to buy a Micra brand new, and being able to get options like cruise control, air conditioning, and a stick shift. When I found out that Nissan wasn’t selling them in Canada anymore, I moved on to  bigger and more expensive cars.

Time for a new car!
Time for a new car!

Now it appears as though I’ll be able to make that dream come true; and you know what? I liked the person I was when I had my Micra, and I’d like to be more like that guy again. To be able to set my ego aside, to enjoy care-free driving, and to be able to focus on the more important things in life.  I think I’ll take mine in silver.

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Welcome back, Micra. Good to see you again.

2015 Nissan Micra

Source: Nissan Image Library

It’s been over 14 years since I drove a Micra, and just when I thought there was no hope of me owning another, Nissan just announced they’re bringing the Micra back to the Canadian market.

There’s been no mention of pricing as of yet, but it looks like this Micra is designed for Canada, with a twin cam 1.6L gas engine rated at 109 horsepower; that’s twice as much power as the 1.2L made in 1990. The engine will be mated to a 5 speed manual or 4 speed automatic, 15″ wheels standard, rear heat ducts, and optional heated mirrors.

There’s going to be 3 trim levels; the S, SV, and SR. Never before seen in a Canadian Micra will be features such as cruise control, 6 way driver’s seat with an armrest, power windows, power locks, keyless entry; it looks like it’s going to have all the modern goodies, including Bluetooth. Imagine the Micra SR, with a leather wrapped steering wheel and 16″ alloys. That’s a huge change from the carbureted Micra that didn’t even have power steering.

Personally, I’m really pleased to see Nissan bring this car back to Canada. In fact, I’m so excited, I decided to create this web site about it. I’m too busy with setting up this site to write more, so you can read the press release here.

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