Sunday, September 30, 2007

Internal combustion

Customer service is alive and well.

But not in the Trading Enterprises Honda showroom on Airport Road a couple of Saturdays ago. Beloved Wife and her Goat dropped into the showroom to investigate the possible availability of an irresponsible little open-top car. We were politely greeted by a female assistant and we explained what we wanted to discuss.

Trading Enterprises: "Our SUV range, the MR-V, the..."

Grumpy Goat: "Er no thanks. we don't want an SUV. We're after an open-top car."

Trading Enterprises: "But the MR-V..."

Grumpy Goat: "What about the S2000?"

Trading Enterprises: (after going to find someone) "I'm not a salesperson. The S2000 is not available. We have no information. The 2008 model isn't due for at least three months. We don't know how much it'll cost. Bananas are marsupials. Cars run on gravy. Salmon live in trees and eat pencils."

  • Why is a non-salesperson working on the sales floor?
  • Why is there no information available?
  • Where are the sales staff?

  • I can answer the last point. They were all crowded in a big group in the middle of the showroom, watching their team getting defeated at cricket. And not doing any work: something that really impresses the customers.

    Yet even this level of attentiveness shines out like a beacon of excellence compared with what happened 24 hours later. I spent half an hour in the Liberty Automobiles showroom in Sharjah failing to get any attention at all from the sales staff. So the Invisible Goat turned and left.

    Customer service alive and well, I said? Yes, actually. The nice lady in Sharjah's Jeep showroom was polite and attentive, although was unable to offer a car that suited our requirements. And over at Festival City, Trading Enterprises' Volvo sales were nothing short of excellent.

    A test-drive of a Volvo C70 put this car definitely on the shortlist. We were a little bit concerned about the performance. The test drive was in the turbocharged version which, as predicted, went like a scalded cat. Unfortunately the T5 was prohibitively expensive, so a week or so later we test drove a different Volvo; one with the normally-aspirated 2.4 litre engine. Although a lot less powerful, it was still reasonably brisk, and was of course quiet and comfortable.

    I also courted the Peugeot dealer, and was reasonably interested in the 307cc. At about half the price of the Volvo C70 T5, it looked like a realistic alternative. The salesman was helpful and friendly, and arranged a test drive. What as disappointment! Beloved Wife and I both found the driver's seat excruciatingly uncomfortable. It's apparently designed solely to suit beanpole-thin Frenchmen. It was impossible to see any part of the car in front of the windscreen, which would make parking an interesting Braille exercise. And the engine was appallingly gutless. Acceleration was dismal, and this is as compared with the Goatmobile, not against the Volvo. Finally, Beloved Wife vetoed the idea. "I'd rather keep the Jeep."

    By this time, we'd decided against anything with a fabric roof, so no Honda S2000, no BMW Z3 and no Audi TT. The Saab and anything with a three-pointed star were rejected on the grounds of cost. But the Volkswagen Eos looked promising, so we dropped in for a chat and a test drive. Once again, the sales staff were helpful and attentive, becoming more so on our second and third visits. "Hmmm, customers must be serious..."

    Both the Goat and Beloved Wife enjoyed driving the Eos. Its 200BHP turbocharged two-litre engine, (faster than a speeding ticket...) provided the required level of irresponsibility, the car had loads of whistles and bells, and it was comfy and civilised. Except for the horn which, I discovered when getting cut up on the test drive, was raucously cacophonous. Brilliant!

    Now all we have to do is sell the Wrangler.

    The Volkswagen Eos FSi

    Sunday, September 23, 2007

    That's sandy

    Last weekend saw Middle East 4x4 Club's first formal meeting of the new season. The September Shakedown was a camp-out in the desert between Shwaib and Al Hayer. Although roasting hot, getting away from the coast meant a welcome escape from the evening humidity.

    We all met at Nad Al Sheba and were split up into small groups of four or so vehicles and briefed on the location of the camp site. "Here are some GPS co-ordinates. See you there." At first I agreed to 'sweep'; that is to bring up the rear, collect any bumpers that might have fallen off and advise the leader to slow or stop if anyone got stuck or needed a second run at a tricky bit.

    Having turned off Route 66, (not that one; the Al Ain Road) I was asked if I'd lead the convoy, which comprised the Goatmobile (a Prado), a Pajero, a Wrangler and a Land Rover Discovery. I apologised in advance that I was horribly out of practice because I'd not driven in the desert since the end of May, and would likely get stuck plenty of times. Actually, I only got stuck once. Having picked a line between a couple of small dunes that turned into a nasty powdery gully, I had to manoeuvre the Goatmobile in an awkward spot at a crazy angle. Not only was the gully at right angles to my route, it was right on the edge of an enormous slip face. Too slow and I'd get stuck in a bowl, whereas too fast would result in one of those groundskygroundskygroundsky moments. As it happened, I erred slightly on the side of caution, was not quite quick enough, and ended up perched on a tuft of camel grass on the edge of the bowl. Discovery and tow-ropes to the rescue. The desert bumpers paid off. With loads of ground clearance I didn't knock the corners or lose any hardware.

    At least I had realised my original error as I'd driven in, so was able to radio the rest of the convoy not to follow me lemming-like into the same predicament. Everybody else stood on a nearby vantage point and took photos and the mick.

    We had another minor stuck; the Pajero ended up bogged to its axles in talcum powder. We pushed it out. The car body was boiling hot. Memo to self: gardening gloves. A little later, I went over a sharp ridge and was surprised by a bush on the far side. I radioed to the convoy to follow me but slightly to my left, and the Pajero for some throttle-related reason came over the ridge airborne. There was a horrendous bang as the car landed on its nose, but by some miracle the damage was limited to a slightly bent bracket under the front bumper - something that we pulled straight in a few seconds. There is a minimum speed to get over dune crests successfully, but it's very close to the maximum speed.

    Excitement over, we arrived at the campsite. Everyone had been asked to bring firewood, so I hauled a 1cwt log out of the back of the Goatmobile and added it to the store for the pyromaniacs' entertainment later on. After setting up camp, it was more or less sunset, so out came the Food and Bev and also the music system and a CD of Wrinklies' Wrock. Then the barbecue was lit and we all set about having a social evening. I chose not to pitch my tent. The weather was warm enough(!) and there was no wind nor chance of rain. I've not slept under the stars for years. I still regard the pneumatic mattress as an excellent investment, as is the 12V low-pressure inflator that fills or empties it in under two minutes.

    Chatting about car mods, tyres and interesting stucks, I happened to notice an enormous cut in the sidewall of one of my front tyres. Air was staying in only by faith. For this reason I bailed out first thing on Saturday morning. I didn't wish to stress the tyre and risk a blow-out in an inconvenient spot, so made my way to the UAE/Oman border fence and thence to Shwaib for petrol and tyre inflation. ADNOC, incidentally, does not charge a 1.65% credit card surcharge.

    It being Ramadan, of course Tyre Express was shut when I got back to Dubai, so I got myself a new set of Cooper Discoverers from Renaissance Tyres because the latter was open. If they last as long as the previous Yokohama Geolandars, 66000km and 900 days, I shall not be displeased. Especially because the Coopers were cheaper! I've previously had Discoverer H/T tyres on a Discovery to successful effect. I'd wanted some slightly more aggressive A/T or ATR but these are apparently not coming in Dubai. Leastways, not for 17-inch rims.

    Tuesday, September 18, 2007

    Disinclined to acquiesce to your request

    Like anyone needs reminding, Wednesday is of course

    Read about it here. There's more here and yet more here.

    Wi'a wannion!

    Tuesday, September 11, 2007

    Parker, well done

    I parked my car and walked away
    In Sharjah, just like every day.
    (Ain't it sad?)
    And ever since September One
    My only parking space has gone.
    (That's too bad)
    My car was on a sandy plot.
    Two hundred chips is quite a lot.
    Pay the Municipality!
    It's inevitability...

    Money, money, money!
    They want money.
    Think of it as tax.
    Money, money, money!
    It's not funny.
    Milk us to the max!

    Aha! What can anyone do?
    They decide they want more money;
    Never mind the facts.

    We live here, and we find we are
    Unable just to park the car.
    (What a swiz!)
    Perhaps we are required to deign
    To park it in Umm Al Quwain?
    (Take the pizz!)
    Why do I make such a fuss?
    Catch the (non-existent) bus!
    Or maybe I could, if I like,
    Just break the law and ride a bike.

    Money, money, money!
    Making money.
    Greed's a Deadly Sin.
    Landlord, just for fun he
    Rents the dunny;
    Packs a family in!

    Aha! Only one thing to do.
    Simply smile and pay the money.
    There's no way to win.

    Friday, September 07, 2007

    Credit where credit's due

    The execrable Itisalot is at it again.

    When I moved from Sharjah to Dubai in order to live with Beloved Wife, I unsurprisingly had to close down my Sharjah telephone land line. As expected, Itisalot sent me a final bill that showed a credit. I dropped into the Sharjah office, one of those green cylinders with a golf ball on the top, and explained that I wished to credit the balance to the new Dubai land line that was in Beloved Wife's name. The man behind the counter gave me a form to fill in and then said that all the paperwork was done and the transfer would be effected in the next few days.

    A month later I received another bill, showing the same credit, for my non-existent land line. I rang Itisalot, was regaled by ten minutes of "Your call is important to us" music, and explained the problem.

    It's all my fault, apparently. I'm not allowed to move my credit balance to a telephone account in someone else's name. In order to do that, I need a No Objection letter from Beloved Wife. Then I need to visit Itisalot's golf ball again and humbly beg that the credit be transferred.

    This is from the same company whose website includes a "Pay 4 A Friend" [sic] facility. Anyone can go on line and use a credit card to pay anyone else's phone, internet, mobile or e-vision (cable TV) bill provided that the account number is known. So why can I pay my wife's phone bill with my plastic card but not with my credit note?

    On a related subject, the broadband connection at home, promised "in two weeks" from 10th August has to date not materialised. Apparently there aren't enough spare wires in the street to support more internet connections. This is despite ADSL's alleged ability to use the same pair of wires as the telephone.

    And the reason why this deplorable state of affairs prevails?

    <)". ."(>
    ( (..) )

    and of course

    Monday, September 03, 2007

    The flexible fiend

    I was insufficiently organised to gas up the Goatmobile last Friday, so I had the dubious privilege of being one of the first customers to pay the 1.65% surcharge when I proffered my credit card. ENOC, and presumably everyone else, has decided that because the banks charge the oil companies to process credit card transactions it's perfectly OK to pass this charge on to the consumers.

    What rot! Using a plastic card benefits the customer by deferring the evil moment of actually paying for something and eliminates the need to carry great wads of nickable or loseable cash. It benefits the bank because of the annual fee and the usuriously high interest rates payable should the customer not settle up in time. And plastic money benefits the retailer too. He gets the payment immediately without all that tedious moving of cash from the shop's cash register to the bank. The words 'nickable' and 'loseable' can be re-used here when describing the risks associated with cash transactions.

    This is where I insert the caveat about easy credit and responsible borrowing. The MasterVisaExpress only defers payment for up to a month, and anyone who has a credit card must surely realise this. Credit card interest rates can be atrociously high. Don't borrow at 25% or more whan a bank loan is available at 6%.

    About 25 years ago I had a part-time job working for Conoco. Operating the cash register at a Jet petrol station in Plymouth, I was confronted by whinging customers who objected to a flat 15p surcharge on all credit card transactions. It only lasted a couple of months until some legal expert decreed such a charge illegal. Hopefully this will soon happen in the UAE.

    The idea of imposing a surcharge on plastic transactions sets an alarming precedent. What if the entire retail trade suddenly decides to do likewise? With any luck there'll be a sudden move by the population back to crinkly cash. Everyone's plastic will lie dormant, unused and unloved, and in extreme cases cut in half. Felonious types with stockings over their heads will use the massive increase of cash in circulation to increase their income. So much for the cashless society.

    If shopkeepers wish to discourage credit card usage, the carrot of 'discount for cash' is more likely to receive approbation than the stick of 'extra for plastic.' Anyway, down at EPPCO 1.65% on a tankful for the Goatmobile is around Dh4, broadly the same as a tip to the guy who spends all day in the heat and humidity pumping gas, cleaning windscreens and generally being polite to customers for his derisory salary.

    It's not the amount of the credit charge surcharge that galls me, but the principle of imposing one at all. If there are any UAE gas stations where credit cards are accepted at face value, I'll take my custom there. Who's going to join me?

    The opinions expressed in this weblog are the works of the Grumpy Goat, and are not necessarily the opinions shared by any person or organisation who may be referenced. Come to that, the opinions may not even be those of the Grumpy Goat, who could just be playing Devil's Advocate. Some posts may be of parody or satyrical [sic] nature. Nothing herein should be taken too seriously. The Grumpy Goat would prefer that offensive language or opinions not be posted in the comments. Offensive comments may be subject to deletion at the Grumpy Goat's sole discretion. The Grumpy Goat is not responsible for the content of other blogs or websites that are linked from this weblog. No goats were harmed in the making of this blog. Any resemblance to individuals or organisations mentioned herein and those that actually exist may or may not be intentional. May contain nuts.