Tuesday, March 22, 2011

If we don’t want automobiles which are just appliances, what do we want our appliances to be?

appliance b. an instrument or device designed for a particular use; specif: a household or office device. (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, c. 1977)

Those who have a passion for cars and driving will often cast aspersions on certain cars as being “appliances” and nothing more. For some drivers, there could be nothing better than such a car. They want to get in their car, turn the key (or push a button) and then arrive at their destination with as little fuss or contemplative input as possible. I was reminded of such a car this past weekend when I was teaching at In Control, where I had to pick up one of their Camrys and drive it to Otis AFB on Cape Cod where we had a full schedule of teaching Saturday and Sunday, and then drive it back to North Andover on Sunday night. That’s a lot of time spent in a Camry.

The Camry has to be the poster child for the appliance automobile. The ones we use at In Control are basic CE models. They are well equipped—six speed automatic, traction and stability control, OK sound system, reasonably good seats and so on. They function well for our class—acceleration is brisk enough, braking is strong, ride and handling are balanced, and while prone to under-steer, we’ve all learned how get the tail end rather loose on demand. In the end, these cars are so forgettable because they don’t offend you in any way, nor do they elicit any sort of aesthetic or visceral joy. None. Again, for some people, that’s perfect. For me, it will never do.

So if we don’t want to have cars to be just appliances, what do we expect our appliances to be?

We moved to a new house, hopefully the last stop of our lifetime, last year. While I wish I was substantial enough to have specified Viking this and Sub-Zero that when outfitting our kitchen, since we all love to cook (and eat), those units weren’t quite in the budget. Still, I did not want to take the “contractor package” that the house came with. So we went out and had some fun looking for appliances. There were only a few restrictions—refrigerator had to be cabinet depth, and the stove had to be gas and convection. Here’s what we should have done—gone to Sears and said, “Give us some appliances.”

But no, that wasn’t good enough for me. I wanted some cool factor in my appliances. In the end, we decided to get all one brand—stove, fridge, dishwasher, micro/hood, washer and drier. Being a new house, we liked the idea that everything in the kitchen would match. We had had a few better quality brands in previous homes, and especially liked our washer and drier. So we went to that brand, which shall go nameless, but let’s just say that said brand might also produce lots of parts found in a Saab. The specs were all great, they looked cool, they matched and we were very excited to have them. At least at first.

Our first problem came when the microwave could not be installed with our stylish staggered cabinets because the venting could not be adapted. So, we had to switch brands. So much for everything matching. At least it was a swell new micro, and included a convection oven. Then in October, a catastrophic failure in the refrigerator flooded our kitchen and basement and required the complete removal and replacement of floors, walls and cabinets (and the granite counters which could not be removed in one piece). We got our kitchen refit, finally, just before Christmas. Then the stove started getting funny. Occasionally, the flames were out of control on the stove top. Then the convection oven stopped convecting. Two service visits later, no improvement. While the manufacturer would not authorize replacement, the retailer, Appliance Warehouse of Seabrook, NH, stepped up and replaced the stove. The owner encouraged us to take another brand, if we would like. We did. I now have a lovely Electrolux stove and it is fine. It doesn’t match the dishwasher or refrigerator, but it doesn’t scorch my pans, drop its oven temperature or fail to engage the convection fan. It’s not as sexy as my previous stove, but it’s still sort of cool. Looking back, I should have stuck with really boring appliances. I’ve cooked plenty of great meals with unremarkable appliances, so why did I feel the need to do anything more?

That brings us back to cars. If we are committed to no appliance cars, how much “character flaw” are we willing to tolerate in the cars we love? There was a time when one had to forego reliability to get character, but that was long ago. Today’s Saabs are extremely reliable and as robust as ever. In fact, we’ve yet to see a NG 9-5 in for any sort of service problems. Remember the old tag line? “We don’t make compromises. We make Saabs.” Today, that is truer than ever.


Anonymous said...

Bosch! ;-)

I have had good luck with Bosch appliances (stove, microwave and dishwasher)

And the Bosch "hooter valve" in my 900 turbo is still going strong!

Anonymous said...