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19 January 2010 / erikduval

Speak my language…

I need a new car – the old one is … well, old – as in 9 years and 280.000 km old.

Every other year, the European Motor Show (the ‘autosalon’, as we call it) takes place in Brussels. That means special ‘conditions’ – this world is full of jargon: you don’t discuss ‘prizes’, but ‘conditions’. Streets are full of car ads, all the papers and magazines and other media report on the event. Folks are being interviewed about how they see the world of cars evolve. There is no shortage of nice pictures, or discussions. Etc.

So, I should have an easy time to figure out what I want, right?

Well, no.

Now I readily admit that I am not a car guy. I’m afraid that looks and form may be more important for me than technical specs – even though I’ve had course on combustion engines when I did my engineering degree.

And here is the problem: the brochures and web sites do not speak my language: sure, there are web sites where you can search for cars, but I can’t formulate what I need in these terms! I don’t know what brand I want. I don’t know whether I want a diesel or a gasoline car. I don’t know which ‘series’ I want. I don’t know what a reasonable budget is. I don’t know what these percentages of tax returns mean.


Frankly, I don’t want to have to learn about all of this. I’m interested in other things. I like music. Food. Wine. Books. Tech. My family and friends. And there is only so much time…

Here is what I think a car site should do for people like me:

  • For a start, it could ask me what I drive now? (Renault Scenic.)
  • Why do I want a new car? (This one is old.)
  • How many kilometers do I drive yearly? (35.000)
  • How many passengers do I need to be able to take? (Family of four and, since last Saturday, a dog.)

Then it could show me some clusters of cars that are relevant for me, like

  • some that are very similar to what I have now,
  • some that are much more or much less expensive,
  • some very different options – like an electric car, or I don’t know: something else (I told you that I am not a car guy).

It could help me to explore and figure out, with me, what I like and what I don’t like or don’t care about. In the process, I am sure that I would become interested in cars. (I am that kind of guy.) I might even get involved with some web2.0 tool that connects me to other folks like me, or experts that I actually understand. I may subscribe to regular updates and alerts. I’d be happy to receive more information. In my language.

Basically, what I need is an amazon approach to cars – other people who drove something like what you drive then decided to buy these cars.

In the mean time, I am going to have to figure this one out, before the month comes to an end – and the ‘conditions’ no longer apply…

Maybe you can help me find the tool that speaks my language?

(PS. I am so aware that this is exactly how most people must feel when they need to decide which computer to buy, or which cell phone. Now that is a world where at least some sites do speak my language!)



Leave a Comment
  1. Wolfgang Reinhardt / Jan 19 2010 1:17 am

    Great post Erik, what a pitty we don’t already have or something (at least for India there is some approach called My tip? If you want to have something that lasts and is full of nice little geeky features, well prepared for family and dog go for an Audi (a Diesel one – that’s for sure). Go for a test ride with an A6 Avant and you’ll never want another car…

  2. Wilbert / Jan 19 2010 1:48 am

    I am a car nut, even if I don’t own a car. It’s congenital, I fear. And very useful to know all about a maximally optimised, and doomed technology.

    For me, the rule of choosing a car is simple: you buy whatever emits least CO2 per kilometer, and still meets your minimal practical requirements. Even if you don’t accept anthropomorphic global warming, your government will, and reward you for your choice.

    Within your parameters (4 people + dog), and at three price points around the price of replacing your renault scenic, we have:

    1. Volkswagen Polo Bluemotion. Cheaper than scenic by a few thousand. Slightly smaller than the scenic, but not by that much. One of the very lowest emitters: so low that it’s practically not taxed at all in NL or UK. Be sure to get the latest squarish headlight model, not the old oval lights one.

    2. Ford Focus Econetic stop/start, Volkswagen Golf Bluemotion, Seat Leon ecomotive. Same size and price as the scenic, if lower roofed. Take the estate versions of the Ford and VW to accommodate the dog. Higher emissions than 1 and 3, but not ruinous. The difference between them is largely aesthetic, TBH (alright, the Ford is a bit sportier, the VW likely to keep value best).

    3. Toyota Prius. Slightly larger and certainly more expensive than a new scenic. As clean or cleaner (depending on religious conviction) than the polo. Unlikely to ever go wrong, very interesting software UI- it’s the interaction that makes it clean as much as the tech.

    Enjoy your cathedral of 20th century while you still can 😉

  3. Wilbert / Jan 19 2010 1:55 am

    anthropomorphic > anthropogenic.


  4. Samantha Crane / Jan 19 2010 3:31 am

    Thought this would make you smile!

    I’ve often thought a survey/flowchart type web/facebook application that got to know you a bit would be great, the problem is the volume of data required – there’re hundreds of thousands of choices when you look at all car models, engines and options plus ways to finance them that the cost of obtaining all the data and keeping it up to date is immense. A site such as WhatCar has a whole dedicated team just for the data. But maybe, one day…

  5. Pietel / Jan 19 2010 9:55 am

    I could build you that site. But the reason I won’t and nobody has, is the lack of a good business model behind it. Paying for a car is not an online transaction, so how can I recover my investment in such a platform?

    Maybe this could be something for Cardoen, which is a multibrand chain. Because one car brand wil not advise you another. The world of car dealers is still mainly structured by brands.

    Another problem is the lack of an affiliate system, like on amazon. If you would use my tool to choose a car and finally buy one at a dealer, I don’t get a sales percentage, although I am your virtual dealer.

    It might be an idea to build the platform anyway and hope we’ll get enough out of advertising. But still, most people are not like you. They have a specific brand in mind. Although price sensitive buyers prefer a good deal. But this platform couldn’t integrate all the dealer offers. The car industry would just not work along.

    But I like your thinking. If I would find a revenue model behind it, I’d build the site for you.

  6. hollins090164 / Jan 19 2010 11:12 am

    Eirc, just ask a man who knows … Easy

  7. Stella / Jan 19 2010 11:12 am

    Hey Erik, have you try the advice section on I know it is very N. American centric, but worth a look. I always like their radio program Car Talk.

    Here is the link:

  8. PeterK / Jan 19 2010 12:44 pm

    Wrt your remark on ‘speaking your language’, I noticed polling the site visitor’s knowledge was not in the design you proposed? Because you might want to adapt the way a person is guided through the process and how he or she is informed/helped depending upon the knowledge level of that person. A person knowing about cars may have a ‘not detailed enough’ experience for the very same site that you will find ‘too detailed/difficult’. But I agree with your observations, nice post!

  9. Forceflow / Jan 19 2010 1:08 pm

    Interesting thoughts! I have the same problem with banking accounts – so many options for a place where I just want to put my money safely. And every little detail feels like a little trapdoor, since you never quite ‘fully’ understand it. But do they want you to? 😉

  10. erikduval / Jan 19 2010 5:15 pm

    These are good comments: MANY thanks for your feedback!

    @Samantha: I don’t think there is that much more data about cars, than there is about books or music or the like? Yet, we do have many more better sites for books and music?

    @Pietel: I don’t know whether advertising would not suffice to cover the costs? And I definitely am convinced that ‘most people are not like me’ 😉 But, then again, enough people are like me when it comes to buying cars that this could be a sustainable business? Think, or, or mendeley, etc.

    @Forceflow: YES, banking is very similar in that way. Or deciding where to subscribe for your telecom (telephone, internet, television)…

  11. Jad / Jan 19 2010 7:02 pm

    The Topgear site can be helpful as well

  12. Gert-Jan Hüfken / Jan 19 2010 9:07 pm

    Just have decided to maintain my old car and go (in addition) for 50% commuting by velomobile (Quest-131):

    When you order one at, you can customize a lot (you can even go for a 2 person-version). A pity that it only takes 3 years between ordering and delivery! 🙂

    After the first practise, I must admit not all Belgian cycle paths are that suitable for these kind of vehicles (high speed & relatively wide), still have to find the effective (snooth) road for the 43 kms (one way) commuting. By the time I fail to maintain this cycling habit , I hope the electric car is common in our streets.

    The Heverlee – ‘t Stad route could be a nice sportive challenge too: 46 km.!

    Good luck with the car-selection. For the somewhat ecologic choice, you can select a car from this list:

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