Old school and why it can be so cool

If you follow my blog — and you know you should — you also know that I’ve been writing about cars a lot lately. It’s because I have mastered stretching the car buying process for as long as a year. Between research, taking delivery overseas and waiting for the car to be shipped home, that’s how long it can take me.

While that may seem like waterboarding to those of you who just buy one off the lot, and thank God that’s over!, I actually enjoy the elongated process because I learn so much more about the car that way. Plus, I can wait for the best price and, most importantly, making the process excruciatingly long means I’ll never become an impulse car buyer.

By the time we took delivery of Tricia’s new XC60, I’d learned that the car’s engine is made in a Ford plant in Wales, the transmission comes from Japan and the steel body parts are stamped at Torslanda, Sweden (pronounced in English, I think, like “tush-lander”). These and other useless bits of information plus a cover-to-cover reading of the online owner’s manual really do help cement the decision to buy a car.

For me, cars cost so much — and you keep them for so long — that it’s almost inexcusable to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a car that you haven’t become an expert on. After all, you can keep some cars almost as long as you keep your children. (I do realize how unfortunate that simile is, I really do. You try coming up with clever analogies. Post your alternatives as a comment and we’ll see which one(s) are more apt than the one I came up with.)

Anyway, Volvo has been doing overseas delivery for a long time. Long enough that in the distant fog of non-Internet time they felt it would be a good customer service idea to send a letter to a buyer letting him or her know when the car shipped from Europe and when it might arrive at the local dealer.

I received such a letter this morning. (Interesting, it came via email, so this customer service process has been updated somewhat for the Internet age.)

Why is this old school? Well, for one thing Volvo generated a letter, not an email. That makes me think Volvo used to actually snail mail these out. I almost wish I’d gotten a letter postmarked Tushlander, Sweden. The footer is pretty interesting, too, eh? C’mon, how often have you gotten a letter from a car manufacturer with the bank wiring instructions for different currencies in the footer? Quaint.

But a letter like this is old school because it’s outdated. There are bazillion ways to track your car minute by minute as it crosses the ocean. For one, the shipper will give you a status update on its website, using your VIN as a tracking number. After all, if UPS can tell you where that package of gum is, why can’t a logistics company tell you where a freakin’ car is just as easily?

But the ne plus ultra of tracking is the many sites that combine cargo ship satellite transponders with Google Maps to give you the minute-by-minute location of a cargo ship. For example, the Platinum Ray, which has Tricia’s car on it, is in Southhampton in the UK at the moment. That’s its last stop in Europe on this voyage before it travels to Newark; Baltimore; Brunswick, GA and Charleston, SC on this side of the pond. By the time you read this, it may be on a completely different voyage. Still, you ought to check out this link, then click on “current vessel’s track” to see how precisely where this ship is. You may think me odd or impossibly geeky, but this is just too cool for words. I’m sorry; this is the balls.

But even though I can run technological rings around Volvo’s letter with up-to-the-minute news of where Tricia’s car is as it makes its way to her, I am even more impressed with the letter. It’s a nice touch, trying to keep the customer in the loop, not assuming the customer is technologically equipped to find the ship’s callsign and input it into a tracking site.

It may be old school, but it’s cool, too.

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