My family and I recently spent 9 glorious days south of Cancun, Mexico. Blue and green ocean waters, white sand, blue skies, and migrating butterflies made for a wonderful time. For this trip we did not rent a car for our entire stay and instead used a golf cart to drive around our mostly Americanized ‘town’.
However, as a car nut I nearly broke my neck looking at all of the different cars that are used in Mexico. The thing about Cars in foreign lands is that one feels like you are in an episode of Fringe and you have crossed over to the alternate universe where everything is the same but just slightly different. I feel the same way about Canada – I mean really, isn’t Canada just northern USA? However, when you are there it looks the same but just a bit different.
This describes the very different and the same but different cars found in Mexico.
To the untrained eye cars look about the same as what you and I drive every day. Remember, I am a car nut and my ‘eagle eye’ could tell that the cars just looked wrong, maybe not wrong, but different. Let’s take the Nissan Versa. The small, boxy, ugly little sedan that is sold in the US. However, in Mexico simple things like the grill, the side view mirrors are square instead of round, or round instead of square, the trunk is shorter and the taillights, well they are not shaped right, essentially the car looks different. Don’t ask me why I notice these things, I just do. Think of it as taking a Picasso painting and putting the person’s nose in the middle of the face, sure there is nothing wrong with that idea but it would no longer be a Picasso, would it? That is how cars in Mexico seemed to me.
My rental car, the Nissan Versa in the US, is called the Nissan Tiida in Mexico. I can’t help but think, ‘Is there something wrong with the name Versa that the Mexican society doesn’t like?’ According to Google Translator Versa could come from the verb Versar which means ‘To Treat’.
Now what could be better than to be treated by your car? As for Tiida, there is no Spanish equivalent. As I look at the many outside parts that are just a bit different I think ‘What is it about the US version’s grill, side mirrors, trunk and taillights that would make an Mexican buyer say ‘Get that thing away from me, I would never have that in my driveway, never, ever, nunca!’?
The inside of the car is the same. At first glance it is a Nissan Versa until you look at the details. Just getting into the car identifies the first difference, no power locks and no key fob to unlock all the doors! Can a Versa even be ordered without power locks? Imagine having to actually use your key to unlock the driver’s door and then reaching around and unlocking all of the other doors, the inhumanity of it all. In the modern American driver’s mind that is simply unfathomable. No trunk release button, no power windows, no lock on the gas cap door. These differences are not worth breaking into an episode of ‘The Bachelor’ as a news flash but it is just different from what I, the average US driver, am used to.
The biggest difference is on the inside and focuses on safety. While many car people decry the number of laws and rules imposed by Congress on the US auto manufacturer there is something to say about how American cars are generally very safe. The Tiida, well first, no airbags. Yes, not kidding, not an airbag to be found. I will even admit that driving around in a place where I can barely read the road signs, not having air bags made me nervous. I ponder, if no airbags, what else is different? Are there crossbeams in the door to save me from a side collision? What about crumple zones? Even the seatbelts are
different. I drive an old car and have an old style of latching seat belts that are potentially easily jammed should an accident happen. New cars have a totally different button location and are made not to jam. The Tiida, you guessed it, the old style of seat belt latches.
Finally, while this sounds small, but follow me on this, the location of the front seat in the car. Every car in the US the seat back adjuster, power or manual, is on the outside of the seat, closest to the door. Hop into the Tiida to adjust the seat back from the previous driver's fully declined to a point where you can actually see over the dashboard and the lever is on the inside of the seat. Why? I discovered that answer when I reached down the outside of the seat and I literally could not fit my hand between the seat and the door. I know we are talking about an inch, maybe an inch and a half difference in the seat location but think about a major side collision. One inch could be the difference between a broken femur, back or possibly death. We forget how safe our cars are these days even down to ‘little’ things like where is the seat located in the car.
That is my experience with cars in a foreign land. Many small differences in the end make them almost a different car. Which makes me think about someone from Germany, where safety is even more regulated than in the US, rents a car in the US thinks ‘How do these American’s drive such a death trap?’. It all comes from your perspective.
That’s the thing about cars in foreign lands, not only do the people of different countries speak, eat and dress differently but their cars are different as well...