‘No car is better than a bad car’

(Alice and Bob are buying a car. Bob wishes they weren’t buying a car. The reason they need to is because Alice has got a new job, which is further away from home, and for which she needs a car. Bob didn’t want Alice to take the job, as it means she’ll be home later, and the two of them discussed it lengthily and angrily – but in the end they decided that Alice would take it. Alice wants the job, despite the longer commute, because she doesn’t like her current boss and because she believes she’ll find the new job more fulfilling. Bob feels that these don’t benefit him and doesn’t understand why Alice would see them as important; Alice, on the other hand, although like Bob she values being home early, sees the intangible benefits as outweighing this downside)

(Alice and Bob walk into the car showroom)

Bob (loudly): We need to make sure we get a car. There’s no way we’re leaving here without having bought a car.
Alice: Shh, don’t sound so desperate.
Bob: What? I’m just saying the truth. We need a car.

(Eugenie, the car salesperson, walks towards them, mentally adding 20% to her prices)

Eugenie: So, I understand you’re looking to buy a car?
Alice: Yes, that’s right.
Bob: We really need a car. We’ll do anything to make sure we can get one.
Eugenie: Of course, I’d like to sell you one. I have a number of good models available. But before we can start looking at the cars, I first need to ask you to sign this viewing agreement.
Bob: Of course, anything you say. We need to buy a car.
Alice: Wait a minute, what’s in this agreement?
Eugenie: Oh, a number of things. Various terms and conditions about consumer rights, insurance, mutual guarantees and so on. And a small fee of course.
Alice: How big of a fee?
Eugenie: £3,900
Alice: What? That’s outrageous.
Bob: We’ve got to pay it; we can’t afford not to buy a car.
Alice: But that’s not paying for a car, that’s just a price to view them. (To Eugenie). Look, I’ve never heard of something like this before. You could just take the money and then refuse to sell us a car.
Eugenie: Well, you can’t expect me to do viewings for nothing. There’s the cost of my time, wear and tear on show rooms – and we need to make sure we’re on the same page on terms and conditions, or what’s the point?
Alice: OK, I’m not against a viewing fee in principle, but let’s negotiate it at the same time as the car’s purchase price.
Eugenie: No can do.

(Bob takes Alice to one side, though Eugenie is still clearly within earshot)

Bob: Why are you arguing about this? It’s a reasonable price to pay, and we need to buy a car.
Alice: Reasonable? Hah! If we pay this, she’ll have us over a barrel. We’ll have paid out nearly four grand for nothing even if we walk away.
Bob: Walk away? You’re not suggesting we leave here without buying a car.
Alice: I’m thinking about it. If we turn round and walk out, I’ll be she’ll drop her ‘viewing agreement’ soon enough.
Bob: We can’t not buy a car! There’s no alternative.
Alice: Well, there are some alternatives. I could take public transport for a bit and we could try to buy a car when the new showroom opens next year.
Bob: Public transport? Are you out of your mind? You’d be home even later if you took public transport!
Alice: Hey, I’m not saying it’s ideal, I’m just saying it’s an option.
Bob: It’s not an option I’m willing to consider! Are you saying you don’t even want to buy a car?
Alice: Of course I want to buy a car – ideally. But we need to keep the other options open.
Bob: We agreed to buy a car. We can’t leave here without buying a car.

(Eugenie coughs, politely, having mentally added another 50% to the prices of the cars)

Alice: Alright then, I suppose we can agree in principle to your viewing agreement. But nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, ok?
Bob: Let’s see those cars.

(Eugenie shows them a number of different models with different features, different prices and different top speeds)

Eugenie: As you can see, there are a number of options here, depending on your preference.
Bob: I’d like a car that gets Alice home at exactly the same time as she used to get home in her old job.
Alice: I’m not sure that we’ll get one that does exactly the same.
Bob: Why should I pay the price just because you want a job you’ll feel more fulfilled in?

(Bob and Alice look at the cars)

Bob: I don’t believe this! Every one of these cars, even the fastest, will get you home later than you were getting home in your old job.
Alice: We knew that would be the case when we agreed I’d take this job.
Bob: No, you don’t understand. (He gets out a pencil and paper and scribbles furiously). I’ve done the calculations, here, showing exactly how quickly you’ll get home in each of the cars (with a few assumptions of course). And in every single one of them you’re getting home later than you would have done before!
Alice: Yes, I know. You did the same calculations when we were arguing about whether or not I should take the job.
Bob: But what are we going to do? None of these cars will get you home as fast as before.
Eugenie: Well, you could always not take the new job.
Bob: That’s it! We need to discuss this again – maybe you shouldn’t take the job.
Alice (frustratedly): No Bob, we argued about this long enough. We decided I’d take this job, and that’s what we’re going to do.
Bob: But you didn’t know then that you’d be later home.
Alice: Yes dear, I did. You told me when we were discussing it. Lots of times in fact, sometimes quite forcefully. In fact, you even got some of our friends and neighbours to come and tell me too, remember? I’m taking the new job, and that’s final, so let’s get on and buy a car.
Bob: Well if you’re taking it, then we definitely need a car, even if it’s still worse than what we had before. There’s no way I’m letting us leave here without a car.

(Eugenie mentally doubles the prices of all the cars)

Alice: All of these cars seem quite expensive.
Bob: Are you saying you don’t want to buy a car after all?
Alice: No, I’m just saying we don’t seem to be getting the best deal. And some of them seem to have really shoddy features.
Bob: Oh well, maybe you should just not take up your new job after all.
Alice: That’s not what I’m saying. I just want to make sure we don’t get a car that’s worse than taking public transport.
Bob (shouts): We need to buy a car! I’m not leaving here without a car.
Alice: No car is better than a bad car.
Bob: What? I can’t believe you can be so reckless as to say that. It’s as if you don’t even want a car at all.

(Eugenie silently triples the price of all the cars. She is still standing right next to Alice and Bob)

Alice: Well, let’s look at this another way. What’s the maximum price you’re willing to pay for a car.
Bob: I don’t understand.
Alice: How much would you pay for a car?
Bob: I still don’t know what you mean. We need to buy a car. It doesn’t matter how much we have to pay, there’s no way I’m walking out of here without a car.
Alice: OK, how about features?
Bob: Features?
Alice: Yes, speed, road safety, that sort of thing. Some of these cars are so bad I could get to work faster by bus.
Bob: It doesn’t matter what the car is, it just matters that we leave with a car. Stop trying to get out of buying a car.
Alice: No car is better than a bad car.
Bob: Stop saying that!

(Alice and Bob have at last decided on a car that they wish to buy, though neither are particularly happy with it.)

Eugenie: That’s great that you’ve reached a decision. Now, before I sell you the car, there’s just the matter of emissions insurance.
Alice: Emissions insurance?
Eugenie: Yes, you agreed to it in the viewing agreement.
Alice: We only agreed to that because you wouldn’t show us any cars without it. Let’s talk about it now.
Eugenie: You’re going back on your word!
Alice: No I’m not. We didn’t sign anything and I said at the time that nothing was agreed until everything was agreed.
Eugenie: I pretended not to hear that.
Bob: Alice, stop making a fuss. We need to buy a car so just accept the emissions agreement.
Alice: Not yet. (Turning to Eugenie). So tell me more about how this works.
Eugenie: Well, we all agree that climate change is bad, don’t we?
Alice: Yes.
Bob: Yes.
Eugenie: And CO2 emissions from cars are a big problem. The emissions insurance just ensures that your car won’t be contributing to global warming.
Alice: Is it required by law?
(Eugenie looks uncomfortable).
Eugenie: Well, not explicitly, but the government has passed a law committing us to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050, so it’s implied by the spirit of the law. In any case, no-one who believes as passionately as I do about stopping climate change would ever sell a car without one.
Bob: Alice, stop making a fuss. She’s said she’s not selling a car to us without it. And anyway, it’s the law.
Alice: No it’s not.
Bob: Yes it is.
Alice: No, it’s really not. (Pulls open her pocket compendium of UK laws). See?
Bob: Well, it almost is. Are you saying you don’t care about climate change now?
Alice: I do care, I just want to know a bit more about it.
Bob: OK, as long as you remember we’re definitely buying a car. (He turns to Eugenie.) I want you to know there’s no way I’m walking out of here without buying a car, and I’m very happy to buy the emissions insurance because I’m as passionate as you are about stopping global warming.
Alice: So how exactly does this emissions insurance work?
Eugenie: I’m glad you asked. After you’ve bought the car and fully paid for it, it gets placed under bond in our warehouse, here, and we release it when you can demonstrate it produces zero emissions.
Alice: Sorry, I thought for a moment there you said zero emissions.
Eugenie: That’s right.
Alice: Not emissions below a certain threshold?
Eugenie: No.
Alice: So it has to be an electric car?
Eugenie: Electric cars still produce emissions – we don’t have a zero carbon grid.
Alice: Can I buy carbon offsets?
Eugenie: No.
Alice: And who decides whether or not I’ve found a way to use it with zero emissions.
Eugenie: I do.
Alice: You do.
Eugenie: That’s right.
Alice: No appeal, no oversight?
Eugenie: No.

(Alice steps back a couple of paces and turns to Bob, though Eugenie is still within earshot).

Alice: Bob, this is ridiculous. We’d never even get to use the car. We might as well not even have bought a car at all!
Bob: Ah, so you’re admitting that you don’t want to take up the new job after all?
Alice: No, of course not. I just don’t want to buy this stupid emissions insurance.
Bob: Well, I think it’s completely reasonable. Or don’t you care about climate change?
Alice: Of course I care. Look, we can buy a hybrid, or an electric car if you want. But it’s not possible to buy a car that doesn’t produce any emissions at all.
Bob (sanctimoniously): Even the smallest amount of emissions contributes to global warming.
Alice: Well we’re not buying it.
Bob: We have to. She said she won’t sell us a car without it.
Alice: We’ll walk out then. That might change her tune. And if not, there’s always the bus.
Bob: What? I can’t believe you’re back on the not wanting a car again! Haven’t I been clear that we can’t leave here without buying a car? (To Eugenie). I want you to know that I have no problem with the emissions insurance and there’s absolutely no way I’m going to let us walk out of here without a car, no matter what the terms and conditions are.
Alice: Well I’m not buying the emissions insurance. Take it out and we’ve got a deal.
Eugenie: No. No emissions insurance, no car.
Alice: I’m not buying a car with the emissions insurance.
Eugenie: And I’m not selling one without it.
Bob: And I’m not leaving without buying a car!

(To be continued…)