Like many of you, I travel for business frequently and have become quite adept at getting in and out of airports as quickly as possible. This process can be challenging as it requires the traveller to be methodical yet fluid at the same time.
Aside from the curse of all travellers, the delayed flight, the main potential hurdle is at the car rental desk but I’ve also managed to get the process of picking up and returning a hire car down to a fine art on most occasions.
At least that was until my last trip to Melbourne.
And it had nothing to do with the staff, paperwork, payment process or any of the standard administrative hiccups that happen from time to time. It was wrestling with my Fiat 500.
While I’m not fussy when it comes to hire cars I normally select a standard size car such as a Camry or Commodore but I’ve ended up in a commercial van, 8 seater bus, and a two seat convertible in the past and they’ve all got me from A to B which is the goal of any business related trip.
Due to high demand and the fact my decision to travel was somewhat last minute, the only car available to rent on my most recent trip was an ‘economy’ size car, specifically a fire engine red Fiat 500.
If you are used to driving cars made in Australia, Asia or anywhere in Europe (aside from Italy!), getting into the Fiat 500 is almost like visiting another planet. There are weird buttons here and there and they all have icons not letters which leave you scratching your head as to what they do. The gearshift is the strangest I’ve ever seen, sitting high and towards the middle of the driver and front passenger seat. And just to be different, there’s a mega sized speedo and a tiny LCD display.
But it wasn’t just the aesthetics. I couldn’t really care less how the car looks inside or out, it was the set up and actual operation of the vehicle that was the real adventure.
As someone who runs a technology company focused on machinery safety, I am one of the few people who actually like to have a look at a machine’s manual before I operate it. Having said this, I don’t remember the last time I needed to consult the manual on a hire car.
Pairing a mobile phone to Bluetooth can be challenging in any hire car, but in the Fiat 500, it requires a PhD in engineering. I eventually got it worked out using voice recognition only to discover there was a more traditional button option.
The Fiat 500 has an ‘automatic manual’ transmission. Fiat call it Dualogic, I call it ridiculous.
The car has no clutch but effectively drives in the same fashion as a manual. There is a distinct pause, particularly in the lower gears, as the next gear is selected. You can either shift gears yourself or otherwise learn to anticipate the point at which the auto transmission will shift, back off the accelerator slightly, then reapply it, the same way you would as if driving a manual. Bizarre.
To confuse things even more there’s an ‘Eco’ mode which changes gears much earlier than anticipated. And there is no P for Park. You just leave the stick in gear when you park, a little disconcerting to say the least.
The other thing about the gearbox is that you can flick it into manual if you want. The only problem is, the gearstick re-centres into the middle of the console so you have no idea you are in manual until the car is revving its head off doing 30kmh in first on the Tullamarine Freeway, and it’s a dead set lottery as to how to get it back into auto. This left me giving the stick a pretty intense wriggle (along with some verbal encouragement) and hoping for the best.
Finally, it takes the term buzz-box to a whole new level. There’s no acceleration whatsoever – to the point of being a menace or danger to other road users. I was lucky to actually make it up a few of the steeper inclines I encountered … in suburban Melbourne.
When I got back to the rental depot that afternoon the attendant who took my keys said to me “Only $19,000 on the road these things – pretty good value eh?” I looked at him, slightly perplexed at how to respond, and told him that was about $18,500 too much.
My Fiat 500 experience brought home very strongly the issues associated with determining machine operator competency, and the importance of having a systemised approach to ensuring every operator is familiar with the machine they are using.
There are only so many variations in a motor vehicle to contend with, or at least that is what I thought until I got into this Italian masterpiece. Differences in construction and agricultural machine types, design, controls and capacity include considerably greater variation.
Just like every passenger vehicle is different, and some like the Fiat 500 are significantly so, it’s important that those operating machinery are given the right training and induction on to the machines they are going to use to get their work done.
At Plant Assessor, we continue to develop solutions to help manage this need in a seamless fashion whilst keeping a clear audit trail.
If you’d like to speak about this further, please don’t hesitate to contact us.