So our reg system is a problem, is it?

The Irish Times published this article about how we were selling more cars this year like it’s a good thing. I’ve mixed feelings about how good it is because frankly, a significant majority of the motor industry in Ireland is retail sales based on imports. I don’t think we have anything more than a few components factories in the country and certainly no major league auto assembly.

So there’s this. If we skip the nitpicking feeling I have that this is an extremely poorly written article from a stylistic point of view and move on to the actual content, I’m a bit worried about it. I have to wonder how much reality it actually reflects.

The scorn that some drivers received on the roads last year simply because of the number plates on their cars raises an issue that now needs further consideration.

I’m really confused by this. I know we didn’t sell a whole lot of cars last year nationwide, but still I find it difficult to believe that people were made to feel guilty about it. I don’t inhabit that kind of world, admittedly but was there really that much ill-feeling on the highways and byeways if you dared to display a 09 on your registration plate?

In simple terms, I really don’t believe it happened.

If we are to help the long-term survival of the motor industry and the thousand it employs we need to reassess our number plate system. There remains far too much focus on start of year sales, driven largely by a registration system that gives such prominence to the year of registration. It creates an unnecessary social status issue, that means dealerships are over-run at the start of the year and virtually idle from the autumn period.

Removing the year from the registration plate seems a sensible approach. The industry can do their bit as well: ensuring that trade-in prices take account of the months of ownership rather than simply valuing all cars for a single year under the same price bracket. There are many suggestions for an alternative to the current year system. It’s time to open the debate.

The current registration plate system was introduced in 1987 and is delightfully simple, consisting of the year, a region identifier and a rolling counter. It has little to do with with how healthy we want the auto industry to be.

Purely economically, new cars bought in Ireland are imported. They contribute to our balance of trade and not necessarily in a positive way. Certainly they contribute a certain amount of tax take via VRT; however, from an economic and environmental point of view, it is not really viable to continue buying and selling the volume of cars we were selling between 2000 and 2006, for example. If nothing else, that level of new car purchase causes major over supply and storage issues on the second hand front.

I can’t see, either, how changing the registration number system will change the actual number of cars bought or sold; and if you are in a cyclical business with specific seasons, surely this factors into how you manage your business. It may balance it across the year somewhat – although I doubt it based on experience in other countries where new year sales spurts were all too common also – but it will not increase your turnover too much. The market only buys what it can bear. And with the best will in the world, not too many people trust the second hand car market to be honest and up front. I wouldn’t be dependent on them playing their part as described in the quote above.

We need to face up to the fact that the glory days of the early 2000s are gone. The personal transportation market is going to change; will have changed forced on it by environmental factors. Messing around with the reg system will not address that reality; and to be honest, I see little or no evidence that the motor industry recognises that it’s not really all that important to Ireland anyway. We can probably survive on fewer dealers than we have now, that’s for sure.

In short, I think this thesis is superficial and ill thought out.

FaceBook and my privacy.

FaceBook has started to annoy me. I’ll be honest, it started to bug me big time when everyone started playing MafiaWars and Farmville – my response to that was basically, WTF? However, they’re not just annoying me because of stupid games because let’s face it I’ve spent a good deal of time playign Bejewelled Blitz and bought it for my phone because it is so addictive. But I don’t update my wall every time I win some new medal and anyway, that’s not why we are here.

Various authorities in the European Union are less than overjoyed with FaceBook at the moment because our concept (here in Europe) of privacy differs somewhat to the view of FaceBook. They are writing letters. And take a look at this. It’s an arresting visualisation of how much of your information about you FaceBook makes available and how that information has changed over time.Via the New York Times, there is a useful visual guide to how many privace related options there are on your FaceBook account.

Guides to decoupling your life from FaceBook are starting to proliferate and if they are to be believed, it is not easy to fully decouple your life from the site. Deleting is difficult; most people wind up de-activating and even that’s not quite as far as they wanted to go. So I have not yet decided myself what to do. I’m caught between the problem that I don’t particularly like FaceBook behaving as though they own any data I post there (which is pretty much why I stopped updating it all the much), but that it’s also, to some extent, a useful networking tool. I have three major networks; linkedin, FaceBook and twitter. I know, for example, that the vast majority of my friends on FaceBook tend to be kitesurfing related. I know that the vast majority of my friends on Twitter tend to be photography related with a few honourable exceptions. And I know that a subset of both of those wind up on linkedin (translation, less active on linkedin than on the other two).

But if I can live without looking at FaceBook for weeks and weeks (and yes I can), then I really question how much I need the site. If this is true for the vast majority of FaceBook’s users, then the site’s primary value is seriously in question.

The primary way of monetising FaceBook seems – from my point of view – to live in its utility as an advertising platform. In terms of utility to me, it’s not actually offering me very much at all. I don’t do any of my chatting via it (anyone that I do chat to online, I chat to via Skype or twitter). I don’t arrange parties over it (twitter, email or phone). I don’t really network much through it (twitter).

I don’t get served ads through my FaceBook application on my iPhone. It seems to me that FaceBook could have an awful lot of information about me (which they do) without me getting anything much that matters to me back. Maybe I’m an exceptional case but I think if most people are honest with themselves, this is true for everyone.

If I were a FaceBook subscriber – which I am not – I’d be raising blue murder about the fact that FaceBook is using my information to earn more money with little or no obvious increased benefit to me. But I don’t want to give up what little control I have about my profile on FaceBook completely on the grounds that this could be really stupid. It really is a bit of a dichotomy at the moment.