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I'm a business journalist and a fiction author. My novel Mute is available now from Silver Leaf Books.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Carspotting in Israel, an international menu of automobiles

During my two-week vacation in Israel, I did a lot of double takes at the car logos. What's that lion? That's not the "S" for Subaru or Suzuki, so what is it? Who makes a car with a winged arrow?

The selection of cars in Israel is even more international than in the United States. Yes, they have all the brands that we have plus they've mixed in brands from automakers in Europe and Asia that aren't available in the United States. Even the familiar brands, such as Nissan, Toyota and Kia, sell special models in Israel, and Europe as well.

Israeli auto preferences are decidedly different from the United States. Small is the rule over there. Cars like a Toyota Corolla or Hyundai Elantra are considered full-sized sedans. It's common to have cars even smaller than that, Euro-style cars where you either have a second row or a trunk in use, not both. That's because the city streets in much of Israel are narrow. People often park on the street, so the smaller you are, the easier it is to maneuver and find a space. For people with a driveway, it's often very tight. Garages are extremely rare, reserved for the most luxurious homes.

An SUV simply wouldn't fit into many Israeli neighborhoods.

Another factor, gas is extra expensive in Israel so people usually don't get big cars, SUVs and trucks. Luxury nameplates are fairly rare because they're extra costly to buy in Israel. On the other hand, some of these European brands are less expensive.

On with the carspotting.

The lion logo is a Peugoet, a French brand that has made cars since 1882. It's a subsidiary of PSA Peugeot Citroën, the latter name also being a car brand. This particular model is a tiny 107.

The French-made Citroën has a double arrow logo. It makes a variety of cars, from minis to station wagons like this C4 to vans and work vehicles.

The Škoda Octavia and its arrow with wings logo. Škoda is headquarted in the Czech Republic, although it's now a subsidiary of Volkswagen.

The diamond logo is for Renault, a French company around since 1898. Pictured is the little Renault Clio and a mid-sized Renault Fluence taxi (I rode in one of those).

The design of the Renault Kangoo (not kangaroo) is a typical Euro/Israeli work truck. It's sort of an SUV in the front and a van in the back. Many brands have a nearly identical model, such as the Citroën Jumpy and the Peugeot Partner. They usually have work equipment in the back and, for some reason, all the ones in Israel were white. 

The Dacia Duster, a great name for a desert-driving SUV. Dacia is a Romanian car manufacturer founded in 1966, although it's now a subsidiary of Renault. It's actually the largest company by revenue in Romanian.

Several car brands have an "S" but you won't find this style in the United States. SEAT is from Spain. It was founded by a state-owned company in 1950, although its now controlled by Volkswagen. Pictured is the cute little Ibiza.

The "O" stands for Opel. The "Z" is silent. Opel is a long-time German car manufacturer, although it's been a subsidiary of the U.S.'s General Motors since the 1930s. Most of its cars, like this Opel Corsa, are fairly small. Perhaps that's why the GM hasn't introduced this brand into the U.S.

The Terios from Japanese car-maker Daihatsu. It's actually the oldest auto company in Japan having been founding in 1907. It makes mostly small cars and SUVs. Fun fact, it previously produced a truck called the Daihatsu Naked.

This big truck is made by MAN. That's a Germany manufacture of industrial vehicles, one of the most commonly-found brands in Israel. I guess the U.S. isn't MAN enough for this company.

Ever seen a Nissan Micra? You won't find it in the U.S. This super-mini is sold in Europe, Asia, Latin America and, yes, Israel. You could fit four in the typical American garage.

I've seen many Toyotas, but not a Space Verso like this. This model is a five- or seven-seater that's sold in Israel, Europe, China and South Africa. It's what they call a compact MPV (multi-purpose vehicle). Think of it like the mini version of the seven-seat SUV.

With a name like Picanto, you can guess that this Kia is pretty small. Heck, it makes a Kia Rio look huge.

I thought all Fiats were tiny little things. In Israel, Fiat has plenty of vans and work trucks.

I did see some Alfa Romeos and some DS cars driving around, but I couldn't get their photos because I didn't want to bother the drivers. Alfa Romeo is an Italian brand that makes small, sport cars and it's now part of Fiat Chrysler. DS is the luxury spin-off of Citroën, which created it in 2009 and made it a separate brand in 2014.

After seeing all these international models, which one would you most like to see introduced in the United States?

I can't wait to go off-roading in a Dacia Duster.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

My observations about life in Israel

After spending two weeks in Israel, I learned a lot about what it’s like to live there. While there are so many things I have yet to grasp about life in the Holy Land, let me share my observations - both big and small - with you.

The condo boom followed me! There are more construction cranes in Israel than in Miami. Everywhere I looked, they were building something, especially in central Israel. I was told that many Jews from Europe are moving to Israel, or at least buying condos in preparation for a move, for personal safety reasons. Many wealthy Jews want to own a piece of Israel, even if they don’t live there. All of this is great for the construction industry, but these new condos are very expensive for the average working-class Israel. Sound familiar, Miami?

Israeli cities are pretty dense. Most of them have busy city centers and multifamily buildings packed together, a very urban feel. However, there are large open spaces and agricultural areas between the cities. That’s partly due to the cities being construction where the government built the water supply. Unlike in Florida, you can’t just dig a well anywhere and find water.

How scare is water? We really take it for granted in Florida. The one home I visited that had a full grass yard and a pool had a water bill of $1,000 a month in the summertime. It’s a luxury. So is a garage.

Despite the dense cities, Israel has many parks. The newer cities are well-designed with frequent pocket parks, often with playground, outdoor fitness equipment, and combo basketball/soccer courts. BTW, I saw the kids using those courts only for soccer, not basketball. Those parks make the neighborhoods great for kids. (Are you listening, South Florida?)

Israel also has many small, neighborhood markets. People often walk a few blocks for their groceries.

Paseos (alleys between streets) save time while walking to parks, markets or visiting neighbors. Not every square foot has to be used for development. (Pay attention, South Florida.)

Instead of traffic lights at every corner, Israel has many roundabouts. Traffic flows through them fairly smoothly, as long as people obey the rules.

Israel has solar power, sort of. Most homes have solar-powered water heaters on the roof. The good news is this saves on electricity. The bad news is that you shouldn’t take too long in that hot shower.

When I visited Eilat on the southern tip of Israel, I was pleased to find it had city-wide free WiFi. That’s a great idea for a tourist spot. It also has a city-sponsored app. This Red Sea resort is so much fun.

Most malls in Israel had indoor entertainment activities for kids (for a fee, of course.) These ranged from indoor playgrounds to the ice rink and roller coaster in the Ice Mall in Eilat.

There's serious security at malls, and at many other public places in Israel. They don’t have flashlights. These guards are armed and they are constantly looking for suspicious people, often asking questions and inspecting bags. It’s just a part of life.

From Tel Aviv to Eilat, Israel has great beaches. If you are a surfer, Herzliya had the best waves. Eilat has the best diving because the coral reefs are right off the beach. Most of the beaches have great restaurants, including South Beach’s food stand on the sand in Herzliya.

Not all the food is kosher. Most malls have a kosher McDonalds (home of the Big American) and a non-kosher McDonalds (home of the Big American, with cheese). But if you eat kosher, Israel is culinary paradise.

Most restaurants don’t have napkin dispensers and many don’t have ketchup dispensers either. You have to ask. Israelis must be cleanly eaters. Do they have menus in English? Only in tourist spots. But many Israelis know some English.

Driving around, I saw huge office towers branded by tech companies like Microsoft, Yahoo! and Google. Israel is clearly a tech hub.

Be careful following Waze for directions while driving around. This app, which was created in Israel, recommends the shortest route but not always the most secure route. Some neighborhoods aren’t friendly to certain religious groups or ethnic groups, and some neighborhoods shouldn’t be driven through on religious holidays. I recommend traveling with someone who knows Israel.

Speaking of driving, I was amazed by the array of international cars in Israel. It has many brands you won’t find in the United States. That will be the subject of my next blog.

There were so many places in Israel I could have seen but I didn’t get a chance to in my two weeks there. Granted, this was my third visit. I’m looking forward to seeing Israel again.