Here’s why (we think) AIG stopped insuring cheap Subarus and BMWs

And it came to pass that an insurance company best referred to as AIG issued a decree, and the decree was stipulated thus:

We shall not, may not, will not, might not and are not going to insure any Subaru or BMW vehicles with a net value of Sh1.5 million or less…. or something to that effect.

Oh, how I fell off my wooden writer’s perch; guffawing helplessly and drooling all over my keyboard. There are times in a scribe’s life that ideas are fearfully short and wonderfully scarce, and the second quarter of 2015 was fast becoming one of those times.

At least, it was until that announcement reached me. Suddenly I saw daylight from the darkest of pits into which I may have been tumbling. Prepare for one of the most politically incorrect and probably borderline offensive articles I have ever written.

AIG Insurance, or whatever name they go by at the registrar’s office, press home the fact that they were frankly getting a little bit sick and tired of endless accident claims.

Given that the brain-heads in insurance companies are best referred to as actuaries, and that a vast majority of the units I studied in university are related directly or indirectly to actuarial science, it wasn’t all that difficult for me to see where they were coming from.

ACCIDENT CLAIMS

They were spending a lot of money, and someone had to stem the fiscal bleeding.

The simplest way would be to find out where the money was going to: accident claims. Well, an insurance company cannot flat out stop paying out accident claims; otherwise what is the whole purpose of its existence?

They had to narrow down the suspects. Motor vehicle claims. Okay, still too wide a field. Someone who took statistics very seriously in secondary school decided to draw a bar graph and what he saw was as clear as mud.

Among all the car brands that they could possibly be insuring — Toyota, Honda, Mercedes, Tata, Nissan, Peugeot, Scania, Mahindra, Lamborghini, Isuzu, Ford, Mitsubishi, Ferrari, Volkswagen, Renault, etc — two stood out, and stood out prominently. Those two were Subaru and BMW.

If the two brands had been placed at the ends of the bar graph, the result would resemble the much-feared devil’s head hand symbol (forefinger and pinkie raised).

We paid our premiums, we had accidents, we made claims, pay us please. The devil is in the details of the policy we took out.

If the two had been juxtaposed in the centre of the twin axes, it would have looked like a middle finger raised towards AIG.

We paid our premiums and to Hades with whatever you may think or feel; give us money to buy more Subarus and BMWs.

This did not go down well with the insurance company. Whichever way that bar graph was designed, some actuaries took umbrage and decided that immediate action was needed.

You should by now know that whatever I’m writing is pure speculation, but the result is the same. Think of it as the “dramatic re-enactment” segment you always see in those documentaries in which people are kidnapped and slowly recovered without the involvement of any gunplay or ransoms.

The actuaries drew more graphs and pie-charts and, upon comparison, noticed that the payout rate for these two brands did not justify the business. They then sought guidance from religion, the New Testament, to be exact.

If your arm causes you to sin, cut it off.

If insuring Subarus and BMWs is threatening your bottom line, then drop those unskilled yuppies and send them over to Amaco (who, we assume, are the main competition to AIG and need to be sunk in short order).

UNIMPRESSIVE LEGACY

It is at this point that we pause and take a good, hard look at the two brands. Subarus have received a lot of heat in this column for the past five years, which in other words, is “since Creation” (of this column)… and with good reason too: the naturally aspirated Impreza was nothing to write about, the turbocharged one was tied in with all manner of social ills.

The NA Legacy performed like someone with a plastic bag over his head trying to run a marathon (breathless), and the turbo Legacy was unreliable.

The only passable car was the Forester, particularly the SG9 STi which I still lust after — but will settle for a comely SG5 Cross Sport Turbo — but then again, there were issues with rear leg room and oxygen sensors and cylinder heads, particularly with the early SF models.

Past cars were interesting too: the Brat was… unusual, for lack of a better description. The Leone was the result of drug abuse (we suspect), because who in their right mind puts the spare wheel in the bonnet next to the engine and… and… this is hilarious… and hooks the handbrake to the front wheels?  Look at me, pull this handbrake turn through thi… oh, no… screeech… crash, smash, bash, tinkle, crack, snap, crump, weep, weep, weep…. Hello, is this insurance?

The Tribeca was as pointless as the BMW X6: untalented, oversize, overweight, thirsty, weird to look at and bought strictly by those who wanted to seem to stand out.

Word of advice: thoughtful people who actually want to stand out buy Saabs.

Speaking of X6, this is the one car that single-handedly introduced suspicion to our minds that BMW may either be losing the plot or gaining too much confidence in itself to the point of feeding manure to the people.

We were initially skeptical during the Chris Bangle era, but the E60 5 Series (particularly the M5), though odd, was the yardstick at which other manufacturers would look and shout at their R&D teams: “This is where we want to be in the next 45 years!”

It was as wonderful as it was awkward-looking. The X6, however, has no redeeming features. The X6, also, has received high praise from some of my yuppie friends, who also drive BMWs or aspire to do so within the next financial year. These are the friends I now look at out of the side of my eye while searching for the nearest exit every time I hear them say:

Baraza! What do you think of the BMW i8? (I have no concrete opinion yet, just to be clear, I haven’t driven it; but I think the premise has promise).

Before we continue with this disquisition, let us again get one more thing out of the way. Subarus are not all bad. I actually love them… some of them.

The Impreza STi is a pepperoni pizza on wheels: it is not wholesome, it is not satisfying, it will burn if not taken with just a smidgen of care, it may be bad for your health, but I’ll be damned if I don’t want to have another go at it… and another… and another.

I have already confessed to having the Forester STi as my Weird Crush Wednesday (#WCW) candidate — apt, given that this column runs on Wednesdays — and once the reliability issues with the Legacy are sorted (get rid of the twin-turbo engine), what you end up with is one of the best all-round cars ever.

In other words, the only good Subaru is one with a turbo. One turbo. The more compact the car, the better. No better manifestation of this exists besides the late Paji’s orange car. It won the last time trial event we had, and is therefore the de facto ruler of motorsports in the country as we speak.

BADGE WHORES

Now, BMWs. I love the 3 Series. I’d buy the 5 Series, if only the actuaries at NMG would recommend a 500 per cent pay hike for whoever writes this column.

The X5 is the ideal town and semi-marsh runabout you want; not too hardcore to make the owner look silly dropping off his children at a school linked by a tarmac road; and also not too inept as to get stuck in three inches of water.

The 7 Series is less cliché than the S Class as the choice of transport for the emerging bourgeoisie, and is infinitely cleverer and sprightlier than the Merc equivalents, bar the AMGs.

The rest need to be killed with fire, and this is where the problem comes. BMW makes the best engines in the world, and they know it. They also give too much leeway to their creative types, the results of which are the X6 (what if we made an SUV that looks like a sports car?

The Range Stormer* concept looks awesome but we can out-awesome it!) and the BMW 1 Series** (what if we robbed all the interior space of a small hatchback by making it rear-wheel drive? Drivers love rear-wheel drive!).

We now have a 2 Series, 4 Series, 6 Series but sadly no more 8 Series, which was a car that gave the Mercedes Benz SL and Jaguar XJS/early XK plenty of headaches.

The result is BMW almost got away with selling atrocities such as the E60 5 Series GT, a four-wheeled abomination that thankfully died out as quickly as the Germans who made it drove on the autobahn. It also gave us motoring hacks an insight into the mind of a BMW driver.

The most demeaning terminology used out there to describe these people is “badge-whore” (yes, search the Internet, you will find it). These are people who will buy a BMW no matter what. My usual scapegoat, BBC’s (currently comatose) Top Gear programme, puts it best.

Small BMWs are bought by unthinking automatons; up-and-coming young urban professionals — yuppies — with too much confidence and too little courtesy; the two traits necessary for survival in the punitively competitive corporate world in which they roam; and they extend this overconfidence and lack of civility onto the road.

I kid you not, listen to a BMW driver talk about his car and you’d think he drives a Veyron. Watch him drive and you’d think local driving schools need re-evaluation before their licenses get renewed.

ROOM FOR ADVANCEMENT

The results are rarely pleasant. I will go out on a limb here and tell a short tale of how a certain young man, complete with the yuppie uniform of white shirts and red tie, proceeded to introduce the front nearside corner of his silver E46 320i to the front offside fender of the equally silver first-generation Toyota iST I was driving (belonging to the lady who later bore me a son, and she was in the car the whole time, heavily pregnant) in gridlock, simply because I tried to change lane in a traffic jam that was moving at less than 10 km/h.

My indicator was on, I put my arm out for good measure, there was a gap that I could fit in, but no. For such a fellow, I was competition, I was going to occupy a space that he wanted badly (overlooking the fact that the space was only nine feet further from where he was at the time), and in the corporate world there are only so many opportunities to advance oneself; and if such opportunities are not taken, who knows when they will next arise? Therefore I had to be dealt with. Off with the brakes, on with the power and blam! Impact.

I hated BMWs and their drivers so much at that moment. Thankfully, given the extremely low speeds (it was more like 5km/h) at which we were moving, damage was non-existent. To make things interesting, I had to reverse to let him by because he was not going to back up.

“No Sir, jou vant to do zis?”

His body language was clear: menacing glare, exaggerated arm movements, straight-six revving sharply (I’m guessing tapping the accelerator at 70 per cent throttle opening), kind of like he wanted to hit me again in case I had not understood yet my position in the food chain.

He probably thought if I went ahead of him that meant I would get a bigger salary, and in the corporate world that is never a good thing among rivals. All those Top Gear (and Internet) quips suddenly made sense: BMW drivers are psychopaths.

Subaru? Not so much the car as it is the driver. The cheapest bang-per-buck cannot be found anywhere short of an Impreza STi. All manner of drivers own and drive STis, from the crash-prone youths still cutting their teeth on snap-shifting techniques (don’t use strength, finesse is key to rapid-fire gear changes) to established rally drivers who can tell exactly what they want from a car (an STi makes for a more relaxing daily driver compared to an Evo); the helmsman lineup runs the whole gamut.

This provides plenty of scope for traffic incidents, especially on the lower end of the aptitude spectrum, but not as much scope as in the ranks of those who think they have an STi but actually don’t.

A good example would be the chap who wrote in to Car Clinic recently alleging his regular Legacy was as good as, if not better than, an Impreza STi or Forester STi.

I don’t know who committed the bigger sin; the man for lying to himself, or his peers for feeding that misconception. The outcome is one day such a person may try to keep up with an STi, then he will discover why there is a regular Subaru and there is an STi version of a Subaru. Then he will have to call insurance.

**********

BOTTOM LINE 

Summary: While BMWs are bought by antisocial yuppies and Subarus offer cheap performance, the common denominator here comes down to one thing: maturity.

Young, urban, BMW-driving professionals are overpaid individuals who can, within the first 24 months of employment, afford car brands that their parents probably took two decades to save up for. This in turn affects their mind states, instilling a certainty in their abilities that may be misleading and just a little bit dangerous.

They push their cars to impossible speeds in inappropriate places; either that or they drive drunk, believing highly in their metabolisms.

Being office-bound most of the time and lacking actual seat-time in “enthusiast” driving situations, once things get unstuck (and they certainly do), they may not be able to recover in time to prevent a crash. Maturity in most cases is borne of experience; that is why our fathers rarely crashed.

Subarus, on the other hand, bring affordable performance to the great unwashed. While some have to climb the ladder from small underpowered, cringe-worthy rust-traps then rung it up slowly (maybe 20hp at a time) until when they get to high horsepower cars, Subaru has made it possible for one to own a 300hp turbocharged and intercooled rally machine as his first car — straight out of driving school. Do I need to explain the pitfalls of this?

Nobody is saying that under-30s should not buy BMWs. Nobody is saying that young’ins can’t handle horsepower. The point is; how you drive says a lot about you, and statistics show that what you drive says even more about you given how you and like-minded people drive those cars.

And we all know numbers don’t lie. The actuaries know this too, and that is why AIG is dropping cheap Subarus and BMWs like two misshapen lumps of hot coal.

 

PLEASE NOTE

*The Range Stormer concept later came to life as the Range Rover Sport, a more realistic and attractive subsequent sales phenomenon much loved by Mrs and Miss Football-Player-In-The-European-Leagues (also known as WAGs: Wives and Girlfriends)

 

**The BMW 1 Series hatchback was not only slow and impractical, it was also not very pretty. Plus it wouldn’t drift. That is why they made “other” 1 Series non-hatchback models to counteract these difficulties.

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