Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Pumpkin Pie Cutters

Some years ago, I got it into my head that just as there are cookie cutters for cookies, there should be pie cutters for pumpkin pie. I bought the deepest tree-shaped cookie cutters I could find, thinking I could stack them and produce festive pie pieces for a holiday party. It didn't go as planned. I couldn't get the stacking to work, and the result of using just one cutter was kind of a disaster:
Nevertheless, proof of concept! 

I found that the KindredDesignsCA shop at Etsy offered custom-made 3D-printed cookie cutters. They agreed to make extra-deep cutters for me, one in the shape of a tree, another in the shape of a snowflake. The cutters worked great, except that once I'd extracted a piece of pumpkin pie with a cutter, the pie stuck inside the cutter. I had KindredDesignsCA make plungers so that I could push the pie out of the cutters:

I was so pleased with the result (shown at the top of this post), I started looking for new pie-cutter-shape ideas. For reasons not worth going into, I hit upon the idea of US states, and the next thing I knew, I was looking at pieces of pumpkin pie that looked like California, Texas, and Minnesota:
This year I decided that for Thanksgiving dinner, it would be nice to have pieces of pumpkin pie that looked like turkeys and pumpkins, so KindredDesignsCA again did their 3D magic for me:
I learned a few new things from these latest cutters. One was that it's a bad idea to try to get too detailed. Check out the well-defined beak in the turkey cutter below...

...and compare it to the poorly-defined or broken-off beaks in the pieces of turkey-shaped pie above. We're sculpting with pumpkin pie here, so just because you can produce a cutter with well-defined details doesn't mean you can get those details to be retained in the pieces of pie you cut.  

On the other hand, I was worried about the narrow strips of pie for the turkey's legs holding together, and they came out fine.

So far, I've employed these cutters only for pumpkin pie, but a friend and I were musing about what else they could be used for. Ideas include sponge cake, gingerbread, pancakes, hamburger patties, ice cream sandwiches, and gelatin. Plus cookies, of course. In the end, they're just overly-deep cookie cutters with plungers.

As far as I know, the only drawback to these cutters is that they require hand washing. The material used for the 3D printing has a comparatively low melting point, so if they were to be put into a dishwasher, you'd likely end up with pie cutter goo all over everything.

Saturday, November 4, 2023

Electric Cars are Still Luxury Goods :-(

More than three years ago, I blogged about EVs being luxury goods. Some 13 months ago, I showed that the Nissan Ariya--the only electric compact SUV with the basic features I demand (all-wheel drive, an openable moonroof, a 360-degree camera, and an EPA range of at least 235 miles)--came with a 52% price premium vis-a-vis a comparable gas-powered Nissan Rogue. That difference put the Ariya solidly in luxury car territory.

In the intervening year, the Ariya has gone from forthcoming to present on dealer lots, and just yesterday Volvo made it possible to configure and price the 2024 XC40 Recharge for the US market. It joins the Ariya in offering the fundamental features I insist on. The XC40 comes in both battery- and gasoline-powered versions, so it makes it easy to measure the cost of going electric.

The intervening year has also seen a big jump in interest rates:

Average 60-month new car loan rate (per https://bit.ly/3QUl7ER)

The concomitant reduction in demand for new cars has changed the market. I decided to recheck the EV price premium by again comparing the cost of the Nissan Rogue with the equivalently-equipped Nissan Ariya. This time I checked not just MSRPs, but also prices at cars.com. I did two searches at cars.com. The first was nationwide, i.e., for the best price I could find anywhere. The second was "near me," which means within about 100 miles of Portland, Oregon. I then repeated the experiment for the Volvo XC40 (gas-powered) and the Volvo XC40 Recharge (batteries). For the Nissans, my data are for the 2023 model year, because the 2024s aren't out yet. The Volvo data are for the 2024 model year.

This is what I found:

The Ariya continues to have an MSRP about 50% higher than the equivalently-equipped Rogue, and this doesn't change when looking for real cars within 100 miles of me. If I expand my search to the entire country, the price premium drops to 41%, but it still represents a difference of nearly $14,000. It's also an artificial cost differential, because the lowest-priced Rogue is in Arizona, while the cheapest Ariya is in Illinois.

Volvo is a premium brand, so MSRP pricing for its its Rogue equivalent, the XC40, starts 26% higher than the Nissan. Going electric from there (to the XC40 Recharge) demands a relatively modest 26% premium, but the result is 58% above the MSRP for the Rogue. Within the Volvo line, the premium to go electric is only 26%, but the price increase I care about--from an ICE-powered compact SUV of any make to a similarly-equipped EV of any make--is nearly 60%. That's far above the 25% I consider acceptable.

Lest you think I'm not taking government tax credits and rebates into account in pricing the Ariya and the XC40 Recharge, I actually am. Neither qualifies for the federal $7500 tax credit (which is fictional for most people, anyway), and my state's program for EV rebates stopped accepting applications months ago, because it ran out of money.

To me, the most interesting aspect of the pricing data is the smallness of the differential between the Ariya and the XC40 Recharge. Here's the table above with a line added showing the premium you pay for choosing Volvo over Nissan (i.e., the XC40 Recharge over the Ariya): 

Regardless of whether you look at MSRPs or prices at cars.com, the Volvo costs no more than 8% more than the Nissan. I've never been able to figure out what makes premium brands premium, but if Volvo has it and Nissan doesn't, I'd expect that to motivate many buyers to choose the XC40 Recharge over the Ariya. 

As for me, I'll continue to bide my time and hope that the EV industry eventually comes out with a compact SUV with the features I want at a price that's no more than about 25% beyond the cost of a comparable ICE vehicle.