Criticized Or Applauded, Presidential Travel Is One Great Job Perk

This week, President Obama and family fly to Africa for what has been described as both “frivolous spending” and a trip that brings “a great bang for our buck.” The estimated $60 – $100 million trip comes at a time when Americans face a decidedly different flying experience caused by government furloughs and cutbacks. Approve or not, presidential travel and moving the first family around the world is in no way inexpensive.

Traveling to sub-Sahara Africa from June 26 to July 3, the Obamas will be accompanied by hundreds of Secret Service agents and staff, adding to the cost of transportation and accommodations. Still, this is the leader of the free world and protecting him, his family and staff is not going to be a cheap road trip no matter how they do it. When President Clinton visited Africa the price tag was said to be $42.7 million plus the cost of Secret Service protection.

As the trip to South Africa, Senegal and Tanzania gets underway, a reported 56 vehicles ranging from limousines to trucks full of supplies will be flown in via military cargo planes. When the Obamas are on the ground in Africa, U.S. fighter jets will be ever-present in the airspace directly above them. That’s in addition to the cost of operating the President’s ride, Air Force One, estimated to be slightly less than $200,000 per hour.
“It is no secret that we need to rein in government spending, and the Obama administration has regularly and repeatedly shown a lack of judgment for when and where to make cuts. The American people have had enough of the frivolous and careless spending,” Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.) said in a article.

But the cost could have been higher. The Obama’s original plan called for a Tanzania safari, which would have required a team of sharpshooters to protect them from wild animals. But President Obama, the first sitting president to visit Cambodia and Myanmar, is visiting African countries that reportedly need attention.

“Frankly, there will be a great bang for our buck for being in Africa, because when you travel to regions like Africa that don’t get a lot of presidential attention, you can have very long-standing and long-running impact from the visit,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told The Hill, reports

Still, let’s keep these numbers in perspective. The expense of flowers for the White House alone run up a tab estimated to be $252,000 per year. The Presidential limousine is a $300,000 Cadillac that is clad with 5 inches of armor, has its own oxygen supply, a blood bank of the president’s type and can shoot tear gas and smoke grenades.

Autonomous Cars Cruising To A Dealer Near You, Soon

Autonomous cars promise fewer crashes, increased roadway capacity, improved parking ability and more. Carmakers plan to integrate elements of the autonomous car as they roll out new features in coming years, sneaking in the idea that drivers will not be needed at some point. This week, AutoRevolution detailed Cadillac’s new Super Cruise System, designed to be a cruise control system with super powers.

“In just a few words, the so-called Super Cruise system is more like an adaptive cruise control function with a pack of top-notch improvements, all of which could turn a regular car into a self-driving one,” says AutoRevolution. According to Cadillac, not only will the new system do everything we expect from cruise control but also new-generation safety systems will make sure the “driver” and the passengers are on the safe side all the time.

Did you think self-parking was a nice improvement? Super Cruise uses radar, ultrasonic sensors and cameras to track the vehicles in front and adjust its position on the road to keep the lane.

“The primary goal of GM’s autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicle development is safety,” John Capp, General Motors director of Global Active Safety Electronics and Innovation told AutoRevolution. “In the coming years, autonomous driving systems paired with advanced safety systems could help eliminate the crash altogether by interceding on behalf of drivers before they’re even aware of a hazardous situation. More than ever, consumers will be able to trust their car to do the right thing.”

See all the details in this video.

Flickr photo by jurvetson

Daily Pampering: Suite rides at The Peninsula Beverly Hills

Want to live like a celeb? First, you’ll need a “suite” ride. Guests at Beverly Hill’s famed property The Peninsula are finding that proposition even easier.

From now until September 30, 2011, guests who book any of the hotel’s 36 suites are offered complimentary use of their choice of three 2011 Cadillac models or a 2011 Chevrolet Corvette for the length of their stay. The Peninsula’s fleet of six vehicles includes the fastest V8 production sedan in the world (the 2011 Cadillac CST-V) , a hybrid Escalade Platinum Edition with three eight-inch backseat screens and wireless headsets and of course the famed Corvette.

“Los Angeles is all about the car,” says Offer Nissenbaum, managing director of The Peninsula Beverly Hills. “We want our guests to have the most luxurious driving option when making their way from the hotel to wherever they have to go-or want to go.”

Guests booking The Peninsula Beverly Hills’ suites-including the Villa Suites, Superior Suites, California and Deluxe Suites, Grand Deluxe Suites, Patio Suite, Peninsula Suite and Peninsula Villas-must request use of a complimentary automobile when making a reservation; they are based upon availability and guests must provide a copy of their driver’s license and proof of insurance. Tax, insurance and gas are not included.

Want more? Get your daily dose of pampering right here.

Ritz-Carlton gives Cadillac a lesson in customer service

The car industry has certainly weathered its fair share of storms this year. From recalls to repairs, car owners have been dealt just about every blow. But things are about to change in the car world, if the Ritz-Carlton has anything to say about it.

Bloomberg News reports that automotive giant General Motors is bringing in hospitality specialists from the Ritz-Carlton to teach GM employees the importance of customer service. That’s right car buyers — the next time you walk into a dealership, your experience might just be a little more luxurious (and a lot friendlier).

Ritz-Carlton employees are taught to go the extra mile to make their guests feel welcome. The result? Repeat guests. Repeat guests equal repeat dollars, but can the same equation hold true for the car industry? GM is about to find out.

According to reports, the Ritz-Carlton has already held training sessions in New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles with more than 1,800 dealership owners and salespeople. Rumor has it Cadillac has already taken a tip from Ritz-Carlton and created their “credo” card for employees to carry around in their pockets, which has customer service tips.

In addition to the customer service tips Cadillac is taking from Ritz-Carlton, Bloomberg reports the car lots are going through a mini-makeover, as well. Since GM cut its dealer ranks earlier this year, there’s more room to update the look of its dealerships and make a few luxury improvements.

Have some customer service tips for the employees of GM or Cadillac? Put yours in the comments section below and who knows, maybe your tip will end up on a customer service credo card.

On the road in Oregon with the 2010 Cadillac SRX

Earlier this year, Gadling ran a promotion challenging readers to define their perfect road trip. The winner of the competition won a two day road trip of their choice in a brand new Cadillac SRX, with fuel, lodging and airfare all covered. We had a wealth of excellent entries ranging from trips through the Florida Keys to leaf tours through the Northeast to jaunts down the California coast, but our lucky winner chose a long road trip through the great state of Oregon, beginning in the metropolis of Portland then working down the coast to Crater Lake National Park.

Dilligent bloggers as we are, we sent a team to follow in the footprints, documenting the journey and consuming the Oregon asphault in a similar SRX.

What emerged was more than a simple road trip through the Northwest. Two old friends on the hilly backroads of Oregon experienced one of the finest states that America has to offer, a perfect cross section of city, country, desert, forest, good people, better food and a few beers along the way.

A remarkable, moving experience, our journey began in Portland.



As luck would have it, we scheduled our road trip over the weekend of October 17th, right as the leaves in the Northwest were starting to turn. Arriving after dark that Friday, we were shocked to wake up and see rolling hills of red and yellow maples. Despite the forecasted rain, breaks in the low, dark grey clouds allowed for seams of sun to peer into the city, contrasting deeply with the darkness above and colors below.

In case you have never been to Portland, let me sum it up for you in a few short words. Super fantastic. The largest city in Oregon, Portland has a huge alternative culture scene, with hundreds of good independent bars and restaurants, free downtown public transportation, plenty of style and good weather and topography to match. Were it not for the annual rainfall, this could be utopia.

Prior to docking into our hotel Friday evening, we stopped by to visit our friends at Voodoo Donuts, the “must-stop” donut shop for anyone who’s visiting the great city of Portland. Waiting with a full box of 12 Voodoo Doughnuts, our friend Dave gave us a few tips for the city and sent us on our way, but not before some new friends from the street enjoyed a few bites from the mix.

To Crater Lake

By way of I-5 it’s about 4 hours to Crater Lake from Portland, and the SRX seamlessly accepted our destination and led us steadfastly south with the onboard GPS. Sooner or later, all eastbound travelers need to cross into the Willamette, Deschutes or Umpqua national forests, so despite our vehicle’s directions we veered off course at Eugene, OR after a trip through the local farmer’s market to stock up on fresh cider and warm, delicious rice and beef.

Into the forest the drive becomes exponentially more interesting. Two lane roads swing around massive mountains ranges, and as the SRX growled past the rivers and the forests we opened up the extended sun roof and let the music consume the valley. Without a destination guide in our hands the winding roads in front of us became a mystery, each turn holding a new outstanding view, small town or landmark that we hadn’t expected to find. Just short of Odell lake, this is how we found Salt Creek Falls, the second highest falls in the state.

Rain came and went as the terrain changed, but once we crossed into the high desert the clouds began to disperse. Our luck wouldn’t hold at high elevation, however, and as we approached Crater Lake National Park the ranger at the front gate warned us that most of the park was under clouds. That didn’t stop us from grabbing a few pictures at the gate and once up top, however. In case you’re wondering, that bottom photo was shot in color.

Through Bend and Back to Portland

With daylight drawing to a close, we decided to drive to Bend for the night. A modest city of 50,000 people, Bend has everything that a hip, Oregon city requires: a thriving nightlife, tons of cafes and restaurants and most importantly: Microbreweries. Our dinner after a long day of driving and socializing was hearty, unique and delicious, and with a good layer of base food in our stomachs a dramatic, if not somewhat strange, night was the perfect way to cap off the day.

The late start Saturday morning barely set us back, and behind the steady wheel of the SRX it was a quick three hour journey back to Portland. In reverse, the hills and colors of the national forest ensconced us, deep green coniferous forests as we passed Mt. Washington, and yellow, yellow, yellow as the maples began their transition.

It was almost a shame reaching Portland again, the rolling hills behind us and a wonderful journey completed.

Our thanks to Cadillac for providing a free Cadillac SRX and fuel for the journey. It’s navigation, satellite radio, perfect handling, and non stop gadgetry left us (two engineers by training) amazed and giddy during the entire drive, and even the officer that pulled us over was impressed by the sharp design. A well done vehicle indeed.