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Topic: Why are illusions so expensive?
Message: Posted by: magicbymccauley (Sep 26, 2012 03:21PM)
I was thinking about going in on making some illusions with a friend of mine and selling them. I think a lot of illusions are quite overpriced. But when I hear about injuries to people like nippulini and jay leslie, I think "Wait a minute, maybe these are reasonable prices". Richard Sherry's and Jay Leslie's stuff are really reasonably priced, but I'm wondering why everything else costs so much. I guess the building process of it having to be virtually handmade (no one manufactures these things, so they're all made by hand) must have a lot to do with it.

I've tried my hand at a few things so far, and my stocks escape is really great, built it with parts from home Depot for less than a hundred bucks, and it retails for a thousand (of course it was three days of solid work and time equals money).

Any suggestions for what I should build next? I'm thinking of sub trunks.... then I think why not just buy Jay Leslie's sub trunk as it is pretty reasonably priced. Being a magician that only works afternoons and weekends, I do have time to build stuff and a carpenter friend to help out. I'm working on shackles made of plumbing parts right now.

So what else should I build that's totally worth the time and money instead of spending it?
Message: Posted by: makeupguy (Sep 26, 2012 04:19PM)
I woudlnt' recommend anything that anyone's done. I'd come up with a new-ish.. at least not something common. One of the reasons that illusion are expensive has been it on already.. time. I know what I like to make on a "day rate".. and I do everything I can to use hardware, trim, and fittings are are not available at any of the home builder stores. This means that they're probably more expensive.. sometimes double or triple the cost of a more standard version.

If you make a more traditional illusion.. find a way to make it better than anyone else.. either solve a basic weakness.. come up with a more pragmatic approach or theme it in a way that hasn't been thought of before.

There are so many "old" illusions that could be updated, sadly many of them are boxy...

More complicated illusions that would be VERY popular are harder to build.. levitations and illusions that require welding, extensive metal work etc.. Anything the needs aluminum welded is another issue altogether if you don't know how.
Message: Posted by: sb (Sep 26, 2012 05:39PM)
Take a look at magicauction.com

Compare similar illusions built by "known builders" and the "unknown builders". Many of the illusions built by the known builders appear more deceptive, and more professionally built. So one answer to your question is that you get what you pay for. (we have all seen a b*s* that only fools one person, the magician).


Along those lines, builders can be like performers. A professional performer will charge a certain amount to meet their financial goals based on the number of shows they do per year/month. They charge what they feel they are worth.

An amature or new performer will usually charge less, because they don't know any better, they don't have any goal set in relation to income based on performances. They may not feel they are worth a larger amount and feel funny about charging more, or they may not be justified charging the higher amount based on their experience. Or simply, they are performing more for fun for themselves, and the income (while nice) is not the main concern for them. The amature may also not have the experience to get the higher paying gigs based on their experience and can't compete head to head with the others in his market, so competes based on price.

Neither is wrong, and neither is right. It is the way it is, and will always be that way. Those exact points can be applied to illusion/prop builders!


But still the quesiton remains, why so expensive? Well look at it another way.

A customer calls and asks you how much for a birthday party. You tell her $200 and she says, "but your only doing a half hour! that's $400 an hour!!! My husband could go to the store and buy a few tricks for less than half that!" (ok, I don't think I ever heard those exact sentaces, but you get my point ;) )

Obviously the customer here is not taking into account the 20 years of practice, rehersal, and study you put into that half hour set! They also don't take into account your set up/tear down/and resetting time (both at home, and at the gig). Your drive time, and the cost of any consumables. They don't take into acccount your advertising costs, your office costs, insurance, etc... They also don't realize you are limited to how many gigs you can actually do on a day and how many gigs you can do in a week. Nor do they consider the acquisition cost of each client is very high (depending on your market, many customers/clients are only one time buyers of your services - if they agreed to buy 5 shows from you in a year, you very well may give them some kind of discount in pricing). When you take all of this into account your pricing of $200 a show really doesn't seem all that high anymore.

I am using many comparisions to a performer business, but a builder will have more expenses labor, space, payroll and time. There are also costs associated with doing business, taxes, payroll taxes (if someone makes $20 an hour, the employer is paying out closer to 25-30 an hour for that employee for taxes, workers comp ins, and that amount can go up substanially when you include thing like health insurance),subcontrators (to do that specialized welding, etc...) space rental, liability insurance, heat, electric, advertising.

So, back to the original question, about illusions/props being priced high.

Pro builders are using higher quality material (like MakeUpGuy mentioned). Their costs are therfore higher.
You usually are getting a higher quality, and properly deceptive prop.
You may be paying for rights to creators of certain illusions.
They are making what they feel their time is worth, as well as covering all the associated cost/expenses.



And consider this, there are illusions out there that cost 10, 20, 100 thousand dollars. I don't really know many of the builders out there on a personal/friend level, but I bet that most of them are not living in giant mansions and driving lambroginis. Their pricing, while it seems high, usually only provides them with a good living, not an extravagant living.

ps, as a performer, I would love to see quality illusions built for budget prices.... but you will always get what you pay for.


-sb
Message: Posted by: thegreatnippulini (Sep 27, 2012 08:45AM)
In addition, most of the worlds BEST fabricators know their limitations and will outsource certain jobs. I don't have a CNC waterjet cutting machine, nor do I have the space for it, or real need. So, I outsource to a local machine shop to do it for me. It cost me $300 for 36 cuts on 316 plate steel. Now THAT cost needs to be figured into the final price of the items. Cost does NOT equal price. If it did, every company in the world would be out of business.

Home Depot stuff looks like it came from Home Depot. A cheap $2.79 handle looks nice on my chicken coop. Not on a stage prop. A hand forged reverse twist colonial reproduction handle (like the ones I make) sell for upwards of $20 - $30 a piece. They make the prop. They also make it more expensive, but that's up to the buyer, who in turn makes himself/herself the performer he/she wants to be. I currently have an order for 3 swallowing swords. I charge $150 per sword, with discounts on multiple runs. The buyer can't afford all three at once (even WITH the discount), so she has to buy them one at a time as she can afford it. Maybe she'll get lucky, do one performance with a nice piece and get paid enough to buy the other two. Maybe another performer will try to do something with cheap Home Depot stuff and not get paid as much... maybe lose potential gigs because his/her props and presentation aren't professional.

Look, I can get around just fine in my Dodge Caliber. I can afford it, it does what needs to be done and I am happy. My folks have Cadillac, Jaguar and Mercedes. I like them, they're nice, but not for me. Maybe later in my life I will be at a better financial plateau and my ideals WILL change.
Message: Posted by: magicbymccauley (Sep 28, 2012 10:06PM)
I think $150 for a sword is VERY REASONABLE. I think that's doable on a middle class budget. I think a hand made specialty sword for that price is amazing. You get a very big stage sized effect with it. It is reusable, portable, creates an image in the mind of the audience, and is virtually indestructible.

$3000 for an illusion is NOT doable. It's really out of the question. No really. I asked my fiancee, I begged and begged, but it's out of the question.

There's a big differential when you go from hundreds to thousands. VERY big. I'm not sure that thousand dollar illusions are doable on a middle class income. I'm not eve sure it would be responsible for you to buy, and that it could actually do more harm than good (where to store it, opportunity and setting to perform it, etc.) I just am not convinced it's even a good financial decision.

So I'm trying to cheat with home depot stuff. I'm trying to do what I can, and work within a smaller budget and get a bigger effect. There are of course, setbacks, failures, and so forth. I want the biggest effect possible for the lowest price possible, portability, and the greatest level of deceptiveness. While I'm at it I'd like a pony and to be president. I understand it's a very tall order, but I think it's the correct move.

Bigger tricks, as you said command bigger fees. And for a while it WILL be crap from home depot, and there might be a possibility that a spectator might spot a $3.79 handle. These are the cards I've been dealt and I'm going to play them to the best of my ability.

What surprises me is that no one has taken an inexpensive builder and used them to make decent quality illusions. I'm surprised there is no mass production or even decent production line. I know plenty of people who would be willing to make illusions at $15/hour, and no, we don't need to go to China for that, there are plenty of out of work carpenters right here in America.

It tempts me at starting such a business, but I'm up to my ears in crap to do already.
Message: Posted by: Michael Baker (Sep 28, 2012 10:29PM)
[quote]
On 2012-09-28 23:06, magicbymccauley wrote:



What surprises me is that no one has taken an inexpensive builder and used them to make decent quality illusions.


[/quote]

I haven't decide if this is an oxymoron, or a regular one.
Message: Posted by: AGMagic (Sep 28, 2012 11:37PM)
[quote]
On 2012-09-28 23:06, magicbymccauley wrote:
$3000 for an illusion is NOT doable. It's really out of the question. No really. I asked my fiancee, I begged and begged, but it's out of the question.
[/quote]
That is why so many Magicians are not married...what are you willing to give up for your art?:) Seriously if $3000 is too much for an illusion, you probably don't need the $3000 illusion yet. If you are an established headliner act doing 5 to 7 show a week $3000 is much less expensive than having a cheaper prop or illusion fail, and possibly hurting someone, during a performance. Just the failue of the prop alone could seriously damage your reputation.
[quote]
What surprises me is that no one has taken an inexpensive builder and used them to make decent quality illusions. I'm surprised there is no mass production or even decent production line. I know plenty of people who would be willing to make illusions at $15/hour, and no, we don't need to go to China for that, there are plenty of out of work carpenters right here in America.
[/quote]
I would guess that the most reproduced illusion in the world may be the Zig Zag. How may of those do you think are actually out there and in use? When was it first introduced by Harbin? There simply isn't enough demand to set up an assembly line and crank out even dozens of any large illusion. You could be sitting on them until you die.

As for the $15 per hour, I couldn't work for that, even in someone else's shop. If I had to rent the space and pay utilities, insurance, buy tools and supplies, get permits to paint etc., pay royalties if the product was not my original idea, build prototypes and moc-ups, I would be broke before I got the first item out the door.

Cheap is cheap and good is good. There may be some great bargains out there but you will never get a $3000 illusion for 250 bucks!
Message: Posted by: magicbymccauley (Sep 29, 2012 12:09AM)
As magicians, of course we wouldn't work for $15/hour. The point is, there are out of work people willing to work for that.

You just don't think there's a market for dozens of zig zags? What if you could buy a zag illusion for $750? Wouldn't that tempt you?

I think Creative Magic was really doing something innovative. Portable cheap illusions for under a thousand dollars.
Message: Posted by: Magic Researcher (Sep 29, 2012 02:31AM)
[quote]
On 2012-09-28 23:29, Michael Baker wrote:
[quote]
On 2012-09-28 23:06, magicbymccauley wrote:



What surprises me is that no one has taken an inexpensive builder and used them to make decent quality illusions.


[/quote]

I haven't decide if this is an oxymoron, or a regular one.
[/quote]

Regular.
Message: Posted by: magicbymccauley (Sep 29, 2012 04:18PM)
MR, why can't we be friends? When have I ever insulted you?

I will rub your feet if you like.
Message: Posted by: billappleton (Sep 29, 2012 07:04PM)
[quote]
On 2012-09-28 23:29, Michael Baker wrote:
I haven't decide if this is an oxymoron, or a regular one.
[/quote]

LOL! That's was funny as hell.
Message: Posted by: Dynamike (Sep 29, 2012 08:34PM)
[quote]
On 2012-09-26 16:21, magicbymccauley wrote:
I was thinking about going in on making some illusions with a friend of mine and selling them. I think a lot of illusions are quite overpriced. But when I hear about injuries to people like nippulini and jay leslie, I think "Wait a minute, maybe these are reasonable prices". Richard Sherry's and Jay Leslie's stuff are really reasonably priced, but I'm wondering why everything else costs so much. I guess the building process of it having to be virtually handmade (no one manufactures these things, so they're all made by hand) must have a lot to do with it.
[/quote]
1. Quality plays a strong role. Richard Hughes' feathered flowers are the highest priced on the market. But guess what? Richard's are the best quality around the world. Cost (not price) is a major concern. I did purchase feathered flowers from a foreign knock off company. I did purchase Richard's flowers too. Richard's flowers are still doing well. I can see they will last for years to come. The knock offs already need replacing. Somewhere from 1 to 4 years I will be paying over twice the price as Richard's if I kept buying from the knock off business. If you plan to save, go with the higher quality ones.

2. Imagine being an one person business who makes a product only for magicians in this world. If the price was so low, it can keep you busy 18 hours making the product. You will have little time to do other things. You will be getting so many complaints from magicians for waiting in the long line taking a while to make. By raising the price 10 times as much, you will still have a lot of work to do, but the management with your time will be more comforting to you keeping you out the rush, so you can take your time on making the product with quality.

3. I am glad a lot of illusions are high priced. If they were all low priced so many individuals will be buying the illusions besides magicians. I would be hearing more from others, "I got that trick too. My wife gave it to me for my birthday." It will set me up to go out of business because anyone can afford it.
Message: Posted by: makeupguy (Sep 29, 2012 08:56PM)
Magic By McCauley: No there isn't a market for dozens of zig zags...

As someone who DOES make magic for a good part of his living.. I can tell you that with stage props... making a couple hundred of something is a best seller!! And that's over the lifetime of the prop. There are exceptions.. but illusions are not one of them.

Building a basic illusion is easy and can be pounded out in a couple of days.. (sometimes in an afternoon!!) but finishing an illusion, and then engineering it to break down and set up quickly and sturdily takes time, money and skills that are beyond most weekend worshopers. Even if you "formica" your props, which makes them heavy and impractical for most weekend performers, non-traditional formica is very expensive.

Finding hardware that doesn't look like it comes from home depot is another matter. Finding 3-4 different knobs, hinges, catches etc all in the same finish to retain some consistancy is sometimes impossible. Polished aluminum trim is almost impossible to find.. and satin finish trim often looks cheap.

It would all depend on how you want your finished production illusion to look.. if you want them to look cheap... it can be done.. but if you want something interesting and well done.. it takes time and money that really can't be done at the practical level en masse.
Message: Posted by: Jay Mahon (Sep 29, 2012 10:27PM)
Lee Valley Tools...

High quality stuff for everyone yay!!!

J
Message: Posted by: Mark Boody Illusionist (Sep 30, 2012 07:16AM)
I heard it said "that good things aren't cheap & cheap things aren't good" Does anyone remember the "YUGO"? That illustrates my point perfectly!

Mark
Message: Posted by: jay leslie (Sep 30, 2012 01:46PM)
The car that 3 friends and myself picked-up and moved 10 feet?
The same car with the plastic bumper that rips-off when you bounce the rear end a few feet in the air and hold on?

Nope. That wasn't me. I don't remember anything.

- - - - -

Very, Very. Veeery, funny, Mr. Baker.
Message: Posted by: magicbymccauley (Sep 30, 2012 05:10PM)
Jay I think you are one of the few people that makes quality escapes at reasinable prices. See? It can be done.
Message: Posted by: jay leslie (Sep 30, 2012 06:30PM)
Yes and no
If you re-read Dynamikes post (point #2). I fall the category of the 18 hour a day man who has no social life.
Message: Posted by: jay leslie (Sep 30, 2012 07:26PM)
My biggest problem is that I'm the boss. The boss of one, and what does the boss do when when he makes things that don't sell? He can't fire himself. He can't give myself an unpaid leave. He's stuck with himself. The reason my prices are reasonable is hat I hope people will buy what I make. Hope being the operational word. Whenever I'm at a convention people look at my stuff and say "That's nice, very expensive but nice. The amazing aspect to those statements is that it doesn't matter what the item is, weather it's twenty dollars or a couple of thousand. (except for my chair suspension. people love that suspension)/

Here's a good one: Someone came in the shop and asked how much to drill a hole in the end of a Harries Parasol tube. Forty dollars, I said. I went to the back and brought out my own, which was drilled exactly the way he wanted it. He said that was exactly what he was looking and the finish was perfect & he would be back.
Three weeks later he brought his prop back to show me (why) where another builder (famous) drilled the exact same hole and charged him three hundred dollars. That's correct... an extra two hundred sixty dollars.... for a hole. When I asked why the customer wanted to pay... (notice the usage of the word "wanted") to pay that much extra his answer was "Because now, I can tell everyone that so-and-so worked on the prop.... and you're not so-and-so.

I try to remember what my father once told me when I came home from a date that only lasted ten minutes. He said "Any port in a storm also means, A Hole Is A Hole Is A Hole... just some are more expensive then others".
Message: Posted by: thegreatnippulini (Oct 1, 2012 01:11PM)
[quote]
On 2012-09-28 23:06, magicbymccauley wrote:
I know plenty of people who would be willing to make illusions at $15/hour...[/quote]

That's how much I got paid as a carpenters apprentice in 1992... I couldn't imagine any proper mechanic to accept that amount today. From my own personal view, when I am in my cellar workshop in "work mode", I charge $60 per hour. This is how I calculate a job by estimating how long it will take, and add material costs. That's it.

As far as the wife getting upset about a $3,000 purchase, I don't think it's the content of the purchase that's the problem. Forget illusions.... try to convince her to let you buy a $3,000 classic automobile, or a motorcycle. How about a nice diesel welder? I'd love one of them, but my wife would kill me.... in my sleep.
Message: Posted by: EsnRedshirt (Oct 1, 2012 03:57PM)
That's why my wife and I keep one joint account for ourselves/the family, and two separate individual accounts for our "toys".
Message: Posted by: Leland Stone (Oct 13, 2012 10:15AM)
I don't know what the economy is like in other parts of the country, but here in my little corner of Southern California, this "proper mechanic" wouldn't turn down $15 an hour.
Message: Posted by: Ekuth (Oct 13, 2012 05:11PM)
Ditto, Leland.

Also, my 2c on the "Home Depot" look- short and sweet:

Who are you building the prop for? The audience is NOT going to care if that drawer pull came from HD for $2.99 or if you spent 6 hours cold forging a wrought iron celtic knot. IT'S A KNOB to them, nothing more.

While yes, the quality of materials directly relates to the look of the finished project; I find that the quality of workmanship is FAR more important than throwing money away on fancy-schmancy knobs, doo-dads and other eye candy that really YOU are the only one who is going to notice and enjoy.

I've seen my grandfather take scrap lumber and turn it into something right out of Better Homes and Gardens... lasted longer, too.

But to directly answer the question of the OP:

Illusions are so expensive because you're paying for the SECRET, not the PROP.

I love magic. The only manufacturing business where you're expected to buy the product BEFORE you know how it works and once you do, you can't return it.

Seriously... how much crap do you have in your magic junk drawer that you bought on looks or hyperbole alone and haven't performed ONCE? Knowing how it works now, would you have bought it in the first place?

My 2c, YMMV.
Message: Posted by: makeupguy (Oct 13, 2012 11:23PM)
Ekuth:

I never said expensive when I was referring to knobs. However.. Props are special. Unless you're building a box that's supposed to LOOK like it comes from home depot, I think it's important for the audience to see that your hinges and knobs and trim are not "stock." Magic props are special.. and often take hardware that isn't available at a home store.. and sometimes takes hardware that needs to be custom machined.

More importantly, is the quality of the product in both workmanship and the look. For example, polished trim is not available, and the aluminum trim there just looks cheap.
Message: Posted by: Wizard of Oz (Oct 14, 2012 10:48AM)
All I know is that the 2 props I have from makeupguy (Herb Chest and Necromancer's Grymoire) and his company wack-o magic, are two of the best props I own in both quality of construction, design, and effect.
Message: Posted by: thegreatnippulini (Oct 15, 2012 09:48AM)
How was the price points?
Message: Posted by: gimpy2 (Oct 16, 2012 11:03AM)
Most carpenters don't make very good magic builders. In this area good finish carpenters don't work by the hour but by the job. This tends to make them think of everything in terms of speed of production. You just cant get them to think of magic props as anything but a toy. I think if I wanted help I would train someone from scratch. Its pretty hard to teach an old dog new tricks but even harder to teach a carpenter to build them.
Message: Posted by: magicbymccauley (Oct 26, 2012 08:16AM)
I have two builders I work with now, one carpenter, and one welder, and they both enjoy working on magic projects because it's different and fun to them. They are both willing to work for $15/hour which is great. To them it's sort of a hobby thing too. They can tell their clients "I do everything, hey, I just built an illusion". And the problem solving angle is fun to them.

However, I am getting up in price simply because I'm new at it and things take reworking. My stocks escape has an original method, but it's not practical enough. So I'm changing the method to something different that I found in another book. My sword box escape had to be built custom to my measurements, and we left some excess length on the box which wasn't necessary. It took two solid 10 hour days to build. That's a lot of work for anyone. Even at $15/hour, that's $150 for my carpenter, plus me working two solid days on it (didn't have any gigs, so whatever, but still). The materials cost $250. I had the swords and spikes laying around, but if I had to pay for those, it'd be more like $450.

After I built it, I realized that many parts I need to wood glue together for a better bond. I also am taking out all the nails and putting in screws (they just hold so much better). Some parts fell off en route to the photo shoot, and it really needs to be durable in order to work well. So that's another day of work, just fixing all the stuff I didn't do so well.

To be honest, if anyone wanted one, I'd charge them $2000 to make it. It costs a heck of a lot to make and to do the work for.

However, I would still contend that there are other illusions that I would be willing to make for a much lower price point. This isn't one of them, but things like the stock escape and andrew maynes razorwire come to mind.
Message: Posted by: magicbymccauley (Oct 26, 2012 08:20AM)
>But to directly answer the question of the OP:
>Illusions are so expensive because you're paying for the SECRET, not the PROP.
>I love magic. The only manufacturing business where you're expected to buy the product BEFORE you know how it works and once you do, you can't return >it.

Isn't it interesting that even though we are magicians, we are so easily conned? I've been pretty good about this. I don't buy things which I don't know the method to. Maybe a few packet tricks but that's it.

If you buy a $2000 illusion and you don't know how it works, that's just professionally and financially irresponsible. The more you invest, the more you need to know how it works before you buy it. You need to know MORE than that. You need to know how it breaks down, how much space it takes, if it needs an assistant, certain lighting and so forth and so on.
Message: Posted by: EsnRedshirt (Oct 26, 2012 01:37PM)
[quote]
On 2012-10-26 09:16, magicbymccauley wrote:
I have two builders I work with now, one carpenter, and one welder, and they both enjoy working on magic projects because it's different and fun to them. They are both willing to work for $15/hour which is great. To them it's sort of a hobby thing too. They can tell their clients "I do everything, hey, I just built an illusion". And the problem solving angle is fun to them.

However, I am getting up in price simply because I'm new at it and things take reworking. My stocks escape has an original method, but it's not practical enough. So I'm changing the method to something different that I found in another book. My sword box escape had to be built custom to my measurements, and we left some excess length on the box which wasn't necessary. It took two solid 10 hour days to build. That's a lot of work for anyone. Even at $15/hour, that's $150 for my carpenter, plus me working two solid days on it (didn't have any gigs, so whatever, but still). The materials cost $250. I had the swords and spikes laying around, but if I had to pay for those, it'd be more like $450.

After I built it, I realized that many parts I need to wood glue together for a better bond. I also am taking out all the nails and putting in screws (they just hold so much better). Some parts fell off en route to the photo shoot, and it really needs to be durable in order to work well. So that's another day of work, just fixing all the stuff I didn't do so well.

To be honest, if anyone wanted one, I'd charge them $2000 to make it. It costs a heck of a lot to make and to do the work for.

However, I would still contend that there are other illusions that I would be willing to make for a much lower price point. This isn't one of them, but things like the stock escape and andrew maynes razorwire come to mind.
[/quote]
Well, you just realized another reason why illusions are expensive- you're paying for the experience/expertise of the builder.

On a side note, I'd be horrified at the thought of using a prop that had parts fall off. Especially a sword escape.
Message: Posted by: Mike Maturen (Oct 27, 2012 07:08AM)
It's all about supply and demand. There are only so many working professional magicians in the world, and even fewer illusionists. As someone already mentioned, selling a fairly small number of any given illusion is considered successful in this business...therefore, you gotta make your money on the ones you sell.

If you've ever seen a cheap crappy chinese knock-off next to a quality prop...you'll know why you want to pay the extra bucks.
Message: Posted by: kellaroneil (Nov 3, 2012 03:55PM)
It's all about quality, quality, quality. If you have your house built properly you work with a contractor that has an excellent reputation...buy illusions, work with an illusion fabricator. Support those who are truly craftsmen in our field, you will not lose that way.
Message: Posted by: Thatoldblackmagic (Jan 3, 2013 06:14AM)
Another thing (being an illusion builder) Some illusions ,well most illusions are large , A buzz saw for instance takes up a lot of room in the work shop , when I could really store half a dozen crated sub trunks which would be more sellable. This again is in the price ,I have to drive to get all my materials , then cut and assemble them in my shop and house it until it is picked up. Everything is included in the price from fees of the workshop too the gas for the car.