Monday, 11 August 2008

The Psychology of SUV Drivers

In my parking lot at work, a really small woman got into her 4WD (or SUV) and backed into a concrete pillar. She swore and then lurched the car forward, almost hitting me as I walked by. She got out to inspect the damage. I told her, "It looks okay." She replied, "Thank God I drive a 4WD." That started to make me wonder if this woman drives a 4WD just because she knows deep down that she is a poor driver.

A friend of mine who works at university as a chemist purchased a 4WD. He told me that he wanted it so that he could, as he said, "drive down the road and tell other people to get out of my way or I'll run them over." Once again, it seems as if 4WDs give their drivers a sense of strength, invincibility, or superiority.

Another friend, a carpenter, purchased a 4WD and told me that he wanted to get a 4WD so that he can "watch the environmentalists squirm." Getting a 4WD then is for the purpose of rebellion. Given that a car is a major purchase, it's quite strange that this person is basing his decision to buy on the childish emotion of rebellion, wanting to be cool or unique by being bad.

The catch is that these three people were driving small 4WDs. The girl at work was driving a two-door compact Suzuki 4WD while the chemist was driving a Toyota Rav4. The anti-environmentalist was driving a Nissan X-Trail. When I think of 4WDs I don't think of these cars. I think mainly of three cars: the Land Rovers (Discovery and Range Rover), Toyota Landcruiser, and the Nissan Patrol. The Land Rover is a marque that is dedicated to 4WDs and the brand has a strong reputation of building vehicles that can go through almost any terrain in the bush or the desert. On the downside Land Rover has a poor history of reliability. The company has changed hands countless times. It used to be owned by BMW, who then sold it to Ford, who then sold it to Tata. The Toyota Landcruiser is a favorite especially among Australians. The Nissan Patrol is used by the United Nations. While these three are highly able off-road vehicles, on road they are not pleasant to drive. Marketers then decided to capitalize on the imagery of the 4WD and created what is known as the soft-roader. These cars are really just normal hatchbacks that are jacked up a little to make it look like a 4WD. Therefore, they have the fuel economy and drive comfort of a small car but the imagery of a 4WD. This marketing magic resulted in a huge swing from real, truck-like 4WDs to these pretend cars. Soft-roaders include cars like the Toyota Rav4, Honda CRV, Nissan X-Trail, BMW 5-Series, and Mercedes M-class. Some of the ads really go far to express the 4WD psychological imagery inherent in these cars. For example, the Nissan X-Trail's ad features a man who, instead of driving around with a puppy dog, drives around and plays with a crocodile as a pet. How many of these soft-road drivers will actually use their cars to haul around crocodiles?

As petrol prices go up, many people are switching away from large cars, but although small cars sell well, many people are also switching to these soft-road cars.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I saw a TV program some years ago about a very successful and very wealthy marketing guru. He spoke about how he would try to get to the actual reason of why people buy the things they do. He said just asking them did not normally produce the right answer, as people generally rationalise based upon socially acceptable reasons. He explained that he did a campaign for (I think it was ) Ford, which wanted to improve its 4WD sales. He deduced that the reason people bought 4WD's was to get a feeling of dominance. So he advised Ford to tint the windows. They did this, and sales socketed!