While you might think it’s wrong to associate a big pickup such as a Ford F-150 with a leather-skinned cattle rancher or a pink Volkswagen Beetle convertible with a bubble-headed blonde, such profiling actually is valid when it comes to automobiles and their owners. A recent Florida State University study confirms that an automobile’s physical characteristics can in fact convey specificpersonality traits. Cars with angular headlights and elongated hoods, for example, give off an angry, arrogant vibe. So what does your car say about you? We chose 10 rides and asked Walter McManus, an expert in the behavioral aspects of transportation and the head of the Automotive Analysis Group at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, to weigh in.
More than any other automobile, the Hummer H1 makes a statement for its owner: “I am macho. Really, I am. Just look at my big rig.” Maybe that’s because when the H1 was first released, it was a favorite of actor-turned-politician and all-around he-man Arnold Schwarzenegger, who played an unstoppable homicidal cyborg in the movie “Terminator.” But these drivers are “Terminator wannabes, not Terminators,” McManus says. And because the Hummer is so oversized, it’s not practical for most drivers. “In fact, they are the least utilitarian sport-utility vehicle out there,” McManus says. Unless you are cruising through a combat zone or climbing a mountain, you look like you are compensating for something.
“These are what I call A to B people,” McManus says of Corolla owners. By this he means they are drivers who consider cars solely as a means of getting from point A to point B and never as a source of fun. “They’re the minimalists, and don’t want anything they think is ostentatious,” he adds, noting that his grandfather, who once refused to pay for a car unless the dealer removed the air-conditioning system — in Louisiana, no less — was one. “They’re also very frugal,” he says.
The first all-electric sports car to hit the road, the Tesla Roadster has a price tag of more than $100,000, which means buyers who can afford one are in a rarefied group. “It’s a thing for venture capitalists in Southern California who want to convey a certain look,” McManus says, comparing the Tesla to another unique sports car from a bygone era, the DeLorean. “DeLorean was obsessed with having the perfect car,” McManus says of John DeLorean, the car’s creator. Like the DeLorean, the Tesla is not a serious mass-market vehicle. “It’s aimed at a pretty narrow group of people who think they’re the lords of the universe,” McManus says.
If you’re cruising around in a Cube, chances are you’re young and social. “The younger generation seems to like boxes to drive around in,” McManus says. For instance, in the 1960s and ’70s, teenagers cruised in vans outfitted with booming stereos. The Cube serves the same purpose for today’s youth. “When I see them driving around, the earth is usually vibrating,” McManus says. “[The drivers] aren’t rappers, but they’re wannabes.”
Dodge Ram Pickup
These days, if you own a pickup truck, you’re likely using it for its intended purpose: hauling stuff. Those who choose trucks such as the Dodge Ram for their blue-collar image don’t hang on to them when gas prices double — if they buy them at all. “Pickup trucks can be $40,000, and for that kind of money one can get a lot more car,” McManus says. Loyalty is a hallmark of the pickup driver. “They’re the only vehicles where people have window stickers of Calvin [the cartoon character] peeing on the logo of the other truck brands,” McManus says. “You don’t see that with the Prius.”
Muscle cars such as the Ford Mustang had their heyday in the 1960s and ’70s, so it follows that lots of nostalgic baby boomers drive them today. And why not? Today’s muscle cars are powerful, more comfortable and more fun to drive than ever before. However, they’re not practical enough to be a baby boomer’s only ride, according to McManus. They are too small for a family, and don’t get stellar gas mileage.
“The Escalade was a rapper-created phenomenon,” McManus says. “People who selected it don’t worry about the price of fuel or the environment. It’s living large.” You could spend the same amount of money on a Mercedes and have better fuel economy and performance, he says. The Escalade, like other SUVs, exudes machismo, because the vehicle is extremely big without actually having significant utilitarian use for hauling large items. “It’s like you’re taking a living room with you,” he says. “Some even have a refrigerator, so it really is like you’re living in there.”
Honda Odyssey Minivan
In the 1980s, stricter fuel-economy standards pushed out old-model station wagons and ushered in minivans. But the station wagon had a certain cachet that didn’t cross over to its bulkier counterpart, McManus says. Driving-age teens were as likely to cruise in a wagon as their parents were. The minivan, however, lacks any cool factor. The slickest thing about a ride such as the Honda Odyssey is seats that fold flat to the floor. “If you’re going grocery shopping, being able to fold everything flat is good, but it’s not a sexy feature,” McManus says. The driver? A mom or dad who’s not concerned with image.
In an era when we define ourselves by the type of personal computer we use — we’re either a Mac or a PC — those who own a 3-Series are Macs. Like an Apple, the BMW has style, a cultlike following and stellar performance. “They make you feel like you’re smart and with it,” McManus says. “It’s a very well-executed vehicle.” By that reasoning, we’d have to consider the owner to be a smart, considerate, yet style-conscious individual.
When you’re spending this much money — $300,000 plus — it’s no longer about getting from point A to point B. Comfort, convenience and cachet are your main priorities; you won’t even test-drive this beauty in the usual way. “With the Mulsanne, you want to sit in the back seat,” McManus says. There you’ll find over-the-top amenities like wool carpeting. “It’s like a lamb back there,” he says. For people who work for a living, their car is a work tool; not so with Bentley owners. “If you’re being driven in a Bentley, you don’t have to work,” McManus says. “You’re rich.”
Read original by Claire Martin here.
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