How what you drive affects how you drive

Written by a Guest Blogger

We’ve all noticed how some people’s personalities change when they get behind the wheel of a car. As they morph from sensible to scary, what’s going on in their heads?

Studies commissioned by insurance companies, road safety authorities and motoring industry players – all of which have more than a passing interest in knowing about driving styles – have found that there are strong links between our personality traits, our driving styles, and the cars we choose to buy – right down to the specific details like tyres. The decisions we make when driving and buying a car are not entirely rational, and emotional and social factors come into play. We judge people by the type of car they drive, and our own cars are an important part of how we identify ourselves.

Mr Mild-Mannered becomes Mr Masterful and Ms Meek becomes Ms Mean the moment they are in the driving seat, or someone who has spent weeks researching different cars’ performance, maintenance costs and fuel consumption makes a buying decision based on emotion rather than the research when they see something they fall in love with – and the strong connection between our cars and the way we like to see ourselves is not lost on those clever marketing folk who earn a living by inventing names for cars.

It’s all in a name

While it would be easy to brand a new car “Bully”, “Flighty” or “Feral”, most marketers prefer a less blatant approach, and choose subtle ways of feeding car buyers’ fantasies about themselves and their driving styles. Car names with animal themes are a common way of hinting at animal attributes a driver might aspire to.

Mustangs, Colts, Pintos and Broncos have been named after natural horsepower, the Shelby Cobra, and Dodge’s Viper, Copperhead and Venom models are all about inspiring a sense of danger, while Impalas, Stags and Gazelles conjure up elegant, agile animals. Then there are the cars named after members of the cat family – or in the case of Jaguar, a car manufacturer named for a sleek jungle predator.

You’ll note that no Mouse, Tortoise or Wombat appears in these lists; the average car buyer looks for something that’s just a little edgy, and would rather not be associated with any creature that is timid, plodding, or just plain ordinary. The ideal animal theme for a car is likely to recall a creature that is fast, feisty, ferocious, and far from feeble. Of course there are exceptions to this rule, and Fiat’s Panda and Reliant’s Kitten spring to mind as popular cars named after animals that are more cute and cuddly, than menacing and malevolent.

You are what you drive

When you’ve chosen a car that’s named after a wild animal you’ll drive as if you are king of the road. If you’re behind the wheel of a Mustang you’ll be champing at the bit whenever traffic lights go red. Drive a Jaguar and you’ll be running down your prey (overtaking the car ahead of you) in no time. These zoological car names are full of meaning, and they can do much more to boost a car owner’s self-image than a synthetic name that has been carefully chosen because it is meaningless in any known language or, at least, is inoffensive in the languages spoken by the target market for the car.

Don’t want to be judged on the car you drive or the way you drive it? Don’t want to be manipulated by marketers into revealing your secret aspirations? Perhaps you should play it safe, open an account with a taxi company, and enjoy your motoring fantasies by watching Top Gear.

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Auto Upkeep 4th Edition

Michael Gray

Mike has roots in the automotive service industry. He began diagnosing and fixing cars at a young age in his family’s service station. He has worked in automotive parts supply stores, towing companies, and service facilities. After graduating from St. Cloud State University (MN) with a Bachelor’s degree, he implemented and taught a basic car care program at the high school level. During work on his Master’s degree at Illinois State University (IL), he was a curriculum specialist on a National Science Foundation project where he co-authored ten integrated mathematics, science, and technology books designed for team teaching. Mike has also supervised teachers in Career and Technology Education as a school system administrator.

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