Dodge Viper Central
Passionate Purchases: Balancing logic and emotions: Getting emotional about your vehicle.  

by: Daniel Gorrell, Strategic Vision Automotive

If you’re like the average buyer, at least two very distinct forces help shape your decision when you choose a new car. While we like to think we rely on our rational mind when spending so much money, the truth is that emotion is a powerful factor that often wins the battle.

We have found that people have relationships with their cars and trucks much like they do with their spouses and significant others. We have measured these relationships over time and have discovered some interesting differences in the passion that exists from one vehicle to another.

In Strategic Vision's latest syndicated study, Dodge Viper owners registered the highest level of passion about their new vehicle. Given the financial, and other, sacrifices Viper owners have to make for this raw, heart-stopping performance machine, the finding makes sense. But what about the rest of us?

We ask buyers to tell us whether they feel a definite emotional attachment to their vehicles, some emotional attachment, or no emotional attachment at all. (If you just bought a new car or truck, think about how you would answer it.) We have discovered that this question taps one form of passion or enthusiasm about the vehicle experience. Besides the obvious "enthusiast" orientation, it often measures other sorts of involvement, as is the case with the VW Beetle — voted the second-most emotionally appealing vehicle among all 1998 models. Highlights from our proprietary 1998 polling include the following:

Are vehicle buyers emotionally committed? Most buyers (75%) admit to having some sort of emotional attachment with their new vehicles. Almost one in three (30%) say they have a definite attachment. On the other hand, one in four (25%) say they have no attachment.

What about the quarter without attachment, are these people passionless lumps? No, probably not. Quite often we find that these people either won’t fess up to their relationship without further probing, or they relate to their vehicles in other ways captured with different sorts of questions.

Because of the cost and the importance of the benefits provided, every single automotive buyer has some sort of emotional reaction to the ownership experience. Some Japanese importers have told us they believe that their buyers are buying a commodity, like a refrigerator, and have no emotional response. They typically hear this in focus groups. This view is not correct when you dig a little deeper.

Which models register the most passion? Dodge Viper owners (85%) report having the greatest number of owners who say they have a definite attachment to their vehicle. While other sports cars, convertibles and luxury cars make this group, the second-highest model is a car — the much less expensive VW Beetle (77%).


Which models register the least passion? Minivan and full-size van owners register the lowest incidence of emotional attachment (under 20%). Windstar and Dodge Ram Wagon are the lowest scoring vehicles. Two cars in this group are Olds 88 and Suzuki Esteem.

Are men more passionate about their vehicles? No! Emotional attachment does not appear to be a guy thing. Among all buyers, women as a group (32%) are somewhat more passionate about their vehicles than men (27%). We have discovered that the nature of women’s emotional involvement is somewhat more grounded in security and trust issues.

Do younger buyers have a greater emotional attachment? Yes, they do. Half (50%) of the buyers under 20 say they have a definite attachment to their vehicles. This makes sense — unburdened by other cares, we often will focus more on automobiles at that age. This incidence drops to less than one-third (30%) for those in the 30 to 39 age group and maintains roughly at that level for older buyers.

It's hard to get worked up about the Windstar
It's hard to get worked up about the Windstar

This is all very interesting, you might say, but I own a Ford Windstar (lowest rated on the passion scale) and I love my vehicle. It fits my needs in the context of the family fleet, and I would probably buy another one, even after the kids are gone. What gives? Is passion the only dimension in a relationship? Well, of course not. In analyzing the emotional response of vehicle buyers in-depth, we have discovered that there are other ways that consumers register emotion that can signal a strong and healthy relationship.

In minivans, the enthusiasm is not so much image-based (what will others think of me if they see me driving a minivan), although it can be; rather, it is related to the personal well-being associated with providing safety, security and comfort to others. These others may be family, elderly parents, church group or buddies at work who want to go to lunch together as a group. Although it does not deliver the raw passion of a Viper, a Windstar may strongly deliver another kind of emotional punch.