Posted by: David Kiley on July 29, 2008
What exactly is a dream car? The New York Times’ story on July 27, “Putting the Dream Car Out To Pasture,” in the overly precious and often annoying Sunday Style section of the paper, tries to make a case that the “dream car” era is over. “Dream cars” are defined in the story as BMWs, Hummer’s and even a….Toyota 4Runner?
As would be expected, the story seems to dwell on rich people in Beverly Hills, San Francisco, Long Beach, CA, etc.
More than a decade ago, I recall sitting in a strategy meeting at the ad agency where I was working. We had the Mercedes-Benz account and were trying to deal with the fact that the research showed that people had come to view Mercedes as almost a “silly” brand, overblown, and not worth the money. As we were interpreting the research, I chimed in that I thought the most important emotion one could feel after buying a car was “smart.”
Even when buying a luxe vehicle, a “dream car,” like a Hummer or BMW, people want to feel: they didn’t pay too much; made the right choice of dealer; the choice is validated by third party critics; that getting it repaired won’t cost a fortune; that their friends will respect the purchase. Yes, it should also make them feel good, like conservative journalist Robert Novak’s Corvette convertible. But nobody wants to think they made the “wrong” choice or a “dumb” choice no matter if gas is $1.50 a gallon or $4.50, or $8.50.
The point of what is going on in the country was kind if missed in the story—not that people are sacrificing their notion of a dream car, but rather than many people are redefining it. And by the way…don’t underestimate the idea that plenty of people not interviewed in the story are still identifying their “dream car” as a Cadillac Escalade or Hummer H2 and don’t much care what gas costs to fill it. There are still plenty of people pissed today over gaas prices who have no intention of trading in or apologizing for their Chevy Tahoe, Toyota Sequoia or Lincoln Navigator even as they drive them alone 90% of the time.
Go to any backyard bbq these days and people are comparing fuel economy of the car they bought rather than horsepower. Buying greener like a Prius, Honda Fit, VW diesel, isn’t so much a sacrifice for these people, but rather a new sign of pride…the new dream car.
As I have written in this space before, I bought a BMW I had long wanted last January. But real world fuel economy of the car was seriously bumming me out. Loved the way it drove, but I came to hate stopping at the gas station to fill up. I didn’t feel smart driving it and filling it up twice a week. Now I am looking at the 2009 Honda Fit and VW Jetta TDI, and I confess I am more excited about buying either one than I was about getting the Bimmer. The dream car was not put out to pasture…just redefined.
If Ford was selling its 65 mpg Fiesta in the U.S. this Fall, that would be a dream car. I’d feel like the smartest guy on the block for having bought it.
Many people are buying these cars for the fuel economy, which is a practical concern, but is not viewed in many cases by the purchaser as some kind of sacrifice---like getting socks on Christmas instead of a train set during the Depression. Indeed, Hummer and even Aston Martin buyers in my world are not known for trying to get their friends to buy a Hummer. They aren't so much brand advocates, as they are brand narcisists. Prius, Fit and diesel owners are the real advocates, doing more at a Sunday afternoon bbq to sell a car than the local salesman.