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Redefining The Dream Car....Not Putting It Out To Pasture

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.

Reader Comments


July 29, 2008 12:59 PM

It's called growing up . . . feel lucky you not only are but can "admit" to it.
90% of car enthusiasts don't have the guts to admit they'd rather drive a Fit (practicality is beyond fault, but the minivan in miniature profile is tough to swallow). I got my first automatic tranmission equipped vehicle since 1993 (and I wished that were a stick) and it doesn't bother me. I'm with you on the Fiesta, and both my BMWs were a waste of money (unless you live in rural mountain terrain, all that great handling is for what? On-ramps?). Dave, how about a post about how anyone gets the B-Week gig after coming out of an ad firm . . . must be a decent story there? By the way, you're better off with an older TDI . . . new emissions controls = backpressure, lower fuel economy. They JUST figured out how to do a 50-state compliant diesel, in a few years they'll decrease backpressure and increase fuel economy/performance.

From Kiley: I had been a journo and left for a bit, foolishly, to be an ad guy. I was lucky to be taken back into the journalism fold in 2000.
The older TDIs have better mpg, but they are dirtier. I think the new TDIs with combined fuel efficiency and particulate traps are a wiser and greener thing.


July 29, 2008 11:47 PM

If you're thinking of a Fit....then you must drive a Scion XD.... way cuter and 25% more horsepower! The sale goes on....

From Kiley: I'm all about nimbleness of drive in a hatchback and fuel economy. I don't really give a rat's you-know-what about hp to tell you the truth.


July 30, 2008 7:25 AM

Anyone know what the MPG will be on the 2009 Honda Fit? Hopefully it will be even better than the 2008? Otherwise why buy a smaller car rather than the Civic?

From Kiley: It is promised to be equal or better than 2008 though it is marginally bigger.


July 30, 2008 12:30 PM

Agreed. Any story about 'dream cars' that highlights a Toyota 4Runner and a Volvo bought for 'aesthetic' reasons tends to lose credibility quite quickly...


July 30, 2008 2:58 PM

Let me tell you something. The Cadillac Escalade and the Hummer H2 would will again be our 'dream cars,' thanks to President Bush and John McCain's efforts to open-up offshore drilling to our oil companies. Once, that's done, our energy worries will beome a distant memory.

From Kiley: And I'm pitching for the Yankees tonight.


July 31, 2008 8:44 AM

Dave --

Re: earlier TDIs being dirtier . . . what is the difference between two pieces of house fly crap in your pepper vs. one or six? We're talking .0x grams/mile. The payback on a new TDI is much, much longer than a Fit, plus the Fit holds more. O wait for the sure to be kickass Chevy Cobalt replacement with the 1.4 gas turbo . . .easily will get the fuel economy of the TDI for about $7K less, plus the fuel costs less. Now, if the Gov't got its head out it's X and taxed diesel at a lower rate than gas, as does about half of the EU countries . . . diesels would make a big comeback. In the interim, we'll see gas turbos grow 300% through 2012 in an overall declining market. In the scheme of things, the payback period for OEMs and consumers on direct injection, gas turbos is better than any technology available today (hence EcoBoost, and Honda/BMW making gas turbos now). Watch the turbo space.

Jeff B.

July 31, 2008 10:32 AM

Wow. I want some of whatever "Wade" is smoking! That must be great stuff. First, the Hummer is not & was not anyone's dream car who actually knows anything about cars. It's not even a good truck if you like trucks.
I say go for the Honda Fit. Car & Driver reports the Fit Sport matches the Ferrari F430 in slalom speed, it's very roomy (yes, the new one will be roomier & more pwerful). I have come really close to buying a BMW 3 or 4 times, but in the end I always picked something else -- most recently an 06 Mazda Miata GT (30mpg). I think it actually handles better than the Bimmer at normal speeds.

Bob Elton

July 31, 2008 4:46 PM

I can't believe anyone is seriously considering giving up a BMW for a Fit, or other econobox.

Sure, all the nice things that are said about the Fit, or the Scion, or other current small cars, is probably true.

So what. The driving dynamics, the care and precision of the details, the precise and communicative steering of the BMW have to be worth more than a few dollars a week in gas. Heck, listening to the silky inline 6 is worth a few dollars a week.

And while some, maybe most, of the people who drive BMWs do it to impress others, anyone who cares about cars drives a BMW for what it is, the (I hate to repeat a cliche) ultimate driving machine.



August 3, 2008 3:03 PM

I bought a GMC yukon denali last year because I have two carseats to put in the backseat. Believe me...once these little buggers are out of their car seats, I will be buying a car that gets NO LESS than 40 mpg...hear that automakers? We can send a man to the moon, but we cannot saturate the market with cars that get more than 40 mpg? give me a break...


August 4, 2008 10:02 PM

Talk about redefining, get a Tesla Roadster. Yeah, they are expensive now but when they hit build numbers in the 10s of thousands with the coming Sedan they will hit reasonable price targets.

Electric Vehicles are coming.

Andrew O.

August 5, 2008 8:37 AM

Glad to hear it, LisaMBA09 but the notion that one needs a GMC Yukon to fit two car seats in the back is mistaken. (One side effect of the high gas prices is that many Moms who bought into the notion of needing what is essentially a truck (and a step-ladder) are now dealing with the poor gas mpg of these big lugs.

By the way, most cars with back seats (including even economy cars) easily fit two carseats. I do the same with my two kids in my old Camry and even before that in an old VW Jetta. (In the pre-car seat early '70s, ,my sister and I used to be relagated to what our family called "the well" behind our VW Beetle's rear seat..! We've come a long way on safety, admittedly!)

Auto enthusiasts will always like the precision of German cars such as the BMW, Audi, etc. (myself included) but the guy above is right about all that precision often going into handling on an off-ramp! If the high-gas prices shake out some pretend car enthusiasts, so be it. I even see muscle cars out there from the '60s that are not about to be retired - they're already limited to weekend duty.

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