WHY IT’S TIME TO STOP HATING PRIUS DRIVERS

Prius drivers are some of the most hated on the road, and their Prii are not far behind.  There have always been cars that people dislike and, by association, their drivers.  Remember Hummer?  In the case of the Toyota Prius, the process is reversed.

The vitriol directed toward Prius drivers follows two routes:

1.  Driving habits – Prius drivers seem particularly singled out for their poor driving.  In addition to being perceived as unusually inconsiderate drivers, the Prius-hating crowd seems most enraged by the general slowness with which Prius drivers go about their business.  After all, it is unfair for one group to maximize its fuel efficiency at the expense of another trying to minimize it.

2.  Liberal, hippy, do-gooding, entitled jerks – The majority of the venom is reserved for the perceived personal characteristics of Prius drivers.  To some, driving a Prius is like going to McDonald’s and ordering a salad.  Nobody likes to be reminded of the fact that they should be ashamed of themselves.  Similarly, driving a car that is synonymous with saving the planet really ticks people off.

Don’t hate the player, hate the game

The above routes to Prius-driver hatred reflect a basic stereotype of Prius drivers.  Stereotypes are generalizations about a group of people in which certain traits are assigned to virtually all members of the group, regardless of actual variation among the members.  Thus, the Prius-driver stereotype is just as notable for what it does not include.  Namely, the possibility that some people might just want to save money on gas.

Judging from the number of Prii sold, it is unlikely that Prius owners are continuing to huddle together in order to decide how they can best admonish other drivers.  Prius prices are becoming more competitive and the number of Prius choices are set to markedly increase.  All of these factors suggest that regular people are driving Prii, including those who never thought that they would.

The times they are a-changin’

If non-tree huggers are driving Prii, then it may be time for Prius-haters to direct their animus toward another group of drivers.  Any suggestions?

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10 REASONS WHY MINIVANS ARE COOL

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Minivans are like the kids in class who constantly get hit in the back of the head with spitballs.  It’s not that people don’t like them, it’s that they don’t want to be them.  Indeed, if you talk to people who own a minivan, most will say that they genuinely appreciate its functionality.  However, almost without fail, they then cover their faces and apologize for owning one.  It’s a classic case of cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance has frequently been described as an uncomfortable feeling caused by a thought or action that is discrepant with one’s usually positive self-conception.  According to cognitive dissonance theory, this discomfort drives us to reduce the negative feelings, much like hunger and thirst prompt eating and drinking, respectively.

We typically reduce cognitive dissonance in one of three ways:

1. Change our behavior to bring it in line with the dissonant cognition.

Example: Buy a Ford Excursion with a gun rack and start hunting lions.

2. Justify our behavior by adding new cognitions.

Example: “I bought this minivan for the kids because I am the best parent in the world, and those narcissists in the Chevy Suburbans clearly have no respect for human life.”

3. Justify our behavior by changing the dissonant cognition.

Example: See the list below to help exercise this option…

10 REASONS WHY MINIVANS ARE COOL

1. Exclusivity.  In 2010, minivans accounted for about slightly less than 4% of the approximately 11.7 million light vehicle sales in the United States.  Therefore, only about 460,000 people bought minivans last year.  Some people have more Facebook friends.

2. Engineering.  I love supercars, but doing more with more is not particularly impressive.  In addition, they are impractical and about as uncomfortable as men who wear skinny jeans.  In contrast, minivan engineers have an incredibly tough assignment – please an entire family by building a vehicle upon which every owner will crucially rely yet under-appreciate, using mainstream components in a difficult-to-style package that must be mass produced and sold within a reasonable, albeit increasing, price range.  Building a Ferrari is like playing with Legos, in comparison.

3. Luxury.  In order to be competitive, minivans must now have more cup holders than a baseball locker room, so much A/V equipment that MTV had to cancel Pimp My Ride, doors that automatically open, close, and provide therapy, interiors flexible enough to have their own Cirque de Soleil show, and even chilled beverage containers for the discerning sippy cup crowd.  If I owned a limousine company, I’m a little nervous come prom season.

4. Procreation.  No, not the kind that forced you into a minivan in the first place, the kind in which minivans themselves have engaged.  In the United States, we now have a new automotive niche born from minivans, mini-minivans.  You are probably most familiar with the Mazda5 and others, such as the upcoming Ford C-Max, will be showing up at dealerships within the next few years.  Therefore, minivan owners (or, “minivan rollers”, because it sounds cooler) have not sold their soul to the diaper-changing devil.  They’re trendsetters.  Speaking of which…

5. Minivan-chic.  There is shabby-chic, geek-chic, and eco-chic, none of which have traditionally chic origins.  Contrary to the perception that minivans are a 4,000 lb. needle hurtling straight toward the bull’s-eye on your self-esteem balloon, I believe they represent a type of chic just waiting to be hyphenated.  Drive it with confidence, and you and the Beckhams may just find yourselves using all of that horsepower to outrun the paparazzi.

6. Good looking.  Seriously.  The new Toyota Sienna and the previous version of the Honda Odyssey are pretty good-looking vehicles complete with relatively athletic stances.  Furthermore, the new Honda Odyssey has a lightening bolt running down the side of it.  How cool is that?

Photo: Carscoop. Note how the beltline drops down toward the rear. Shazam!

7. Disco balls.  These should be optional because pushing the button that opens all of the minivans’ doors, especially the tailgate, creates an instant party.  From tailgating to drive-ins, everyone will be clamoring to press out the wrinkles from sitting in their cramped midlife-crisis sports cars to hang around the “cool people” with the minivan.  And you know what they say, what happens in drive-ins, stays in drive-ins.

8. Unlike babysitters, they won’t eat your food.  They may guzzle gas more than the average family sedan, but it will be from the pump and not the fridge.  My sister and brother-in-law have a minivan, and my nieces and nephew have been instantly transformed into something that they have never been before – quiet.  Now they can take them anywhere.  Those televisions are like visual valium for children, though probably just as addictive.  It may not be the best parenting technique, but it works in a pinch.

9. Covert cargo-ops.  Minivans are chameleonic in their ability to carry cargo, whether it be the humantype or the Home Depot variety.  However, the best part is that neighbors will never ask you to help them move because your cargo hauler is virtually camouflaged for that duty.  Anyone who has ever owned a pick-up, including this author, thinks that is way cool.

10. Easy living.  Unless one is a slave for fashion or a masochist, comfortable is better than uncomfortable.  Minivans make life easier and that may just be the best reason to buy one.  Compared to the fashionistas in their four-door coupes, you will arrive at your destination refreshed and looking your best.  And remember, nothing is forever.  Once the kids gets shipped off to college, the army, or prison, you can get something even cooler.

Do you think minivans are (not) cool?  Vote below and sound off by leaving a comment!


NOT JUST ANOTHER PRETTY FACE: LEXUS GETS A MAKEOVER

I have found inspiration, and it was looking at me through the shadowy eyes of a Lexus.

As this blog finds its voice, it appears that Lexus may have found its face.  Teaser images indicate that a unique front-end design may find itself on the new GS350 that is scheduled to be unveiled at Pebble Beach, and its DNA may eventually be shared with other models in Lexus’ lineup.

Lexus GS350 Teaser Image

I think that Lexus’ about-face is a good move for the brand, and here’s why.

Faces are important.  People can generally recognize and infer information from human faces, such as age, sex, personality traits, and emotion, within milliseconds of exposure.  This ability gives us an adaptive advantage.  For example, quickly recognizing anger in others’ faces allows us to infer that physical danger may be imminent.  Therefore, if we cannot recognize a face or discern what thoughts and feelings may lie behind it, then we lose valuable information, and perhaps much more.

Would you react to each of these people in the same way?

I believe that automobile manufacturers face (sorry!) similar risks when designing cars.  Our facial recognition system is so hyper-aware, that we also see faces in non-human objects.  Thus, if a car’s front fascia does not provide information about its attitude, purpose, or behavioral intentions, then potential consumers may suffer from a form of automotive prosopagnosia – they can recognize that the vehicle is a car, but it does not appear distinct in any way.  In contrast, who can forget the first time that they looked into the soul-piercing stare of a BMW’s “angel-eye” headlights while its nostrils flared in the rearview mirror?

Anthropomorphism at its finest.

Lexus’ new face provides information about the GS350’s intentions and, by extension, the brand.  In fact, it appears that Lexus is getting increasingly serious about its cars’ sporting prowess.  This renewed focus may also give the brand more street credibility, which is an important weapon in the constant battle with luxury-car manufacturers that have sporting images, such as BMW and Audi.  In essence, sportier and more aggressive Lexi Lexuses Lexera Lexus mean that there will be increased cohesion between the cars’ faces and their body language (another important source of visual information).   Speaking of aggressiveness, this design direction may be a particularly good way to go.  For example, findings from a recent study suggest that male and female participants “liked” cars that convey a sense of “power”.  According to the authors, power involved traits of dominance, masculinity, and anger.  While we will have to wait until the production version is unveiled to assess its visual power, the GS350 seems to be on the right track.

Does liking and brand recognition lead to increased purchases?  Psychologists and market researchers have known for years that liking and buying intentions do not necessarily equate to increased sales.  However, good designs get people into showrooms, and good cars tend to get into people’s driveways.  Therefore, if Lexus continues with a distinct design theme, the driving capabilities to back it up, and its relentless pursuit of perfection, their cars will be much more than just another pretty face.