HATCHBACKS NO LONGER THE HUNCHBACKS OF THE AUTOMOTIVE WORLD

Aston-Martin Rapide: Arguably the most beautiful hatchback ever.

A recent post on Autoblog understandably laments Kia’s decision to price the Rio hatchback higher than the Rio sedan.  The concern is that such pricing will decrease the likelihood that customers will purchase the hatchback version, and increase the likelihood that our automotive landscape will continue to be marred by the car equivalent of weeds.  Although this concern may make intuitive sense, Kia’s and other automakers’ pricing schemes may actually increase the esteem of hatchbacks in customers’ eyes and ultimately increase hatchback sales.

Automotive enthusiasts (and much of the rest of the world) tend to like hatchbacks.  They are versatile, arguably better looking than sedans, and primed for sportiness.  In contrast, it has been said many times that Americans do not like hatchbacks.  Given the above arguments, Americans’ supposed aversion to hatchbacks makes little sense.  Whenever behavior seems illogical, psychology can usually explain it.  This case is no exception.

1984 VW GTI: The "hot hatch" that started it all for sporty hatches in the U.S.

Even the most basic car-buying decision is influenced by emotions.  For many decades, Baby Boomers have dominated the automobile consumer segment.  Many Boomers came of age in an era of large sedans that evoke wonderful memories (ironically, memories made all the more distant by Boomers’ decisions to seemingly ruin the very things that made those cars possible).  In addition, hatchbacks began to infiltrate showrooms in earnest during the 1970s oil crisis.  Hatchbacks were largely offered for economy and not for versatility, looks, or sportiness.  Thus, they do not have any real nostalgia associated with them for most of the car-buying population, and they may be perceived as cheap alternatives to sedans.

Negative emotions 1 Hatchbacks 0

1957 Chevy Bel Air: Hard to believe that the sedans of the 1950s would give rise to the success of Camrys and Accords today.

Fast forward to today.  While it is likely that hatchbacks are still perceived as being relatively low rungs on the automotive ladder, the reality is not so simple.  First, ultra-luxury cars such as the Porsche Panamera and Aston-Martin Rapide (one of the most gorgeous cars to ever grace the roadways) are hatchbacks.  Yes, really.  Furthermore, the new Ferrari FF and proposed Bentley shooting brake are also hatchback/wagon variants.  Second, Mini Coopers, Audi A3s, and even VW GTIs are on the premium side of the double-yellow line, albeit at much lower price points than the previously mentioned cars.  Third, an increasing number of new vehicle launches (Ford Fiesta and Focus, Chevy Sonic, Hyundai Veloster) and industry stalwarts (VW GTI and Mazda Mazdaspeed 3) are hatchback-heavy or only offered in hatchback form.  While some of them are aimed at people on a budget, none are being offered as lesser variants of their sedan siblings.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  The result is that a new generation (literally) is growing up with and aspiring to own, dare I say it, hatchbacks!

The score may be beginning to even out.

Ferrari FF: Arguably the most maniacal-looking hatchback ever.

So what role does pricing play in this psychological equation?  Pricing is important to our perception of a product’s place in the market.  For example, suppose you walk into Home Depot with intentions of purchasing a power tool, something about which you hypothetically know nothing.  You see a bunch of drills laid out in front of you, all of which look similar.  However, some are priced in the $50 range, others in the $150 range, and yet others in the $400 range.  All else being equal, which range of drills do you perceive as “better”?  Exactly.  That is why hatchbacks may actually benefit from higher prices relative to their dowdy siblings.

Have no fear hatchback fans.  Before long, you may be lamenting that you see too many of them on road as opposed to not enough.  We’ll save the psychological lure of exclusivity for another time though.


10 REASONS WHY MINIVANS ARE COOL

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!


THE NEW VOLKSWAGEN JETTA: IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME

If I were to suggest that the best way for an automobile manufacturer to increase sales of a particular vehicle is to fit it with a relatively small base engine, downgrade the interior materials from the previous version, and refrain from making the design stand out from the crowd, would you agree?  Someone at Volkswagen made such suggestions during the development of the new Jetta…and it happens to be working quite well.

June 2011 sales of the Jetta were up 88% from last year.  Moreover, TDI diesel Jettas accounted for nearly one quarter of those sales, up 121%.  Therefore, not only is Volkswagen getting Americans to buy more of their compact cars, they are getting them to buy more of their diesel compact cars.  Unglaublich!
Why?  Although I am most interested in your comments, I have two suggestions:
1. CONFORMITY (or lack thereof) – Many of us like to think of ourselves as non-conformists, even though the evidence suggests otherwise (e.g., you probably ate your cereal this morning with a spoon, drove to work on the appropriate side of the road, and, unless you live in Los Angeles, didn’t shoot anyone on your drive into the office).  However, the compact car segment is known for ubiquity, not exclusivity.  Therefore, one possibility is that owners of the new Jetta view it as a greater expression of individuality compared to other stalwarts of the compact car segment, such as the Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla.  In other words, Jettas, and by extension the people that drive them, may be seen as an uncommon choice in a segment seemingly rife with commonality.
Do Jetta owners value individuality more than owners of other cars in the same segment?  Do they consider themselves to be less conforming than other compact car owners?  The answers may be important because, if the evidence indicates that individuality matters comparatively more to Jetta owners, then it would be ironic that Volkswagen is aiming to dramatically increase overall sales.  One possible implication going forward would be for Volkswagen to reinforce the notion that the Jetta still stands out from the crowd, even as an increasing number of them join it.
2. IMAGE – Image may not be everything, but research suggests that we do our best to maintain a positive self-image.  In turn, people who purchase the new Jetta may believe that it better projects their image than other segment rivals.  For example, Jetta owners may want to be associated with the Jetta’s German engineering roots, as well as its relatively sophisticated stable mates, such as the GTI, Passat, and Touareg (not to mention some of its cousins, such as Audi, Porsche, Bentley, and Lamborghini).  Although the exterior styling has been described by some as dull, it’s tailored and will probably age well.  While the new Hyundai Elantra may be more visually stimulating, the Jetta may come across as more sophisticated.
Do owners of the new Jetta want to project a different image than owners of comparable models?  Are they drawn to the European background and what it may say about them?

Journalists may have been relatively ungenerous with their automotive praise, but car buyers are so far bucking their reviews.  In a way, it’s refreshingly different.  Perhaps that is what Jetta owners feel about their new cars.