Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Just Because You Can?

Just because you can sell something doesn't mean you should.

But I suppose that as long as there are a couple of people that will pay for it, there will generally be a couple of people selling it.

Recently I was in the market for a car. For most of us, that means we need to think about what it is that we are really buying. I know ultimately we are buying a means of transportation, but it certainly must be about more than that. Which, I think, is really strange considering how much money we are actually putting into it.

You ever wonder why SUVs were so popular, that is until gas became more expensive than having kids? Roughing it, for many SUV owners, is going to a Holiday Inn. Camping? Out of the question - there are icky things like bugs out there, and you might get dirty. Actually using the 4-wheel drive? Well, they do drive in the snow maybe 10 out of the 365 days of the year. Maybe.

Buying In (p 49) says you bought in:

One reason SUVs became so popular is that they felt so safe: all that metal surrounding you as you towered over the punier cars all around. But of course, the data show rather convincingly that SUVs are far less safe than smaller cars. (And in fact, the feeling of safety may contribute to this, by lulling drivers into carelessness.) Before you blame this on big companies victimizing helpless, passive consumers from the old days before the recent revolution that gave us the power to hold them accountable, it's worth noting that journalist Keith Bradsher tells a somewhat different story in his definitive book on the SUV phenomenon, "High And Mighty." The SUV evolved largely in response to research into what consumers wanted and to what succeeded in the market. Carmakers conducted massive and detailed surveys, involving tens of thousands of consumers and research efforts "backed up by many interviews with consumers in focus groups," on a scale that dwarfed such efforts by politicians or media outlets. Consumers wanted four-wheel drive even though hardly any used it; they wanted to sit high in the vehicle because it felt safe, even though it wasn't. Auto executives seem to have been perplexed by and the engineers almost comtemptuous of what consumers wanted - but of courrse, they sold it to them anyway and in fact crafted advertising that played directly to consumers' dissonant desires.

My favorite car that I have owned was a Jeep Wrangler with a soft top. I loved that car. For the ten years that I owned it, it went on beaches, dirt roads, no roads, through the rain, and almost all of that with the top off (including the rain). It was a sad day when we traded it in. On that day, I realized that I was now truly domesticated: we traded it in for a minivan. A few years later I tried to regain my manhood by buying a motorcycle. I supposed it worked; that is what I called the stitches I received from laying it over once.

But my tastes are changing somewhat. Although I craved getting the 4-door version of the Wrangler, gas prices are making me aware of how much money I'm leaving on the roads, and my brain has turned a shade greener over the years. We went just about as functional as I can imagine: a Honda Fit. It's cheap, it has great gas mileage, and it will last long enough until an electric version of the Wrangler is available...

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