You Are What You Drive

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Sure, there are Betty people and there are Veronica people. Letterman people and Leno people. PC people and Mac people. Even Bush people and Gore people, as hard as it may be sometimes to figure out the difference. But SUV people and minivan people? That's one distinction that has the entire auto industry scratching its collective head, or more correctly, paying legions of "experts" to ponder the question. Because much of the demographic information of the typical buyer is the same for each vehicle type — fortysomething, married, with kids — marketers of both vehicles have been forced to seek deeper meanings in the choices made by their clients.

To say the least, your car may reveal a lot more about your self-image than you'd care to admit. The New York Times reported Monday that researchers commissioned by various manufacturers have found that while buyers of both vehicle types are drawn primarily from the same demographic, their feelings about being part of that demographic couldn't be more different. Aggregating their findings, we notice that SUV drivers are not exactly aging gracefully. They're less comfortable than minivan drivers with being married, they like driving fast, and they want their cars to bulge with muscle, bristle with aggression and make them feel sexy — a ride in which they could still imagine taking a date. And when Lincoln promotes its Navigator as an "Urban Assault Luxury Vehicle" it's tapping a deep-seated vein of anxiety: The SUV, say researchers, projects aggression, warning off the criminals that researchers insist haunt the subconscious of the SUV driver.

By contrast, the studies found, minivan drivers tend to be God-fearing community-oriented folk, who like the interior of their vehicle to remind them of being in the womb. They're resigned to being parents rather than sexual predators, and are more likely to be at a religious service or doing volunteer work when their SUV counterparts are dining at fine restaurants, cruising nightclubs or working out.

Of course, if you're undecided about whether to buy an SUV or a minivan — and aren't thinking about such factors as the impact of SUVs on America's burgeoning output of carbon gases — the auto industry may, on the basis of their findings, be able to design a personality test to help you make up your mind. And wants to help. We suggest it include the following questions:

  • Martha Stewart or Carmen Elektra?
  • Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan?
  • Fleetwood Mac or Eminem?
  • MAXIM or Esquire?
  • Skis or snowboards?
  • GAP or French Connection?
  • 'Friends' or 'Sex and the City'?
  • Espresso or latte?
  • Martini or Martinellis?
  • Any other representative choices? Please mail us your suggestions for posting on the site.