A vehicle can be your personality on wheels, drawing positive or negative reactions from other motorists.
As a young man, Kunle Afolabi‘s first car was Volkswagen Passat. It was passed onto him by his uncle. It was always breaking down. Two years later, he had changed job. As a client service executive in an advertising company, he switched over to Racer Daewoo. Many he barely knew would wave or smile at him. Today, he cruises about in a Toyota Rav4. That has obviously raised his rating among friends, relations and neighbours. Anytime he spots another Rav4 while driving on the road, to a way of drawing the attention of the driver.
This habit may only be prevalent among young people driving certain class of vehicles, including exotic or flash cars.
That may not be surprising. In his book ”Traffic, Why we drive the way we do (and what it says about us),” Tom Vanderbilt cites studies that show motorists are likely to honk their horns at those who drive a similar car.
”I don‘t really like Hummers,” Vanderbilt said. ”I‘m probably less likely to let one merge in front of me than I would someone driving the same model Subaru as I do.”
An online auto specialist, The Detroit News, says such is also the experience of owners of Harley-Davidsons, Corvettes and Porsches, who heartily acknowledge one another. This courtesy does not include the Porsche Cayenne SUV, and BMW drivers.
”Other Porsche guys will flash their lights and give you the wave,” says Nat Mundy, owner of a vintage 1966 911 and co-founder of Grand Prix New York in Mount Kisco.
Mundy also has a 2005 Audi S4 and a 1989 Range Rover modified to look like a monster truck, which he calls his ”yuppie redneck truck.” What he drives depends on the impression he wants to project that day.
”I‘m totally anonymous in the Audi, and nobody dares to go near the scary Range Rover,” he said. ”But pull up in the old Porsche and everyone approaches and wants to talk. It‘s way friendlier than a new Ferrari or Lamborghini.”
Never mind the ‘jabbing‘ by some naughty commercial motorcycle operators in major cities such as Lagos when they want to vent their anger at motorists whom they feel hinder their movement. They can label your SUV or trendy sedan carton or coffin.
One of the fascinating things about testing cars for a living is seeing how other drivers react to you, for good or for bad. A vehicle is your personality on wheels, and once behind the wheel of silver Rolls-Royce Phantom or a yellow Hummer, you may also find yourself taking on aspects of that persona.
Some cars make loud statements, so it is best to be aware of what they are before dropping the big cash.
Carmakers are extremely aware of brand perception, which they try to manage carefully through advertising and public relations. Sometimes it works well — like Mini‘s image as fun and rebellious, yet still eco-conscious. But once the image gets away, it can be disastrous.
President of California-based JMPR Public Relations, which represents Bugatti and Bentley, Joe Molina, says, ”When public perception goes awry, there‘s always a better way to position yourself so that it is less harmful to the brand,”
For instance, he says Hummer is an example where the image was totally mismanaged. Nobody was minding the store.”
A good way to avoid such a fate, says Molina, is to have marketing people carefully listening to word on the street. ”If you hear the same thing from two or three markets, that‘s trouble. The top people need to know before it‘s too late.”
Still, there‘s nothing like taking a car on the road to gauge if you will be loved or loathed.
Some cars are obvious: Everyone loves a classic. A buddy drives a 1961 Lincoln Continental that oozes cool nostalgia. He has been pulled over by police numerous times, but they have not really found anything against him.
Another new car enthusiast says, ”I‘ve never received a bigger reception than the time I tested a convertible car around Manhattan. The city‘s usual glib indifference was scrubbed away by the tyke-size minicar. I was approached by Upper East Side doyennes, pretty downtown girls and sweaty construction workers. By day‘s end I was longing for the anonymity of the subway.
”Exotic cars are tricky. I‘ve recently driven both a Lamborghini Gallardo and a Ferrari 599. Small boys in the city, many who have ridden only in yellow taxis, follow these exotics with awed eyes – the call of the cool car is somehow primal.”