Is your car just another piece of household whiteware – or an accessory?
That’s easy to answer if you’re rich, and your car is a style icon of some sort. Your Yvonne Benetti clothes and your Audi TT exhibit the same sense of detailing. Your Land Rover looks right with that horsebox, your Mercedes fits in at the thoroughbred sales.
But surely ordinary punters like you and I can’t afford that sort of accessorizing?
On one level, no. When my friends buy cars, they look at reliability, fuel economy, child seat fit, how well it holds a roof and bicycle rack. And whether they can afford it… Only after they’ve perused the daily-errands criteria do looks come into it, and only if more than one car fits the bill.
If you’re on a budget, you can’t afford to be fussy.
Except that’s not quite true – even of budget cars. If it was, no company would try ads like Kia’s original Picanto campaign – with blue-rinse matrons in blue-toned cars; yellow-clad students with bright yellow cars; the ads linking the car’s flavour and colour with the owner’s fashion and lifestyle.
No-one bought the new Volkswagen Beetle because of its handling; or a PT Cruiser for its power. And everyone likes their neighbour to admire their car, however utilitarian it is.
That’s one reason designers go to great lengths to ensure their products don’t all look the same – and that they have their own character.
It’s the affordable small-car market that best displays vehicle as design accessory, for at that price if looks were immaterial, no company would bother.
Suzuki’s Swift still sells in such numbers partly because it looks cool – and it leads the light-car figures after years on the market. The Mazda2 is a design icon on wheels; Ford’s latest Fiesta looks exceptionally sharp; and though all three deliver a reasonable drive, you won’t know that until you owned them.
The less cutting-edge designs need another gimmick. Honda’s Jazz sells in part because of its innovative and practical use of space. Hyundai’s ageing Getz appeals to fleets and Toyota’s Yaris – well, it’s a Toyota. That brand says ‘sensible and reliable’. You can’t imagine it at fashion week, but it’ll never let you down…
So far this ramble has assumed ‘accessory’ equals fashion, but frankly, it doesn’t. Blokes buy a ute not only because they need one – but because it suits the look they want to project. Some buy SUVs because of a somewhat misguided perception they’re safer than conventional cars, but most just like the rugged, ‘we’re adventurers’ look.
Don’t believe family car choice is as much about accessorising as common sense? Look at the MPV. It delivers the most practical family motoring there is, but it’s NZ’s automotive wallflower.
Is there a point to all this? Not really. But next time your neighbour buys a new car you can have fun reading their personality from their choice. Funky or safe? Frustrated adventurer or closet racer?
Just don’t forget, they’ll be doing the same to you.
Read previous Girl TORQUE columns here.
Jacqui Madelin is our expert car reviewer and on the board of the AA Driver Education Foundation.