The Psychology of Car Driving: Insights into
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What motivates people to drive a car or truck? Answers to this deceptively simple question may include pragmatism, such as the need to move from point A to point B or the desire for fast or comfortable transportation. Strategic Business Insights' (SBI's) recent "Peak Car?" study, consisting of a national survey of US adults, takes a deep look at driving motivations and reveals a collection of underlying psychological orientations toward the landscape of transportation options in the United States. Findings provide in-depth profiling of consumer groups and the forces that attract them toward versus repelling them away from cars and trucks. As a collection of effects, SBI's study sheds light on the Peak-Car phenomenon—the hypothesis that Americans as a whole, and independently of economic factors, are moving away from car ownership and from driving as a primary means of transportation. In terms of driving motivations, this white paper provides a partial overview of where the Peak-Car phenomenon lives in US culture and which types of consumers are likely to hold onto cars for the foreseeable future.
Some segments of US society approach transportation from a deep motivation of seeking novelty, including experimenting with alternative modes of transportation while still being anchored in traditional car culture. Consumers high on novelty embrace emerging options, such as ride sharing and ZipCar services, but also value the car as a means to express various aspects of the self. Novelty contrasts sharply with the familiar and the predictable. VALS™ Experiencers are the most likely of all consumer groups to be driven by novelty in their approach to transportation. Novelty is a source of continuous reinvention for Experiencers, rather than a short-term fad, and car companies wishing to appeal to this group are challenged to provide compelling options for self-expression. Customizable interiors, integration of mobile technology with dashboard functionalities, and expansion of the traditional car concept to include ultrasmall and autonomous (self-driving) functionalities all appeal to Experiencers. From a Peak-Car perspective, Experiencers do not reject the car but feel the need to diversify their transportation options.
Car manufacturers' business models depend on new car customers, and SBI's study shows that having money no longer alone fully predicts whether a person will be in the market for a new car. Specifically, new-car driving is a psychological motivation that contrasts the desire and financial ability to drive a new car with the lack of desire or financial ability to drive or own a new car. Desire and financial ability do not perfectly overlap. VALS Innovators are the most likely of all US consumers to express the desire for new-car driving, but Innovators' car attitudes are complex. For example, new cars appeal to Innovators because of the cars' novelty, technological sophistication, and—often—better gas mileage (in comparison with that of older cars). However, Innovators are also more likely than average to indicate "If I didn't have to own a car, I wouldn't"; "I wish I could live in a place where I could walk to work, shopping, and recreation"; "Cars have a negative impact on health"; and "In the future, I prefer to have no car." Paradoxically, car companies' best customers are also among the most likely consumers to express conflicting attitudes about car ownership and to culturally reject the dominance of cars. From a Peak-Car perspective, monitoring Innovators' attitudes toward cars in the future will be critical to sustaining new-car buyers' enthusiasm.
Intensity of Car Need
Consumers vary in their motivational intensity of need for a car. Consumers high in car-need intensity typically require an automobile for lifestyle or professional reasons, whereas consumers (including retirees) low in car-need intensity typically get by with public transportation and bicycles (including central-city residents and students). Consumers low in car-need intensity are more likely than others never to have owned a car and are more likely than others not to want a car in the future. VALS Makers show the highest level of car-need intensity, driven by a lifestyle of hobbies that depend on transportation (fishing and hunting), work in construction, general dependence on means of transportation for supplies and equipment, and life in rural areas. Interestingly, consumers high in car-need intensity are not necessarily car enthusiastic and express many frustrations associated with car ownership, including unexpected breakdowns, the high cost of fuel, and moving violations. The more people drive, the more likely they are to encounter these frustrations. Innovators and VALS Survivors are the two VALS groups that score the lowest on car-need intensity, but they do so for different reasons. As the New-Car-Motivation section of the study shows, Innovators are more likely than average to embrace alternative modes of transportation, particularly in urban settings, and to try to find alternatives to cars (the definition of Peak Car), whereas older-skewing Survivors simply have few consumer needs, including the need for a car.
To learn more about these and other driving motivations and SBI's "Peak Car?" study, contact the VALS team.