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Are You A SUV Or Minivan Type?

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On: Wed, Aug 31, 2011 at 9:02AM | By: Peter C Sessler

Are You A SUV Or Minivan Type?

Over the past 25 years or so, the most popular vehicles in America have been minivans and SUV vehicles.  And one of the areas where the automakers have concentrated their research dollars is in finding out who buys these vehicles, the reasons behind it and what it says about them. And this research has affected the way these vehicles are designed and marketed.

If you look at this group by median income, age, occupation, family size and where they live, minivan and SUV buyers seem, at first glance, to be very similar.  The typical buyer of a minivan or an SUV is more often than not, an affluent couple in their 40s with children. And even though minivans have a reputation of being “Mom’s” car, like, SUV’s, the principal drivers are male.

However, according to the automaker’s research, psychologically, these are very different groups. According to the automakers, SUV buyers tend to be more restless, less social people, more self-oriented who have a strong conscious or subconscious fear of crime. On the other hand, minivan buyers tend to be more confident, more other-oriented- people who are more involved with their families, friends and in their communities.

Although this research isn’t available to the public, some auto executives are open to discussing the results. For example, David P. Bostwick, Chrysler's director of market research has said that minivan buyers are generally more comfortable with being married while SUV buyers are still concerned with being sexy – and that they could still use their vehicles to start dating again.

"We have a basic resistance in our society to admitting that we are parents, and no longer able to go out and find another mate," Mr. Bostwick said. "If you have a sport utility, you can have the smoked windows, put the children in the back and pretend you're still single."

Psychological factors such as these and others have shown that the differences between these two groups of buyers are much greater than divisions in other segments in the auto market, according to Mr. Bostwick.

General Motors has held seminars with customers and has reached the same basic conclusions. Both minivan and SUV buyers want to be in control in their vehicle, but mean completely different things by this.

Minivan buyers want to be in control as it relates to safety – being able to park and maneuver in traffic, and being able to get the kids and older people in and out safely. SUV owners want to be more in control of people around them – which is why the seating position in SUV’s is higher than in minivans.

SUV buyers are more concerned with their vehicles exterior looks while minivan buyers are more concerned with the interior and how practical it is. In many cases, SUV buyers are buying image first and then practicality.

In another survey, it was found that SUV buyers tend to place a lower value than minivan buyers on showing courtesy on the road. SUV buyers, in the survey, were more likely to agree with statements that said they were “great drivers” and that they drove faster than the average driver.

All three American automakers had been greatly influenced by Dr. Clotaire Rapaille, a French-born medical anthropologist who has worked as a consultant to Chrysler, Ford and General Motors.

Dr. Rapaille looks at the intellectual, emotional and instinctual reasons why people buy products. According to him, SUVs are designed to be masculine and assertive – SUVs are designed to appeal to Americans' fears of violence and crime. American's earliest association with sport utilities are WWII Jeeps – which often had machine guns mounted on the back. "The big, powerful SUVs with a message of 'don't mess with me' are going to be around for some time, because American culture is not going to change," he said.

On the other hand, most cars and minivans have open grilles that look toothless, even friendly. Also, SUVs come in a much greater range of models, sizes, and prices than minivans; this shows that age and income for SUV buyers is broader. Yet the differences that the research has shown between the two groups, still holds true when they are in the forties, married and with children.


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