The Facts: SUV Owners
September 2004 - Heavy Metal - Stanford Magazine
Dec. 20, 2002 - Bumper Mentality - Washington Monthly
April 14, 2004 - Margaret Krome: Terror at home: SUVs - The Capitol Times (Madison, WI)
Study: SUV owners 'self-oriented;' minivan drivers 'other-oriented'
N.Y. Times News Service
DETROIT Of all the mysteries facing automakers in recent years, few have been as engrossing as the way families choose between minivans and sport utility vehicles.
In median income, age, occupation, family size and place of residence, people who buy minivans and those who buy sport utilities look fairly similar, the automakers' research has found.
The typical minivan or sport utility buyers are fairly affluent married couples in their 40s with children. And while minivans are sometimes labeled "mom-mobiles," the principal drivers of minivans, as of sport utility vehicles, are a little more likely to be men than women.
Yet a growing body of research by automakers is finding that buyers of these two kinds of vehicles are very different psychologically. Sport utility buyers tend to be more restless, more sybaritic, less social people who are "self-oriented," to use the automakers' words, and who have strong conscious or subconscious fears of crime. Minivan buyers tend to be more self-confident and more "other-oriented" more involved with family, friends and communities.
Automakers have spent lavishly over the last several years to examine these customers' deeper urges. The automakers find the research persuasive enough that it is affecting the way automobiles are designed and advertised.
While the psychological research is closely guarded by the automakers, executives are willing to discuss some details. For example, minivan buyers tend to be more comfortable than sport utility buyers with being married; sport utility buyers are more commonly concerned with still feeling sexy, and they like the idea that they could use their vehicles to start dating again, said David P. Bostwick, DaimlerChrysler's director of market research.
Minivan buyers also are less likely than sport utility buyers to have reservations about being parents.
"Minivan people want to be in control in terms of safety, being able to park and maneuver in traffic, being able to get elderly people in and out," said Fred J. Schaafsma, a vehicle development engineer for General Motors. "SUV owners want to be more like I'm in control of the people around me."'
This is an important reason why seats are mounted higher in sport utilities than in minivans, he said.
Sport utility buyers are much more concerned with their vehicles' external appearance, while minivan buyers are more interested in the vehicles' interiors and practicality, said Thomas Elliott, Honda's executive vice president for North American auto operations. "The people who buy SUVs are in many cases buying the outside first and then the inside," he said. "They are buying the image of the SUV first, and then the functionality."
Strategic Vision, a market research company in San Diego that does a lot of work for the auto industry, has found that a greater percentage of minivan buyers than of sport utility buyers are involved in their communities and families.
Minivan buyers are more likely than buyers of any other kind of vehicle to attend religious services and to engage in volunteer work, while sport utility buyers rank with pickup truck buyers and sports car buyers as the least likely to do either, the company found in a survey this spring of 19,600 recent buyers, including 5,400 minivan and sport utility buyers.
A greater percentage of sport utility buyers dine at fine restaurants, go to nightclubs and sporting events, and work out.
Auto Pacific Inc., an auto market research company in Santa Ana, found in another large survey this spring that sport utility buyers placed a lower value than minivan buyers on showing courtesy on the road. Sport utility buyers were more likely to agree with the statement "I'm a great driver" and to say that they drove faster than the average motorist.
Bostwick said that while some sport utility buyers mention that the vehicles' sturdy appearance looks safe to them, safety during traffic accidents tends not to be the reason they buy a vehicle.
"It's not safety as the issue; it's aggressiveness, it's the ability to go off the road," he said.
Sport utility occupants and car drivers have similar death rates in crashes, while minivans have slightly lower rates.