The Millionaire Next Door

Cars: More Opinions than Makes and Models

An excellent article in The Wall Street Journal  by Alex P. Kellogg, “BMW Touts ‘Joy,’ Value in New Ads,” Saturday/Sunday, February 13-14, 2010, highlights the changes in the advertising themes of several prestige manufacturers of automobiles. It seems that status is out and satisfaction, value and physical properties are being emphasized.  Acura is now touting how well its MDX protects passengers in the “crash into the wall” sequence and “value under the hood.”  The article further indicates that Mercedes Benz’ themes are focusing more on safety and the high resale characteristics of its products. Further, the author suggests that BMW is now “parking ‘the ultimate driving machine’ in the garage.”  One of BMW’s new advertising themes highlights the joy generated from owning a BMW.  Time will tell if these new themes will help increase the sales of these cars.

But I am confused by the “joy that comes from owning a BMW” concept.  Webster’s defines joy as “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally satisfying.”  As I wrote in Stop Acting Rich, “I know what a car can and cannot do for a person.  You can’t drive your way to happiness.  Yet some people believe otherwise.  They may see some fellow driving a fully accessorized BMW, Corvette, or Cadillac and assume something about him.  They whisper to themselves,’There goes a happy guy.  If I had that car instead of my Toyota, I would be off the far end of the happy scale.’  But… just what is the relationship between the car you drive and your level of satisfaction with life?  According to my research:

There is no significant correlation between the make [brand] of motor vehicle you drive and your level of happiness with life.  …each of the 1,594 respondents [to my national study] was asked about the make of motor vehicles he had acquired over the prior 10 years as well as his most recent acquisitions.  Guess what?  Not one significant correlation was found between the make of motor vehicle acquired and overall satisfaction with life.  That’s right, not 1 of the 46 makes studied had any measurable effect on satisfaction with life overall.

But what if one or more of  BMW’s ardent fans who have written to me were forced to change makes of cars?  All of them would likely lose at least a half  point on the “happiness with life” scale.  A surgeon in California has a 70-minute commute [each way] to the hospital via the backroads.  He maintains that his high performance 5 Series BMW provides him with great joy and exhilaration each working day.  No matter how stressful the day, he unwinds quickly when he presses down the throttle.  Likewise, an accountant also from California sent me a package documenting what he considered to be the lifecycle cost of the 5 Series that he recently traded in for a new one.  It had nearly 300,000 miles on it, and he raved about the car and the extraordinary quality of the service at his BMW dealer.  Both of these people agree that BMWs are not for everyone.  But neither is my Toyota 4-Runner which I’m not giving up!

4 thoughts on “Cars: More Opinions than Makes and Models”

  1. When I was younger I would see people driving luxury cars and think, “That person must have a nice job and a lot of money.” Now, I see them and think, “That person spends a lot of money on their car. They must have a nice job just to pay for it.”

  2. When I received my driver’s license at the age of 17, my parents gave me a hand-me-down BMW 7 series. Now I drive a Nissan Pathfinder that Iâ��ve been driving for 10 years. I have never lusted after any car; a car is simply a tool. Honestly, all cars look the same to me. What matters is if I can get from point A to point B safely.

  3. I drive a BMW 3-Series and I’m happy – this is, in fact, my 2nd BMW. The first one was a 1993 that we purchased in 1999 for $10K. I planned on keeping it for 5 years and kept it for 7 before the costs ran too high.

    Given our exceptional experience, in 2007 I bought a 1999 3-Series for less than $12,000. While I have spent a little more on this one in the past 3 years than on my previous one, I’m still extremely satisfied. One of the reasons is that I spend a great deal of time in my car. I have a back problem that has – in other cars – created a problem with the length of time I sit and drive. The BMW does not.

    And I can vouch for the doctor’s point that there is something about getting in the car and opening the throttle that is just satisfying.

    Again, we plan to keep my car for at least another 2 years, although we will keep it until it becomes prohibitively expensive to maintain (I have no patience with repair bills). Whenever we decide to trade it in, I will consider what type of car I want. I’m not dead set on another BMW – in fact right now I’d probably look at a hybrid Civic.

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