The Truth About You

Michael Martineck
by Michael Martineck
the truth about you

There are two kinds of people: people who split the world into two kinds of people and people who don’t. I usually consider myself part of the latter group. However, after spending a few years with The Truth About Cars, I’ve become fascinated by the variety of opinions from readers who share so much in common. Type in anything to do with the Prius and watch the battle lines form. Last year, The Cambridge Strategy Center published some ideas that go a long way towards explaining why this website isn’t always unified, taken as gospel and/or followed like law. It seems there are two kinds of car people.

The Cambridge Strategy Center is a marketing/brand consultant think tank, serving clients as diverse as Coca Cola, Phillips and BMW (who embraced and set forth the Center’s ideas regarding car consumers). Inspired by Jungian personality archetypes, the Center believes drivers are either ‘instrumentalists’ or ‘expressives.’

Instrumentalists believe cars should serve a variety of purposes: commuting, schlepping, joy riding, the works. In fact, the closer their car is to a Swiss Army knife, the better.

Instrumentalists tend to name their cars, overlook windshield wipers that deploy with the high beams and believe that you can coax a car to start with a soothing voice. In general, instrumentalists want their car to be the kind of friend who helps you move on a Saturday, attracts the opposite sex and stays out of a ditch during a snow storm.

Expressives perceive their vehicles as [yet another] expression of their personalities. They are what they drive.

Expressives want a car that shows they are smart, rich, hip, practical and/or environmentally conscious. Conversely, in a different form of expression, they might not give two puffs what you think.

Expressives like to drive. All driving is a form of competition, whether it’s racing the wannabe in the Honda Civic or owning the world’s most fuel efficient vehicle. The believe an automobile should do one thing and one thing well. Expressives want the best rock climber or dragster or delivery van.

The Caterham is extreme example of an Expressives’ ideal whip. Quick and harsh and so severally pruned for performance that only Jonny Lieberman might like it (and probably not even him). While any niche vehicle will illustrate the Instrumentalists’ desires, a Honda Insight or H1 also serve as excellent examples of their heart’s desire.

Both Instrumentalists and Expressive can care deeply about cars– for vastly different reasons. Their personal rating systems diverge, cross and curve like the streets of Boston. An instrumentalist might consider a Porsche Cayenne sublimely multi-functional; an expressive might contend that the same model is a waste of space and a brand betrayal.

When it comes to the new car market, Instrumentalists rule. The preponderance of Camcordimas on American highways illustrates the point. By the numbers, these cars are almost identical. They’re also not far from the Malibu, LaCrosse, Galant, Aura and a host of others an Expressive would be too bored to list.

The entire SUV surge can also be explained by the preponderance of Instrumentalists. Sport and utility? Both traits are severely compromised-– a Ford Explorer can't haul as much as an Econoline or traverse inner Greenland without some serious modification. It can ALMOST do everything, though. And that is the point of an instrumentalist’s instrument.

For a car to appeal to both camps it must be useful for a number of tasks, and do at least one thing better than everything/anything else. Obviously, there aren't many cars that fall into this category. But any vehicle that does can attain both cult status (Expressives) and popular sales (Instrumentalists). The Volkswagen Beetle, the early Toyota Corolla, a proper Land Rover, a genuine Jeep and, most recently, the Toyota Prius are the “real” crossovers.

A list like that just begs for debate. It has to, because everyone who comes to this site arrives with a different set of values. My guess is TTAC readers tend to be Expressives, though it’s not a black and white distinction. People are shades of gray. Most of us need to adapt pocket book to lifestyle to desire. You can’t fit three kids in an Audi TT unless you’re very angry. In a Honda Pilot, the entrance ramp to the I-90 is simply no fun.

This would account for the large number of consumers who own two vastly different cars. RF’s Porsche Boxster S and Honda Odyssey make a strange, but entirely understandable pairing. How many “boring” sedans sit next to a Miata in the garage? Lots.

Personally, I don’t like to force the world into Venn diagrams. I lean different ways at different times. And I now know that many of the disagreements here stem from diverse values, not from the fact that one commentator is smarter than another. Present company excluded, of course.

Join the conversation
2 of 65 comments
  • Megnted Megnted on Jun 03, 2008

    I remember a quote from the de-motivation group. "You are unique......, just like everybody else" Oh, for the days when the family car was primarily a mode of transportation, not an entertainment center on wheels.

  • Willman Willman on Jun 04, 2008

    wrong^(ice9). The real axe on this issue is Money. It’s the old DSP vs. CPU argument all over again. Most businesspeople are intensely stupid and really only good at 3-4 things. -This is why everything on looks like a damn powerpoint. It’s the only way they can understand anything. If the MBTI and its 16-types-of-people theorem sounds dumb, this study is even dumber. Given enough $$$ we are All non-extremist, Expressive Instrumentalists who would have 1 ultra-specific car (DSP) of each type for each purpose in our own personal 12-car garages. While money is scarce at all, Everything is a set of compromises (CPU). This study exists only to clarify things for idiotic 'managers' who can only think if you split the world into 2 opposite extremes, the US Presidential Election of choice, if you will. And the last time I checked, every single time I had a Decision Matrix in front of me with only 2 choices, they were usually opposite extremes, and both pretty much sucked in equal but opposing ways. -Happy voting in November! :P

  • Analoggrotto Just what the Teslarati need to keep things exciting in bed.
  • Mike Beranek If the service records are as complete as the seller implies, then this puppy is worth it.
  • SCE to AUX My 02 B5.5 Passat had a bunch of 'infant mortality' issues through its brief 3-year stay with me. High oil consumption on its V6 was the last straw. The fact that this B5 has gone 23 years without someone shooting it is remarkable."the window regulator on the left rear door is broken"Curiously, a recurring bug in my car was the electrics in the left rear door failed a few times.
  • Tassos You should call your columns "EXHUMATION OF THE DAY". FIts perfectly with this 'find'. How deep did you have to dig to exhume it? Let rotting carcasses lie!
  • Jew65711923 This is a very, very special breaking news story=============>