By on October 21, 2010

Scientific studies are all well and good, but sometimes the simplest studies can provide the most fascinating insights. Take, for example, the recent series at Autosavant entitled “Brand Awareness? It’s Elementary” (part two here). The study was inspired by a simple question: if you ask kids to name their favorite car, what kind of results will you get? Their answers reflect not only the power of automotive brands in popular culture, but also the basic level of automotive competency of the next generation of gearheads. Somewhat shockingly, not a single kid appears to have answered “Bumblebee.”

But before we get to results and insights, there’s one important caveat to this admittedly unscientific survey: it was conducted at a school somewhere in the metro Detroit area. But even adjusted for an understandable amount of hometown bias, the results are worth noting. Author Charles Krome visited a third-grade and a fifth-grade class, and asked each student to fill in the blank of one single, open-ended question: what is your favorite car? The results from the third-grade class were as follows:

Krome notes that Ford’s victory was no surprise. After all, it is currently the most successful of the Detroit automakers (towards which the Detroit-area schoolkids would presumably be favorably biased), and the Mustang is one of the longest-running sportscar nameplates in the business. Krome notes

I’m a bit surprised at the turn-out for GM and the Chrysler Group. It’s especially surprising that the Mustang was picked by four students and its arch-rival, the Camaro, wasn’t mentioned at all… it’s also worth noting the student who remembered the name of [Chrysler’s] innovative seating system ahead of the moniker for the vehicle itself.

Krome also notes that third graders are remarkably immune to the effects of automotive marketing, in comparison to their fifth grade counterparts. Choosing generic bodystyles like “convertible” or a brand name (as opposed to a specific nameplate) was a fairly common answer for third graders. Fifth graders, in comparison, were far more specific, as none picked generic bodystyles, and far more gave their answer in the form of a specific nameplate. Choosing specific model years and paint colors to little-known enthusiast icons like the Ultimate Aero, the fifth graders clearly had a more specific grasp of the automotive landscape. And though the Camaro did better (taking second place), the Mustang once again won the day with 7 identifications. Intriguingly, though Ferrari, Maserati and Lamborghini were picked by at least one student in the entire survey, not one student mentioned a nameplate from these “boyhood hero” car brands. Speaking of which, a conspicuous absence in the survey is the Bugatti Veyron, arguably the king bedroom-poster pinup cars (I wasn’t the only kid in my fourth-grade class who knew that a McLaren F1 was the most desirable car at the time… just sayin’). On the other end of the spectrum, not a single Detroit-area schoolkid mentioned a single hybrid, electric or alt-energy-powered vehicle… although one might guess that the same question would inspire at least one “Prius” answer from a California classroom.

In any case, Krome’s quick-n-easy survey reveals an fascinating insight into the world of childhood automotive appreciation. I probably wouldn’t have guessed that the Mustang would be the top choice in both age cohorts, nor would I ever suspect that a fifth grader would mention the GMC Terrain as their favorite vehicle. On the other hand, I don’t spend all that much time with young kids… if you do, feel free to add your insights into the world of childhood automotive awareness and appreciation.

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37 Comments on “What Can Kids Teach Us About Cars?...”

  • avatar

    It’s a pity that he didn’t ask what it was that their parents drove. That might have been more revealing, particularly for the grade three’rs.

    Anyone willing to do the same survey with the kids in their neighbourhood?

  • avatar

    they know the model year??????

  • avatar

    I tried to get my grandmother to buy a Ford Festiva based entirely on the “It’s a Ford, it’s a Festiva” commercial.   She bought the Escort instead.

  • avatar

    My 10 year old daughter who is a massive gear head upon seeing her first Nissan Cube on the interstate declared, “daddy, that is one UGLY car.”
    My heart skipped a beat, she has automotive class.  Somewhere a product manager is weeping.  Our future target demographic is saying, “barf.”
    She was not amused by my winter beater purchase of a minivan either.  She prefers RWD, 4-doors and 6 to 8 cylinders and 300+ HP.  Her automotive engineer grandfather would be very proud.

  • avatar

    No Viper at all?
    Also, “Cobra” does not necessarily mean “Mustang”.

  • avatar

    It’s entirely possible the kid who responded “VW Bug” really meant the Type 1 Beetle as opposed to the New Beetle. Any kid can tell them apart, and there are enough of the early bugs on TV and in movies (Herbie anyone?) that kids know what they are.

  • avatar

    This is as silly as asking a kid who they want for president.
    It is an echo of what is heard at home.

    Maybe there is a future B&B in the group, but it would be rare. Kids don’t even see their dads change the family car’s oil these days.

    The closest they would come to seeing these is on a video game.

    • 0 avatar

      It is an echo of what is heard at home.

      Yes and no.  My son, now four and having been to two autoshows, makes a beeline for Jeeps and pickup trucks.  He nearly passed out at the sight of a Unimog and spend a hour crawling around both an Infiniti QX and a fifteen-seat Sprinter.

      Porsche?  No interest.  Corvette?  Meh.   Mustang?  He has a toy one, but could take it or leave it.  The various nicely-trimmed sports sedans and fun-to-drive cars, the nerdmobiles like the Cube?  Nope, though there was some interest in the Smart Fortwo, but that’s it.

      About the closest point the two of us met at was the Miata, which I can’t fit in, but he can operate the roof of, and the Volvo S80, which he napped in and no one but me seemed to like.

    • 0 avatar



      But your a car freak like myself!
      Like all fathers, and a very few moms, who live their passions with their kids, that same passion can be seen in the kids.
      That’s why I suffer to this day as a Cub’s fan. It’s THE one sin my father transferred down!

      My kids, and my poor wife, have to listen to me babble on during long drives. Hell, all drives. Sometimes I catch myself after drag on babble only to realize the whole bunch had put their earphones in long ago.
      However, I bet they can still talk more about cars than the average kid. I wish I had the same passion for something useful I could have passed on.

    • 0 avatar
      Brendon from Canada

      It’s certainly infuenced by what’s heard at home; my 4 year old daughter’s favorite car seems to be a Mini Cooper right now – just like mom’s old car.  However, after that, it’s anything small and red (color of the Cooper); however, she’s never expressed any interest in her mother’s LandRover, nor my BMW, so she must have something specific that she likes outside of something her parents own.

      The oil change is a funny comment, as she understands what a fluid extractor is (yeah, I don’t gravity drain it every time), and that “fun” cars have 3 pedals and stick, that the right pedal makes the car go, and the left (or center!) makes the brake lights turn on.  I’m hoping my 1 year old son follows in her footsteps!

  • avatar

    At least the kid who drew the illustration has good taste – it looks like a pillarless hardtop!

  • avatar

    I can remember taking my niece, then 5, to the Acura dealer, in the early ’90s. She made a beeline for the NSX. At that point, her parents had a Chevy Celebrity wagon.
    In third grade, I think I still regarded brands as classification systems, like animal species, rather than as focii for tribal loyalty, like baseball teams. I think that changed early in fourth grade.

  • avatar

    I like the drawing. What’s its’ story?

  • avatar
    Ian Anderson

    I hate to say it, but this just conjured up a memory of mine. My parents took me with them car shopping when I was about four. We were at the Acura dealer, my mother was looking at a used Vigor, my dad an Integra and I beelined for a minty 1995 Legend Coupe (It was funny they kept the new RLs and TLs outside but had minty used versions of their predecessors in the showroom). 14 years later I’m looking for a Legend.
    There could be something of interest here, but it could just be little kids being little kids.

  • avatar

    My son is only 22 months old. And when I’m seeing the 3 stooges: Clarkson, Hammond and James, he’s glued to the TV when all the tyre burning and screeching entertainment takes place.
    He also likes the races in Cars. And everything he gets at home is converted into a car somehow.
    Then he wants to take a red scale model 65 Vette I have for exhibition.
    I think he will also be a gearhead. And when I get a rumbling V8, I’m sure I’ll corrupt him forever.

    • 0 avatar

      I know what you mean. My boys love TopGear’s challenges (recognizing the absurdity) and the four year old crawls under the car with me when I do maintenance. He is LONG ready to restore a VW Westfalia on jackstands in our garage. If only I had the time. The ten year old looks like he is just going to be interested in driving a car – but not getting dirty messing with it. I didn’t really get serious about engine rebuilds and engine swaps until I was on my own. Before that working on a car was okay just not the end all be all so maybe he’ll grow in it later. I call them my own little pit crew for a future rally car career.

  • avatar

    My first favorite car by memory was an ’87 Olds Toronado Trofeo…because that’s exactly what my father had. And I assume most childrens’ favorite cars reflect what occupies their driveways.

    But as everyone’s automotive horizons expanded, so did mine…in a decidedly oddball direction. While all my classmates drooled over Ferrari, Lambo, and Corvette folders, I customized my own with pictures of 90s LeSabres, Eighty-Eights, and DeVilles. When I was in middle school around the late-90s, I carried brochures of Buicks, Olds, Cadillacs, Lincolns, and Chryslers to lunch to share with everyone. Needless to say, I was the only one interested.

    For some reason, I loved the Eighty-Eight during this time. Smiled like a dope when my dad brought one home as a rental, tried like hell to get him to buy one (ended up with a Regal GS instead), and was actually disappointed when they cancelled the car for ’99. Even stranger, I wanted the REGENCY for cryin’ out loud. Imagine that – a 16 year-old kid lusting over an Eighty-Eight with a chrome grille meant to appeal to the dozen 85 year-olds who also missed the Ninety-Eight…

    And thought it wasn’t the coolest thing to still lust after fullsized domestics in high school and even dress myself in a Buick logo t-shirt now and then, I still feel better truly appreciating and liking my choice of cars and being able to explain why in a manner deeper than “I like the Beetle convertible cuz itz soooooooo cute and red!!!!!”

    My dad always took me to the auto show in Tampa ever since I can remember and also to GM’s World in Motion at Disney World. I still vaugely remember at the car show being fascinated by some sort of car up on the turntable back (apparently) in ’94. Never remembered quite what it was until years and years later when we went to purchase my first car of my own. It was a used Aurora…the same car from the display way back when. I still like that memory.

    • 0 avatar

      Sounds as if we were cut from the same cloth. I grew up in Oldsmobiles (’84 Cutlass Supreme coupe, ’94 Eighty Eight Royale LSS). I was made fun of in high school, when my mom bought a new 2001 Aurora V8, for drawing the Oldsmobile and Aurora symbols all over my school supplies. When I turned 16, I lusted after a supercharged LSS or a Buick Regal GS (back when the “Demand Better” and “The Sedan for the Supercharged Family” taglines were used, no less). I got a burgundy Maxima instead, and ended up loving it. I still love the ’80s and ’90s GM big cars, especially with the L67 engine. I’ve always wanted an ’89 Ninety Eight Touring Sedan. My mom bought the ’94 Eighty Eight over a leftover ’92 Trofeo (yes, two years old!) against my wishes. I was devastated. Always looking for a mint VIC-equipped late model Trofeo, but alas, they all seem to be lawn ornaments with 150k+ miles these days.

      Good to meet you, sir!

  • avatar

    As a small child, roughly 4-8, my favorite car was the ’57 Mercury. I loved the elegance that I saw in that car. During that time, we had a ’57 Chevy. But once I became aware of brand loyalty, I switched my allegiance to Chevy.

  • avatar

    In that survey, my son would probably have answered something similar to the “1959 Street Cruiser Corvette with V8 and red metalflake paint”. Already at three years old he’s showing tons of gearhead potential.

    He can accurately identify Dodges from the Ram’s head logo and Hondas from their stylized-H logo. Not too surprising, since that’s what’s in our driveway. He also knows our garage is filled with “sixty-sixty Chryslers” as he calls them.

    However, he’s scarily good at identifying Jeeps just based on shape. His only connection to Jeeps is the Sarge character from the movie Cars. I don’t know why, but he seems fascinated by Cadillacs lately, sometimes pointing at random cars and announcing “That is a Cadillac.” (He’s usually wrong.)

    He’s also decided that the two of us should build a hotrod together. Three year olds have little sense of time, so he talks about it as if we’re going to start tomorrow! Just last night we went to the post office to pick up a package containing car parts. My son insisted that we open it promptly. He inspected the parts and proclaimed, “We can use these to build a car.”

    • 0 avatar

      Mike, I had a similar experience. When my oldest son (now nearly 19) was under 3 he could tell a “Fode” from a “Heavy”.  As he got a little older, he learned to identify anything with a consistent logo.  It was a good lesson for which manufacturers had a good consistent brand logo and which did not.  He eventually got good with ID of models by shape.   He could always tell a Mustang or a Taurus, even from a good distance.  At about 4, he surprised a service station attendant when he saw a car on a lift and asked why the Ford Tempo was up in the air.
      During this time, his favorite car was a Mercury Comet.  I am not sure that he knew what they looked like, but he thought the name was cool.
      Alas, his interests moved onto the animal kingdom and then to sports, where he knows way more than anyone should.  Enjoy your time with a young car nut.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah my 4 year old says lets restore our VW Westfalia this weekend – do the whole thing in 48 hours.
      We’re playing a modified version of “Punch Bug” in the car all the time it seems.
      Punch Bug or Slug Bug, (PT) Cruiser Bruiser, Focus Pocus, Hummer Drummer, Ranger Danger, ‘Stang Bang, Cop Bop, Dump(truck) Bump, (VW) Thing Sting, (Dodge) RAM BAM, and so on. I’m forgetting about 5 more of these. Surprising how many the kids see accurately – even the four year old except all muscle cars are ‘Stangs to him. I’ll straighten him out later… He’s having fun.

  • avatar

    If they asked younger kids, they may have been given a different answer. KIA is sponsoring the “Yo Gabba Gabba” Tour this year. Probably aimed at the parents who might be looking for a family vehicle, but it’s not a bad way to introduce the brand to kids.

  • avatar

    My first car memory was grabbing a box of Baker’s coconut after supper one evening when I was five years old and got in the back seat of our gray, 1950 Plymouth 2 door sedan, knelt on the seat looking out the rear window, elbows on the rear shelf, eating that (shredded?) coconut out of the box and enjoying myself. All of the sudden I stopped eating, realizing my stomach didn’t feel so hot, so I closed the box, got out of the car and put the coconut away.

    I have no moral of this story, but, for some reason, I have never touched coconut again and can’t stand it to this day! That was 1956.

    Also, on occasion, my dad would put me in his lap and let me guide the car (with his hands “guiding” mine) as we moved ever-so-slowly down our alley before he put it in the garage. Now that was cool! We did stuff like that 50 or so years ago!

  • avatar

    As a kid in elementary school, I was voted as growing up to be an auto designer.

    I would design whole cars. Pages filled in detail every part.
    Dash. front door, rear door. seats…everything.
    Front/side angular drawings.

    I would send off to Ford and weeks later receive a nice note from some executive.
    Thanks for the designs. They couldn’t use now but always enclosed a working model of a as yet to be released car.

    My very favorite was a green 1964 Thunderbird.
    Working doors and all.

    Started college on an art scholarship, but ended up a drunk philosophy major.
    Still looking for that black cat in a dark room that isn’t there.

  • avatar

    I’m not too surprised by “Stow-n-Go” because that appears on a badge next to where the kids get in the vehicle. They’re more likely to see that every day than “Town and Country”.

    Now I want to ask my kids this question. My son will probably answer “Lightning McQueen”.

    I was impressed when my daughter identified a Jeep at age 5 without me telling her about them. I think she picked it up from the classic “The Great Big Car and Truck Book” illustrated by Richard Scarry in the 1950s.

    • 0 avatar

      My son will probably answer “Lightning McQueen”.
      Oh my god – I’m a huge, massive Pixar fan, but the marketing overload on Cars has driven me to detest it with a religious fervor. Try, try – just TRY buying something that isn’t branded with Cars. Socks? Nope. Pajamas? Cars. Sippy cups? Cars. Diapers? Cars. Bicycles, whiffle bats, stuffed animals, hats, coats, shoes, cars cars CARS CARS CARS!!!!
      The coupe de grace (see what I did there?) is that they’re doing (undoubtedly sh*t) spinoff cartoons, direct-to-DVD movies, making up entirely new characters to sell even MORE branded stuff with… When Pixar has said explicitly that they weren’t going to do that.
      I have massive respect for them, particularly with WALL-E and Up, which took military-spec cojones to greenlight, and I know the Cars merchandising probably allows them to do movies like that with little merchandising potential… but I still find it revolting. I almost literally can’t keep my two-year-old son away from the branding. It’s just not a choice. I’d have to reject half the presents I get from friends, never take him out of the house, never let him see another kid his age. It’s freaking terrible.

    • 0 avatar

      Unfortunately I have to agree with you Perisoft.  Disney’s marketing dept. is going all-out coming up with new Cars branded [email protected] to push.  You can buy a Matchbox-sized car for every character that appeared in the movie, however insignificant, and variants with every paint scheme that they wore.  I don’t doubt that they’re working on the plot for a feature-length sequel movie so they can keep the marketing machine churning.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t doubt that they’re working on the plot for a feature-length sequel movie so they can keep the marketing machine churning.

      Actually, the trailer showed up on Autoblog yesterday.

  • avatar

    When I was 12-ish, in 1991, my parents were looking for a replacement for our Saab 900. I remember them checking a Subaru Legacy – and, bizarrely for a guy who now attacks TTAC for its obsession with interior materials, decided that I didn’t like it because the fabric seemed cheap and the doors felt hollow.
    They got a Saab 9000.

  • avatar

    I’m surprised by the lack of Hummers.  If a little kid with no concept of gas pricing or social responsiblity can’t freely lust after a Hummer then who can?
    I mention Hummer because I have never owned one or ever wanted to own one…but both of my 5 year old’s will yell “Humma” when we pass one on the road.  I can understand the attraction from a kids perspective. 

  • avatar

    My fav’rit car is one that crushes people

  • avatar

    So that explains why I can’t get the thought of a white Saturn Astra (rebadged with actual Opel insignia) out of my head…my father only owned white four-door Opels (three Rekords) while I was growing up. 

  • avatar

    When my kids were little in the mid 90s, anything that Mom drove was boring because they rode in it every day.  Anything that I drove was cool because it was a change of pace.  Therefore, late model Hondas and any kind of vans were boring and 85 Crown Victorias were cool.  I later pegged the Cool-O-Meter with a 68 Newport, a 84 Olds 98 (rear drive) and an 89 Cadillac Brougham (again, rear drive).  The Cadillac was a favorite of all the middle school kids.  Its replacement (the 93 Crown Victoria) was kind of ho-hum, although it has grown on them and it is their favorite household car to drive.

  • avatar

    3rd grade is a bit too young to really have a car option, thus the reason “van” is #2… that is what mommy or daddy drives.
    When I was a kid I lusted after Lotus, they just looked like the cars I drew in class, especially the Esprit. After that Lambos. TransAms and ‘Vettes were a close 3rd place. My dad owned a Mustang and an MG, but neither had the sharp edges and flowing fenders that said “fast” to me.

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