By on April 26, 2012

 

Most people are pegged on the predictable and reassuring.

It’s not that they hate. It’s that they are comfortable in their world and prefer familiar borders over new horizons.

Our human mind may have gradually evolved to a higher state of being and capability when it comes to complex problem solving and reasoning.  But it acts not too differently from other simpler life forms when it comes to the ‘daily routine’. It takes pleasure in re-mastering the known… and avoiding the unknown.

Fear, familiar pleasures and adrenal driven instincts are reflected in the vast conformity and commonness of what we buy.

Do our choices eventually come about because certain products are truly better than others? Not at all. We’re slaves to the marketing of ‘great’, and the mental satisfaction that comes with accessing ‘good enough’. Any product, service or person that simply does what is promised, and nothing more, will almost always win out over an unknown that has neither the name, nor the societal track record.


Am I wrong?

Well consider the strong footing of legendary models throughout the decades. Model T, Model A, Corvette, Impala, Eldorado, Cutlass Supreme, BMW 3-Series, Mercedes S-Class, Camry, Civic, Corolla.

All of these models dominated their respective market segments well after they no longer delivered a best in class experience. Good enough is not only a name when it comes to consumer behavior. It’s a religion as old as the Greek toga and the Indian medicine man.

So given the conservatism of ‘The Human Ape’, entry level luxury should be one of the hardest markets to crack for any newcomer.

Buying the status’ of betterment is what counts for the majority of auto enthusiasts. Regardless of whether the car they buy is truly better or not. I have experienced countless conversations over the years with car buyers that start with, “What else do you think I should consider?” and end with, “Yeah, but I think I’m gonna just stick with my first choice.”

Better product? Doesn’t matter.

Thrift store shoppers will often look for designer labels to look rich. Even if the poor clothes are in tatters. Poor people still want to buy older European luxury cars that make them look rich, but keep them in the poorhouse. Even the aspiring and over-educated Yuppies among us will usually buy the status symbol that keeps them in debt. Instead of embracing the affluence that comes with keeping the common car and the beater.

New cars are just a small symptom of the bigger truth. Status sells. But should it?

That’s the question for today, “Should the status of a car be considered when buying it?

 

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170 Comments on “Is Status For The Smart Or Stupid?...”


  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    As I sit here in my trailer wearing my bib overalls I find myself with a strong opinion on this subject. Status is a moving target. I just described the status that I prefer. BMW, mercedes, lexus, etc do not meet my expectations for intelligence.

    I consider them to have bought the sizzle and not the steak. I am aware there is plenty of room for differing opinions. Just my $.02 worth.

  • avatar
    Botswana

    I have a friend who swears by his BMW. We rarely get to meet in person these days so I’ve only seen the car a couple of times but it’s an older model but he loves it. The way it drives, the interior, everything about it except for the cost of maintenance. However, if you told me 8 out of 10 Beamer drivers selected them purely for the “prestige” of owning a BMW I would not be shocked.

    Cars are still very much status symbols and I routinely upset certainly family members by choosing cars that are under $20k. Not that I can’t afford more but we have other financial plans and obligations that I don’t want to upset by having to worry about a $600 a month car payment and I consider a lease a horrible investment as we tend to be long-term car owners. Also, you can find a huge selection of cars both new and used for $20k or less if you’re willing to do some research. If you can’t find something that suits your needs then you’re simply not looking hard enough.

    Some vehicles I simply see no purpose to other than the status. I consider most Infiniti’s to be uglier versions of their Nissan brethren and the additional amenities inside hardly justify the cost in my opinion. I strongly suspect a lot of it is just being able to say you have a “luxury” brand. If I was inclined to spend that kind of money I’d just go with a higher trim level in a Toyota, Nissan, Ford, etc.

    That said, I think the reputation of vehicles like the Camry have been proven over time. Not that next year’s model might not be full of lemons, but the overall perception by the public remains that they are reliable “safe” vehicles. For someone who is a non-enthusiast who sees a car as an appliance, most people want something that starts when they turn the key in the ignition and doesn’t require much effort beyond basic maintenance. I certainly see the value in that, especially after owning a series of less than reliable vehicles.

    My opinion though is that status should mean squat and people should put in a little research before buying a vehicle. A multi-thousand dollar investment is often committed to by people who had done almost no research. At least that is the only way I can explain why anybody purchased an Aveo.

    • 0 avatar
      onyxtape

      I disagree with your assessment in regards to Infiniti. (Disclaimer: just bought a new G37). We’ve researched thoroughly for over a year for a new car, and were deciding between several competitors around $30k-$40k (we could afford more, but like you we had other financial goals and wanted to spend our money elsewhere instead).

      The German makes were top contenders in the beginning. 328 felt underpowered except for the mighty 335, but fun to drive. C-class had nice touches and I liked the smooth ride. Didn’t like the drive-by-wire feeling of the A4. In the end, the out-of-warranty costs (esp the A4 and C-class) made us think twice about buying German (vs lease and dump). And we’re always long term buyers so leasing didn’t make sense to us esp. with a baby coming later this year.

      So we’re down to American and Asian. We wrote off Cadillac, Lincoln, Avalon, and Genesis because we’re in our early 30s. We liked the interior of the Lexus IS250 but it drove like a smoother version of the Corolla that we had. The Acura TL and TSX had nice gadgets, but had the least lux feel of all the cars. Before deciding on the Infiniti, we toyed with the idea of lux’ing out a Maxima or Altima, but the difference between doing that and getting the Infiniti was just $2k-$3k. Then researching reliability and quality reports between these two just sealed the deal, as Nissan makes Nissan-badged stuff in Tennessee and Mississippi and Infiniti still imports their stuff from Japan. Yeah yeah, I know there’s supposed to be no difference since they both follow the same processes but CR and TrueDelta note a large gap in quality between the two makes. So being able to get a good price on something that performs like 85% of the 335 for darn near half its price with good reliability for a little more than the regular Nissan line is why we “went for the badge”.

      • 0 avatar
        mistermau

        “Because we’re in our early 30s.”

        Don’t take this is criticism, but purely for discussion: Why does this matter? I think this hits home the general spirit of this post, being “Would you (or would you NOT) purchase a certain model or brand of car because of the status it carries?”

      • 0 avatar
        onyxtape

        Of course these things matter – it’s just a degree of how much it matters for each individual. Companies spend tons of money targeting their products to specific age/socialeconomic/gender demographics and most of the time they’re going to be right for a good part of the population. 80% of a certain age demographic is going to want something that 80% of another age demographic doesn’t want.

        Paraphrasing another post – if none of this matters, we’d all be driving Corollas and done with it.

      • 0 avatar
        CA Guy

        “We wrote off Cadillac, Lincoln, Avalon, and Genesis because we’re in our early 30s”

        Interesting. I’m in my early 60’s and also bought a new G37. I can’t disagree with much of your post because we both bought the same fine car. But with all the research and targeted marketing automakers spend money on, it is and always has been a very complicated business (I think the amount of money Ford spent on researching the market for the Edsel was a record for the time and we all know how well that turned out). I’m also curious about your path to the G37 which included thoughts of a loaded Maxima or Altima but boiled down to reliability and quality reports. Granted, the G37 wins there, but also it is a radically different automobile from the Maxima/Altima, e.g., rear wheel vs. front wheel drive, 7speed automatic vs. CVT, significantly smaller, etc. I’m guessing the “status brand” played a fairly strong role in your choice. Again, I think it was a good one so no criticism.

      • 0 avatar
        onyxtape

        CA Guy – brand definitely plays a role in our selection, but I think a stronger point was that it did 85% what the 335 did for a lot less money (up front and going forward). I brought up the point about the Maxima/Altima during our selection process because as many people would (incorrectly) assume, “it’s just a XX car with leather”. A quick 15-minute research would yield all the underlying differences (like RWD vs FWD, place of manufacture, tuning, etc.) and it just further justified our decision and the small price differential.

    • 0 avatar
      photog02

      I agree with you on the BMW issue (disclaimer- I own a few of them). I’m constantly disgusted reading the BMW Car Club of America magazine. The letters section, and sometimes the articles, are filled with the kind of nouveau riche BS that sometimes you have to wonder if people are not writing parody. My newest BMW is over a decade old now. Between the terrible image associated with it and the myriad of quality issues they’ve had, I can’t see myself buying a newer model to replace it.

    • 0 avatar
      carlisimo

      I’d actually be tempted to buy an Infiniti on styling alone. I like that aesthetic, though I realize it’s doesn’t have universal appeal. If Nissans looked like that, I’d buy Nissans (but as it is, I think they’re among the ugliest cars available).

      For years, premium cars really did look better because of finer metal stamping which cost money. It’s still true, but to a lesser extent. I would say that spending money on appealing styling isn’t the same as buying for status.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    Status shouldn’t be a consideration. Yes, I drive a 3 series but I don’t really care about the badge. I drive it because it’s small, has a manual transmission, reasonably good power to weight ratio, four doors, it’s refined at speed and handles well. A Jetta GLI would do most of these things but problems with the 2.0T engine seemed much worse than any E46 3 series issue.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      +1 – I wanted a RWD manual transmission station wagon. That gives a choice of two cars in the US market. I can’t justify a CTS-V wagon. I bought my BMW for ME, I don’t really care what other people think. I’d love to put Trabant badges on it. Is it perfect? Nope! I know full well that it will have sundry issues. It could be just a touch roomier. But nothing else drives like it, and for that it is worth the extra hassle. And I still managed to bring 4 7′ tall Billy bookcases home from Ikea in it last night.

      Also, I think the 3-series gets unfairly put-upon in a lot of ways. They simply are not that expensive. When a loaded Camry is $35K, is $40K for a BMW that is infinitely nicer to drive really such a stretch? I don’t care about toys, I care about the basic engineering, and as I have said before, if you want to know why a BMW costs what it does, put it on a lift, walk under, and look up. If the cost to get such bones at a somewhat affordable price is some extra cost cutting here and there so be it.

      I rather enjoy the fact that I have the crappiest house but the most interesting garage in the neighborhood – the mark of a true car enthusiast. :-)

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      The vast majority of BMW drivers that I know wouldn’t know the difference if it was a (pick your brand here). Yes, there are those who really appreciate what a BMW offers the enthusiast driver, but sometime in the Reagan era, upwardly mobile people latched on to the Roundel and it was downhill from there. Recall the softening of the steering of the 3 series a half dozen years ago…all because it was what the customer surveys requested….

      • 0 avatar
        Skink

        I saw the BMW obsession catching on in the Carter era, when so many people really indulged their envy of those who could afford BMWs. Of the seven deadly sins, envy is the only one that sane people don’t enjoy.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    The idea of the aspirational car. Wasn’t that Alfred Sloan’s genius when he put together the original GM product line?

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    I’d say it depends on who’s doing the buying.

    Some people rely on status symbols as an external measure of their success (and hence as a measure of who and what they are). It’s arguable that someone of this make-up (whatever the reasons or causes underlying it) may well be better served by taking status into consideration when buying a car (at least as long as they actually need to rely on such measures for their own sense of well-being–however fragile that might be).

    People who are less concerned with status, on the other hand (i.e. whose sense of well-being is not as tied to such external measures) obviously don’t need to consider the status of a car, and if they do it should be one of the lower weighted elements on their list of considerations.

    I realize my answer is kind of obvious and trite in a way, but it also seems to be fairly sound, at least on some levels.

  • avatar
    SimRacingDan

    People who buy cars as status symbols don’t care about cars… And the truth, as evidenced by Toyota, is that most people don’t.

    I don’t understand cars as a status symbol, but then I also don’t understand how someone could walk into a dealership without knowing exactly what model they want to buy/try (to compare against another brands’ offerings that they’ve researched just as thoroughly) and what options they want with it if they decide they like it. And WHY they want it.

    From the 2 BMWs I’ve driven I will say they’re very comfortable and nice on the inside and feel very solid. 3 series and and E46 M3, both were nice and the M3 was extremely planted at highway speed.

  • avatar
    aristurtle

    If you’re in sales, sure. A real estate agent, for example, will need to drive around with prospective customers, and a twenty-year-old Taurus wagon, despite being the practical and economical choice, can impact sales in a way that a late-model Lexus doesn’t. But at that point it’s a business tool, not really a personal vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      Good points.

    • 0 avatar
      28-cars-later

      Agreed, a very good point.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      Add to this category anyone who aspires to rise above middle mgmt in corporate America. Drive the wrong car, wear the wrong suit, or carry the wrong phone and you’ll be overlooked time and again. Style trumps substance if you would endeavor to escape the cube farm.

      • 0 avatar
        Sam P

        Not exactly true if you work in finance. The VP of accounting at a company I used to work for drove a Saturn for years – a mid 90s model that she bought a few years after finishing college.

        She now drives a Camry and prides herself on being a cheapskate.

      • 0 avatar
        daveainchina

        On her being a cheapskate.. isn’t that just another type of status symbol?

        My father is the same way, another accounting type. He doesn’t seem to get it, that people buy cars emotionally, not just after doing all the accounting ahead of time on a ledger.

    • 0 avatar
      Slab

      Maybe it’s my local market, but most real estate agents do not act as a taxi service any more, due to safety and liability issues. The customers will meet them at a house or they’ll drive in a caravan. Doesn’t stop the agents from buying (or more likely leasing) fancy status cars.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        Real estate is one of those professions (financial advisory services is another) where image really matters: you want to be seen driving something that looks like you can make money for your clients, but not so ostentatious as to say imply that you make money off them in excessive amounts.

        Hence you see a lot of near-lux or upper-trim in the lower end of the market, and light-luxury in the more lucrative markets, followed by very luxurious (but not completely gonzo) in the truly hot ones.

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    I’m reminded of a college acquaintance of mine who years ago was telling me about how great a financial deal his fully loaded Eagle Talon 4wd (he was an accounting major), and gave me all sort of weird financial reasons for why it wasn’t such terrible idea. This was when the rest of us were driving used Rabbits, Pontiac 6000’s, old Volvo’s… etc. Fast forward a few years and all of the financial mumble jumble about why an E90 was such a good deal and blah blah blah. I asked him what his fiance would drive. “Oh, she can have a Mazda or something”. I lost track of him but I think he got an XK after that. It kind of says it all, really.

    Is status smart? It depends on what you value. If you value lording your status over other people, then yes… it’s ‘smart’. Of course, if you ask any car shopper, that’s not what they are looking for… but ‘quality’ can get played very easily into ‘status’ if you aren’t careful.

    The old religious idea of not worshipping idols really has something to say about the dignity of people… don’t imbue an inanimate object with the emotional qualities that ought to be reserved for people. That’s what status is all about… you pay more to create a superiority narrative. Yes you also get more, but there’s a reason why margins go up with trim levels. The says guys aren’t going back to the lunch room and high-fiving themselves on what a great guy they just sold the premium package to….

    Status is also a cheap substitute for reputation. Old Mercedes had reputation. New Mercedes has status. Status is a narrative created by the marketing guys that rides on the work set out by the product team. So if you have status without reputation (ahem, cough, worst days of Jaguar, etc.) then no, it’s not smart at all.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      Good point about the difference between status and reputation.

      This discussion is complicated by the fact that, at one point, every desirable brand EARNED its public esteem. Cadillacs really were The Standard of the World, a Mercedes really was A Car Engineered Like No Other, and BMW really was The Ultimate Driving Machine.

      The problems start when the brand spends too many years coasting on its reputation, and the public wakes up to that fact.

      • 0 avatar
        schmitt trigger

        Geeber, you have nailed it….
        The same can be said for many brands, not related to the automotive industry.

        Sony set the standard for color TVs with the Trinitron CRT, and was able to command a premium price for their TVs for a loooong time.

        Enter flat screen displays…Sony still had this status and was able to still sell lots of TVs at a premium….until people started noticing that Samsung, LG and others had TVs which were cheaper, looked better or both.

        Last I heard, Sony is hemorraging money from its TV business.

      • 0 avatar
        Landcrusher

        Oh how quickly the mighty brands can fall. Usually happens after they successfully run off.all the irritating people who are concerned with the company mission and replace them with charming sycophants and lingo slingers.

      • 0 avatar
        Steve65

        Funny you should mention Trinitron…

        A few years ago our TV suddenly died and we wanted a replacement in a hurry. So we didn’t spend a lot of time shopping or studying specs. Just bought a Trinitron that we could afford because I “knew” that they have good sharp contrast and deep blacks. Well, the older Trinitrons I’d seen were like that, but this one is average at best. When the time comes to replace this one, I won’t be shopping Sony…

      • 0 avatar
        schmitt trigger

        Not only Sony.
        Hewlett Packard used to be:
        – The non plus ultra of electronic instrumentation.
        – Their calculators were worlds apart.
        – Their plotters were on a class by themselves.

        What have they become now? A cheap printer company relying on paper and ink sales…

    • 0 avatar
      wileecoyote

      Stuntmonkey, I think I found your friend. There’s an Inside Line reader ride of a CLS63 and he mentions his Eagle Talon 4wd – http://blogs.insideline.com/readersrides/2012/04/pauls-2012-mercedes-benz-cls63-amg.html

  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    In my opinion, most people don’t buy a certain car because of status concerns. They typically rule out certain cars because of perceived low status. For example- I tried to get my wife to look at some Hyundais when she was corss shopping between a Subaru Outback, a CRV and a RAV4. She flatly refused because she still has the mindset that Hyundais are low rent, Chevy’s are rental heaps, and Suzukis are third tier.

    • 0 avatar
      Hank

      Isn’t that a distinction without a difference?

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      Hah, reminds me of one of the general managers I work with, guy goes out of the way to tell me I wasted my money (as in why did you buy that piece of shit) on my Mustang (GT500), told me for ther money I should have gotten an acura or a lexus.

      I keep telling him, I bought the car because I’m a Mustang wingnut and I love fast cars. The guy just stares back with a blank expression.

  • avatar
    LeeK

    Status is an inevitable byproduct of the need for manufacturers to differentiate their goods in a fiercely competitive market. BMW, Daimler, Jaguar, Lexus, and others have done a remarkably good job in establishing and maintaining this customer perception. When I take a long walk around my town and cross over to the ritzy section with million dollar plus homes, I see driveways full of German and high-end Japanese metal. Those houses themselves, with 5000 square feet, four and five car garages, pools, and fancy gates also convey the status of wealth, success, and superiority over the common folk. It is human nature.

    Don’t believe all the marketing hype, but for the most part you do get excellent — albeit maintenance intensive — vehicles as you climb in price point. The extra baubles that come along with the car (lane departure warning, massaging seats, infrared head up displays, and so forth) have to be there to convince the new owners that they are indeed getting something unique for their money. Otherwise, as has pointed out time and time again, a Camry or Accord or F-150 is really all anyone truly needs.

    Status also helps in resale value, so cannot be dismissed completely by a prospective buyer.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    Some people work in professions were it would simply be unacceptable to show up in a ten year old Cobalt. It has nothing to do with ignorance or a lack of self-worth, it is an investment in their career, just like maintaining certifications or licenses. Not everyone owns a used-car dealership. Half of the article is premised on someone buying something that they can’t afford, which is a separate issue.

    • 0 avatar
      onyxtape

      I remember reading about this financial analyst whose sales numbers went through the roof after start his lease on some exotic Italian metal at around $2500/month.

    • 0 avatar
      onyxtape

      I remember reading about this financial analyst whose sales numbers went through the roof after starting his lease on some exotic Italian metal at around $2500/month.

    • 0 avatar
      carlisimo

      I can see why it would be unacceptable; owning a 2002 Chevy Cobalt would mean owning an imaginary car =].

      I’d say if you’re compelled to buy a high-status car for others’ sake, it’s still a case of status for the stupid. The stupid would be the people who you need to impress (and possibly, but not necessarily, yourself as well).

      • 0 avatar
        Detroit-Iron

        I am from two years in the future, when it is no longer acceptable to show up to work in an ’05 (introduced in 04) Cobalt. Way back in 2012 it was ok, because at time the car was only eight years old.

  • avatar
    akitadog

    As car enthusiasts, I think most of us are more concerned with the status of knowing how our cars can perform, more so than what badge is on the car. I can see a number of FR-Ss and BRZs going to those of us who can afford much more, but who know that what we want just isn’t available with a luxury badge attached to it. Until recently, most non-lux automakers didn’t have competitive everyday “sports” cars (i.e. RWD 4-seaters w/ sticks), porky muscle cars notwithstanding. So the 3-series and C-class took up the slack.

    I’m still searching for the unicorn that is the RWD stick-shift diesel wagon. And at this point, I don’t care from which marque it comes, should it ever get here.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      I think the lux brands still dominate the everyday, RWD, 4-seaters w/sticks segment.

      The FR-S/BRZ is pretty small to be considered an everyday car. The rear seats are there for insurance purposes – no adult has a prayer of sitting in them.

      The RX-8 comes close, but the engine is thirsty relative to power and not durable enough for piling on the miles commuting. From what I have read, there aren’t too many examples of engines making it past 150k miles. It’s discontinued anyway.

      Pontiac G8 – Discontinued and produced for a very short time, so a rare find used.

      Pontiac GTO – Discontinued but may fit the bill if you can find one.

      The Genesis coupe is probably more in line with the pony cars, and is also lacking in rear seat space to be considered an everyday car.

      If you want a legitimately practical package, that means a back seat that adults can sit in for at least 30 minutes without severe discomfort. This almost always means a sedan. If you want RWD and a stick in a practical package, you are left with BMW, Cadillac, and Infiniti.

      • 0 avatar
        hubcap

        “If you want a legitimately practical package, that means a back seat that adults can sit in for at least 30 minutes without severe discomfort.”

        Might just be me but I don’t buy cars based on whether an adult can fit in the rear seat. If you have a family then yes, you want a more spacious rear but if you’re single why does it matter?

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        Friends?

    • 0 avatar
      kuman

      mmm stickshift diesel wagon, go for toyota Fortuner 2.5L diesel ( 2WD version ) it doesnt do 100mph, but surely do 13km/litre in the city easily. Its smooth n comfy, and in my place got a stellar resale value.

      BTW, answering the question, generally those who earn their status symbols earn them. Toyota is the king here and ppl swears by it because the sales n service are top notch. i couldn’t care much if honda makes better cars because their sales n service continues to be disappointing.

      Cars are nothing without maintenance n service, lets not downplay that. I wouldn’t buy a brand in which their service garages are populated by monkeys and pirates.

      Another example are Audi is getting more recognition too because they treat their customer n prospective customer much better than the BMW and Mercedes ever do.

      The key to distinguish a good product from a product that looks good is right between our two ears.

  • avatar
    david42

    When used properly, a status symbol is a good investment:
    http://www.economist.com/node/18483423

    That article is about clothing, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the same principle applies to any outwardly-visible item you purchase.

    Projecting a successful image (or at least financially successful) can enhance your credibility in business and social situations. Sad but true. (Well, maybe not sad. I mean, if don’t use some kind of shortcut to make judgments about people, we’d have to waste our time getting to know everyone we see before deciding whom to associate with.)

    You can argue about whether a BMW is a better investment than a fancy sweater or purse. But there’s no doubt that the fancier the status symbol, the stronger the signal of success.

    Of course, some (many?) people will assume you’re an ass-hat for driving a BMW. But I’ve never heard of anyone saying, “That man drives a BMW. I refuse to speak to him.” So generally you have a chance to prove that you’re not an ass-hat, though you now have to expend the effort to overcome a prejudice.

    Anyway, I think it’s often a smart move. You don’t want to spend more than you can afford, of course, but if you live in a world where a perception of financial success enhances people’s trust/interest in you (could be work, could be dating, whatever), a fancy car could be an investment.

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    As an engineer (and retired USAF Test Pilot type), and as an ex-BMW and Mercedes owner…I was very underwhelmed by the supposed engineering of those cars. Both brands were certainly a pleasure to drive, but each had quirks that were not acceptable coming from such brands. I expected (and got) cr*p from GM. I didn’t expect, but most certainly got cr*p from the Germans.

    It’s now only Japanese cars for me…and it’s been that way for many years. Oh, and the Germans always have had an awful electronics reputation…and they’re maintaining that reputation.

  • avatar
    harshciygar

    A deep and tricky topic to be sure.

    Cars started out as status symbols, toys for the rich. Most common men never dreamed of owning a car until ol’ Henry Ford came along with the Model T.

    Today humanity is dominated, absolutely dominated, by marketing. Perception is everything in the game of 21st life, and everybody is trying to tell you why they’re the best.

    Stereotypes generally hold a grain of truth to them, which is why the story from a few weeks ago about BMW owners being more likely to be adulterers did not surprise me in the least.

    I was telling my girlfriend today that, despite the fact that BMW makes an overall good automobile in many regards, I would never own them. Maintenance costs for one, but the perception that I am more like than not to be a douchebag just keeps me from wanting to own one.

    But the girlfriend wants a MINI. A horse of a different color, despite also being owned by BMW. A MINI is a different kind of cool, a classic cool that doesn’t need to brag and show off. I’d love to own a MINI, and quite frankly I am tired of fixing the beat-to-hell Accord she’s been driving the past year.

    But there’s a different perception for you. Despite having to replace something on her Accord every couple of months, I am a Honda lover now. The engine keeps going, parts are cheap and easy to fix, and most of the important stuff still works. Honda’s perception has been dogged reliability…and I see why now.

    Like it or not, people will judge you by what you drive. As far as BMW’s go, I’d rather not be associated with dudes who pop their collars, wear wraparound sunglasses, and have Greek letters burned onto their ass cheeks.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      “Cars started out as status symbols, toys for the rich. Most common men never dreamed of owning a car until ol’ Henry Ford came along with the Model T.”

      This happened a century ago. Most of us living people don’t remember it.

      History very is important, but this particular item is pre-context for how we live and feel now, not actual context.

      I didn’t feel the need to delve too deeply in to the rest of your comment after the foot-bullet interaction in your introduction.

  • avatar
    Slow_Joe_Crow

    It depends on whether you care about resale value. A BMW 3 series is easily sold on to a yuppie wannabe or fanboy, many of its competitors are not. I keep cars at as long as they do the job and take pride in being a cheapskate so I don’t care about status, I care about value reliability and whether it interests me.

    • 0 avatar
      stuntmonkey

      > It depends on whether you care about resale value

      High status cars tend to have the worst depreciation in the early years of their life. Re-sell a 7-series or a Maserati and the difference in depreciation is the dollar amount that you value status that the buyer does not. There are a few studies that indicate that ownership causes us to value things more when we have them than when we don’t. One of the most famous has to do with resale value of Duke tickets. The morale of the story is that buying things in the hopes that other people will value them is not necessarily what it’s cracked up to be.

      • 0 avatar
        charly

        It is more the status lose. Other people just give a much lower status to a 3 year old Maserati than to a brand new one and this is what you see in the price.

  • avatar
    WaftableTorque

    Status is not a need for people in survival mode, whom are just trying to get food, water, and shelter. But it’s a need for everyone else who’ve escaped subsistence living.

    The research in evolutionary psychology is pretty clear so far: men with higher social status have better (and more) mates, live longer, have less stress, possess political/economic/social power, have more latitude for creativity at work, and perpetuate the cycle of success to their progeny.

    A car is a useful tool for social signaling because it has a strong barrier of entry (namely: price), but there’s other tools you can play the game with, like your family heritage, trophy wife, an Ivy league degree, McMansion, fashion, exotic vacations, collections, or your occupation. The key to status is whether there’s a barrier to entry. It can be as obvious as the color of your skin or as subvert as to whom you’re friends with.

    Brands are shortcuts to trust and assurance, and it’s still useful when deciding whether to feed your kid baby formula from a start-up in China or from an international company that can’t afford the bad publicity. But for goods where everything is good enough, it’s a valuable marketing tool.

  • avatar
    beach cruiser

    Automotive status is a nebulous concept at best, success comes down to the perceptions of the person seeking status and the people who he/she is trying to impress. And to what end? It makes me want to take a nap.
    My mantra is that life is very short, drive whatever you can afford that makes YOU happy. Do not waste any time with worry about what people think about your choice of transportation, in almost all cases it is incredibly unimportant.

  • avatar
    azmtbkr81

    On the flip side is it wrong to avoid certain brands for fear of the “status” it will project on you as the driver? I think that the BMW 3 series is an excellent car: a comfortable, sporty, and solidly built machine. In fact a 3 series would likely be an ideal car for me as a 30 year old single professional but I would never, ever buy one simply because of what it represents. I don’t want to date women who want to date guys who drive BMWs. A BMW would become a constant source of jabs and jokes for my family and friends. My dad drives a Mustang GT and would likely disown me. Because of this I can’t fault anyone who desires to buy a car that will increase their status; in fact I don’t think it is status they are after but acceptance among the social group they’ve aligned themselves with.

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      “in fact I don’t think it is status they are after but acceptance among the social group they’ve aligned themselves with.”

      Another excellent point, but I would add that in some cases they might also be seeking “acceptance among the social group” that they want to be seen as aligned with (by others).

    • 0 avatar
      icemilkcoffee

      “I would never, ever buy one simply because of what it represents. I don’t want to date women who want to date guys who drive BMWs. A BMW would become a constant source of jabs and jokes for my family and friends. My dad drives a Mustang GT and would likely disown me.”

      Wow. Where do you live that people make such a stink over somebody having a BMW 3 series?

      • 0 avatar
        Sam P

        I live near Seattle and I think I’d get much more flak for driving a Mustang than a 3-series. Comments about NASCAR and mullets, mainly.

      • 0 avatar
        Philosophil

        “Wow. Where do you live that people make such a stink over somebody having a BMW 3 series?”

        This might be a good illustration of the problems that sometimes arise in dialogues between people of different economic and other kinds of classes. As someone who comes from a working class background, I have absolutely no trouble understanding and appreciating his point. Sometimes it helps to simply imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes.

      • 0 avatar
        azmtbkr81

        Phoenix. You make a good point Philosophil but I think it is a factor of geography as much as anything else. My dad is the perfect example. He is a lawyer and former law professor – the stereotypical BMW owner yet he chose a Mustang. Does he get flak for it? Not that I know of.

        I can see how the opposite would hold true in Seattle, I haven’t spent much time there but in my trips to San Jose (which seems similar in a lot of ways) I can say with certainty that BMWs predominate. Is this because everyone thinks that they are the next Mark Zuckerberg or Sergey Brin? Maybe not but those who do want to have the wheels to prove that they are on their way up and as a result everyone else follows. In Arizona (and many other flyover states I suspect) muscle cars and jacked up trucks are the popular, aspiration vehicles. Does this mean that most Arizonans want to watch NASCAR, ride dirt bikes, and shoot guns in the desert? Most definitely yes. :)

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      Like any American car a being a pimp.

    • 0 avatar
      Joe McKinney

      “On the flip side is it wrong to avoid certain brands for fear of the “status” it will project on you as the driver?”

      This also applies to certain types of vehicles. If you are married and have kids, the most practical vehicle you can own is a minivan. You just can’t beat the sliding rear doors, flat floors and roomy interior. Regardless of this fact, many people will not even consider buying one because, in their opinion, minivans do not project the right image.

  • avatar
    Glenn Mercer

    Great topic! One comment and one suggested expansion of the discussion, and they are related, and neither is based on anything other than personal experience:

    Comment: one objective reason for bothering at all about status is to avoid endlessly having to defend your purchase choice to others who DO care more about status. You pull up to the country club parking lot in an AMG Mercedes, no issues. In a 5-year-old Chevy: stares, and much tortuous debate. (Oddly enough, if you show up in a 50-year-old Chevy, many ooh’s and aah’s.) Sometimes the endless defending of one’s choices gets to be a pain.

    Expansion: what about ‘heritage’ as another elusive buying factor? I have owned NSXs and and an S2000 and a 928, and got this argument all the time. “NSX is a great car but it does not have the heritage of BMW or Porsche.” Ditto for the S2000. For the 928 (this was back in the 1980s, before Porsche expanded its product line): “928 is not a real Porsche: their heritage is air-cooled rear-engine.”

  • avatar
    Syke

    Yep, we all agree that status is overrated and wrong, and of course my personal BMW is an exception to the usual ownership . . . . . .

    I’ve seen enough status pull with my sister and brother-in-law. She’s an MD, he’s a freelance engineer who’s contracted to PennDOT for the last couple of decades. Their net worth is definitely seven figures, probably verging on eight. MacMansion built back in the early 1980’s, when they were still kind of rare (they’re DINK’s, by the way).

    On one hand, they’re VERY frugal. With cars, there’s a $50k top end to what they’ll look at, anything above that is a waste of money. On the other hand, American brands NEVER enter in to the equation, and with my sister, Japanese brands are pretty much right out, too. Guess when you’re a well-off, liberal Bucks County yuppie, being seen in an American car is slumming way too low.

  • avatar
    slance66

    The elephant in the room is whether status is earned. I’ve had lots of cars, and now drive a BMW 3-series. Does the status matter to me? A little…I’m not in real estate, but can’t afford to drive a beater either. But it wasn’t a tipping point. The car merely won the competition I put it through over several moths, against other cars with and without a similar status.

    Yet the car is solid as a rock. It is very well constructed, much better than say, a Mazda 6 that I might compare it to. So the luxury brand brings, along with the status: (1) some improvement in quality (2) a longer warranty and (3) better resale in most cases.

    New loaded Camry V6 or a one year old Lexus ES will cost about the same. The interior and exterior of the Lexus is nicer. The build quality on the Lexus is higher. They have the same remaining warranty. Which is the better buy?

    In contrast, I looked at French “Lancel” bags at the Paris Duty Free. Over $400 for a woman’s wallet. Look at Swiss watches, where performance and quality are not much different than watches costing 10% of the price. Those are pure status-symbol purchases. I think on average, Lexus, BMW, Mercedes, Audi etc. are priced closer to their real value than other luxury goods (this decreases at the high-end), which is one reason they are popular.

  • avatar
    athoswhite

    When I was a kid, in the older part of town (where we lived) I grew up in, everybody’s dad drove a 2-5 year old Buick or Lincoln. In the newer part of town, everybody’s dad drove a new BMW or a Merc. I commented on this to my dad (who actually drove a 10 year old Grand Wagoneer, at the time), and said “wow. That part of town must be a lot richer.” He laughed at me, but didn’t explain why. I understand why now.

    • 0 avatar
      slance66

      My father lives in a large home on the water and is comfortably retired. He recently purchased a 2011 Elantra Touring to replace his Tacoma (crappy mileage). But they have neighbors who blow big money on cars (guy across the street has a new A8). My neighborhood is the same. Luxury SUVs on lease mix with 8 year old Accords and Impalas. Everybody has to put their own value on their cars.

  • avatar
    JCraig

    It amazes me that people will instantly discount the purchase of a new practical car but never fail to be impressed by a decade old luxury brand.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    If you think you are judged by what car you drive, wait until you tell someone you ride a motorcycle.

    I think I’ve heard it all.

    “Don’t you have a family you care about?”
    “Are you an organ donor?”
    “Do you wear a helmet?”
    “Why would you do that? It’s way too dangerous…”

    Talk about being judged….

  • avatar
    bigd

    I like nice cars (i.e. those that drive well, have slick technology, and have upscale appointments), but status/badge is actually a slight negative to me. As a young business owner, my employees are always looking at what I pull up in. Even just driving down the road, I’d rather fly under the radar a bit.

    That’s why I got a VW Touareg TDI. Great looking car, built on the same assembly line as the Porsche Cayenne with essentially the same engines, and just as nice as an Audi – but it took my employees almost a week before they even noticed it. “VW, meh”. Perfect.

    One day I hope to be able to afford a “fun” weekend convertible as well and it may be a 3-series or a 911 (or similar vehicle with similar stereotypes attached). The reason will be driving dynamics, technology, and a nice interior far more than it would be the badge itself.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    First, if you can’t appreciate the difference between a 3-series and a Chevy Cobalt with a manual tranny, then, by all means, buy the Cobalt. The BMW-as-status-symbol meme came into vogue in the 1980s, when my generation (the Boomers) started coming into serious money and did so without starting to pay the very significant costs of raising children (either because they delayed having children or never had any at all). At the time, Mercedes did not make a similar-sized car (the 190-series was introduced in response to the 3-series’ success) and there was nothing else comparable. Prior to that BMW had been something of a “only for those in the know car” (i.e., a car snobs’ car) so the car snobs (the people today clamoring for a diesel powered station wagon with a six-speed manual) became offended that large numbers of BMWs were bought by Young Urban Professionals who were not car snobs and probably could not give a good answer to the question as to why they bought a 3-series instead of a top-line Honda Accord.

    However, once you step beyond the need for transportation, cars are a means of “display” just like clothing. After all, most people do not run around in sweats all day (and those who do are justly condemned). (And the dirty little secret, is that those who bought BMWs in the 70s were doing a display as well, just a slightly different one than such buyers in the 80s.)

    When my daughter moved up from the “assistant” level in the movie industry to “creative executive” and moved from NYC (where she had no car) to Los Angeles, she absolutely refused to buy a new economy car (e.g. a Nissan Versa). She said, “I can’t show up at meetings in something like that!.” So, after much work, we found an 8-year old Lexus RX-300 that seemed to be in excellent condition inside and out, that was well maintained, etc., etc. that was in her price range. Thankfully, two years later, the car has upheld Toyota/Lexus’s reputation for reliability.

    And, in case you were wondering, while she was a kid in our house our cars were, respectively, a 1984 Jeep Wagoneer and two Toyota Previa’s, the second of which was fully loaded with leather seats, etc. When she went away to college (leaving only one child in residence at home), we got a Saab 9-5 wagon. So, it’s not like she grew up riding around in luxury European or Japanese machinery.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      When you say “car snob” you’re pretty much defining a hipster, but I see your point.

      I just don’t see car as a “display” of anything, they’re machines meant to get us and our things around.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        Obviously not from California (me neither). Less so now, but there it used to be that “you are what you drive!” (talking about the 1960s, at least)

        But that’s the split we’re talking about: for one group, cars are transportation machines. They need to be reliable, inexpensive to own and operate and unobtrusive. For the others, cars are a “display.”

        Just like watches: you need to tell time on your wrist, buy a Seiko or similarly accurate and unobtrusive watch. You want to “display” buy a Patek-Phillipe or any other number of expensive, mechanical watches made in Europe. Interestingly, that business has gotten so big, there are new companies getting into the business, “extending their brand” such as Mont Blanc (fountain pens).

      • 0 avatar
        cfclark

        @DC Bruce: You’re dead-on about brand extension. I collect and use vintage fountain pens, and the consensus among serious pen collectors is that modern Mont Blancs are junk, shirt-pocket jewelry for poseurs. (My daily “driver” is a nearly 60-year-old Parker 51 Flighter.) But they sell like hotcakes to people for whom shirt-pocket jewelry is important to their image.

        LA is still very much about what you drive. I stick out in the company parking lot in my 9-year-old Outback (although, recently another H6 Outback wagon has begun showing up–I have to find that co-worker). But as someone else pointed out, car prestige is often locally-specific–the organization I work for is based in the Pacific Northwest, and I’ve mused to myself that if I get transferred to Portland, I’ll fit right in, since I already have the Subaru.

        I agree with the comments some other posters have made about the reverse snobbery of big, old money…in my experience, the ultimate modest, old-money vehicle is an impeccably-maintained, W123 300TD, often with Ivy-League college stickers in the rear window.I’d have one, but I don’t think I can afford one.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    Having been in a working class family all my life I don’t aspire to drive a BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, Cadillac or anything else. Spending $50k or more on a depreciating asset doesn’t appeal to me; I can spend my money stupidly elsewhere. I don’t begrudge people their choices, but won’t be pressured into making the same.

    I want a car that screams comfortable and staying that way. I recently saw an ad for Land Rover and the voice over dude said something like “only $700 a month” and I about threw up.

    • 0 avatar
      slance66

      I agree on the $50k car, or $700 a month. Crazy money, and I make good money. Here is where it gets weird. I bought a CPO 328xi for $25k at 0% financing. Friends buy a loaded Sienna for close to $40k.

      In the eyes of almost everyone, I am the one the splurged and bought a fancy status symbol car, and they bought a practical one. It’s the same with F150’s, Tahoes or similar…those are not cheap cars, often costing far more than a “luxury” sedan.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Brands hold their reputations longer than they should, including Camry’s. Caveat Emptor.

    I like the points about tribalism. The guy in work clothes likes to laugh at the BImmer owners for being fools, but if a realtor drives you around in a beater he instantly loses credibility on what properties are desirable.

    All the money I have made on homes in the right neighborhoods tells me there is value in status. OTOH, cars depreciate so fast, and status can cost so much, that it is rather foolish for most people to try to buy more status than they ought.

    Driving a really sharp older car with good looks has a lot of status as well. Stewardship makes a better impression than flagrant borrowing.

    • 0 avatar
      Marko

      The “stewardship” comment is something I especially agree with. If I theoretically started a business that suddenly made me the next Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates (yeah right, like that would ever happen) and could buy all the cars I ever wanted, I honestly would keep my daily driver something nice but not too flashy. My “fun” cars would be interesting cars, for example, an FD RX-7 or old NSX, maybe something newer, but everything I would choose would be something that I TRULY wanted. You would not find any Bentleys, Rolls, Lambos, etc. in my garage – they honestly do nothing for me and mean nothing to me, and I would be casting the wrong image.

      I’m paraphrasing a comment “Educator(of teachers)Dan” made a while ago, but give me the choice between a new Mustang GT, a gently used S2000, and a brand-new Bugatti Veyron – the Veyron would come in third place.

  • avatar
    mitchw

    Are we talking about status, or the ability to waste money? Thorstein Veblen called it ‘conspicuous consumption’ when people paid more for something so others could see them do so. Under this view, it makes sense to vastly overpay for a luxury sedan, which will depreciate horrifically. The more the better. Why shouldn’t car makers exploit us just like perfume makers? Even Bob Lutz has written that if people were rational, then they’d should just buy a two year old sedan.

    On the other hand, a lawyer friend who worked at a big accounting firm was instructed not to buy a flashy car, so as not to upset the clients. It was Arthur Andersen if you were guessing at home, and no, he had nothing to do with it.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Buy (and drive) whatever you like for whatever reason(s) you prefer. For some, buying a Mercedes or BMW might not be as much about “status” as potentially a personal reward for a life well-lived. I can’t afford a Mercedes (which is why I drive a 2004 Mitsubishi), but I can honestly say that I sure wouldn’t mind being in a position to be able to. My mother is entering her decision-making phase in buying her (probable) last car and you know what? She kinda likes the idea of having a Benz. She’s never done anything for herself and always given her time and efforts to the rest of the family. So if it makes her happy to drive one, then so be it. If not, then we can all just drive Camrys or Accords and call it a day…

  • avatar
    fredtal

    Logically no. Emotionally yes. Emotion wins otherwise we would all just be driving Corollas and be happy.

  • avatar
    espressoBMW

    Interesting how nearly all posts up to this point have focused on the prestige aspect of the BMW and M-B models while nothing has been said about the non-prestige models mentioned by the author such as the Camry, Civic and Corolla. Seems lots of people eager to attack the near-luxury market perhaps because they feel those names don’t deliver much for the price they demand.
    I say, look at the Civic. The current model. It was outright torn up by nearly all the media. Removed from lists where it had held top honors for years. However, it continued to be the top selling car in Canada and among the top sellers in the U.S. The Civic continued to be popular even though reviews pointed out numerous flaws and disappointments. Perhaps these buyers feel that the durability that the Honda name represents to them is still in the car despite the cheaper interior materials and non-revolutionary styling. Maybe it is just brand loyalty. Or maybe it was just the model that happened to be new when someone was finally able to purchase that brand-new-off-the-lot Honda that they always planned for.
    Reasons for what people buy are as numerous as there are individuals but each person is going to buy what they feel is the best choice for themselves. Regardless of that feeling’s justification. And in the end, it doesn’t matter who else approves of that choice or not. I’m just glad that we all have a choice and the variety exists in our market to satisfy that appetite.

    • 0 avatar
      stuntmonkey

      > The Civic continued to be popular even though reviews pointed out numerous flaws and disappointments.

      That is the difference between status and reputation. A lot of the reasons of the dog-piling on Honda has to do with de-contenting, which, albeit a legitimate gripe, is partly about status and bragging rights. But Toyonda’s have a long history of being bought on reputation. Just because they cut the cost this year does not mean that the maintenance and servicing have gone to pot as well. A loaded GLI has more status than a SI Sedan, but which as more reputation?

    • 0 avatar
      supersleuth

      I’ve read a lot more reviews of the ’12 Civic than you seem to have done- your generalization about them is just wrong. Few were anywhere near as negative as CRs, which has no credibility at all because they stopped recommending it while still recommending the Corolla and Sentra- WTF? Most reviews I’ve seen conclude that it’s incrementally better than the previous generation, while regretting that the increment was so small at a time when the competition is radically stepping up the game. Almost nobody thinks the ride and handling are nearly as bad as CR claims. Almost everyone besides CR still considers it a solid choice in its segment. It’s CR that’s the outlier.

      Nobody doing due diligence on C-segment car shopping would eliminate the Civic from their list after looking at a representative sample of reviews.

  • avatar
    johnharris

    You get the posturing at the top AND the bottom of the price range. Everyone knows the guy who brags and brags and brags about driving his faded Camry to 300,000 miles, changing the oil himself. I confess I find those people more tedious than a posturing BMW driver, because their cars are so boring. Actually, I know a lot more self-righteous, preachy thrifties than annoying luxury car owners.

    My dad is one of the thrifties. As a Fortune 500 company executive, he made a huge fuss out of driving a battered base-model 1984 Ford Bronco II to work to park alongside his colleagues’ Jaguars.

    The upshot for me was a long string of ghastly hand-me-downs. As soon as I had a penny in my pocket, I got nicer cars. I could care less what people think—I just like responsive handling, comfortable interiors, and a decent options list to make all the time I spend in the car less boring.

    John
    2011 Acura TSX Wagon
    2009 Mini Cooper S
    2009 Ford Flex

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      How is a tough car boring?

      • 0 avatar
        noxioux

        Well, you have to admit, a $300 oil change is, in fact, more viscerally engaging than a $25 oil change.

        The difference between an annoying thriftie and an annoying luxo-owner is most likely that the thriftie is actually capable of changing his/her own oil, and doesn’t have to spend 3 hours screaming into their iPhone if their 300,000-mile Camry throws a belt.

      • 0 avatar
        Sam P

        Not all “tough cars” are boring (Acura TSX, Lexus IS, Ford Mustang) but cars like the Corolla that are held up as paragons of reliability are pretty freakin’ boring to drive.

  • avatar
    Speed Spaniel

    Tough question with too many scenarios and personal preferences. Let’s face it, purchasing a car is a losing proposition (unless you limitedly drive an exotic). I think driving a non-luxury high level trim car/SUV makes more economical sense. This time last year instead of the Lexus GX, I opted for a 4Runner Limited. Both share the same platform and some technologies. Sure the Lexus is plusher but not $20,000 more so. Since I don’t have any college or highschool reunions coming up, I decided to get the Toyota instead .

    I think Acura makes a smart choice. There’s a little bit of brand snobbery, reliability, some luxury and decent performance in nicely loaded packages priced right. If they would just do something about their product styling. The German brands kill me. I love how they still charge for metallic paint. That really irks me.

  • avatar
    fukutake

    I bought my BMW 330i for three reasons: proportions, performance, and prestige. It wasn’t all about the looks, name brand, or even the performance for that matter. It had to do with the perfect combination of the three that appealed to me. I feel like we are first attracted to something by how it looks, then how others perceive it and finally how it performs, at least for a majority of the population.

  • avatar

    If you cannot afford status, pursuing status is stupid.

    If you can afford it, it isn’t smart or stupid.

    They are on different axes.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Status should NOT be a factor, luxury cars have become jokes in my book after seeing more a Dollar Trees and Mcdonalds than actual fancy places.

    That and status-thinking is what pushes our disposable society to keep disposing.

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    Status isn’t just about expensive cars. I was talking to somebody interested in picking up a used AE86 that was obviously priced to cash in on the hip factor… just way too much. So I asked my friend, did he want the car for himself or did he want it because it was everybody said it was a col car to have? He thought about it some more and decided to not buy.

  • avatar
    noxioux

    Throwing money away is stupid.

    Throwing money away on the current run of, “Superior German engineering,” is monumentally stupid. Unless you don’t mind spending twice as much for a car that is nothing more than a disposable appliance.

    “Excellence” and “Maintenance intensive/expensive” are mutually exclusive. If a car was truly engineered that well, it should be virtually indestructible. Build a BMW or Mercedes that can go 300,000 miles with nothing more than fluids, belts and tires and I’d be impressed.

    Mercedes used to know how to build idestructible. So did Lexus, with their first gen cars. I don’t think BMW ever had that down.

    If you want to spend more money for performance and prestige, that’s dandy. It’s your money to spend. Just don’t look me in the eye and try to call it smart, or pretend it’s something I should look up or aspire to.

    Anymore, a polished 5 series says “asshat” more than “prestige”. A real estate broker in a 5 or 10 year old Lexus has about 3,000,000 times more credibility than one in this year’s S-Class.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      I vaguely recall hearing something about 10 years ago saying that Mercedes deliberately started making their cars wear out sooner so that people would be forced to buy another. Until that point the cars would last forever and nobody had any incentive to buy again. At this point I can’t recall where I heard or read it, but I’m cynical enough to believe it.

      They went from building Lincoln Logs to Slinkies. Planned obsolescence is a b—-.

      • 0 avatar
        Marko

        I never thought of the 1990s/2000s cost-cutting as “planned obsolescence” but rather as an attempt to undercut the (then relatively new) Japanese luxury brands in terms of price, with quality second as MB realized people were leasing more.

        But you might be correct…

    • 0 avatar
      onyxtape

      70’s/80’s Mercedes can regularly attain more than 300k and 400k miles with routine maintenance and minor repairs. But the MSRPs back then, when adjusted for inflation, sits at about $100k-$150k in today’s dollars.

      As already mentioned, they (and others like Volvo) deliberately engineered obsolescence into their new cars. When you have guys like my uncle who drove his late 60s Volvo for 400k miles, then converted to natural gas and drove it another 300k miles before selling it on all the otherwise original parts, there’s a real compelling business sense to do that.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        They also attained stacks of maintenance and service bills that would sink a battleship in the process. Let’s not look back with too rose-colored glasses, modern German cars are MORE reliable than those old cars ever were, and more durable too. But they have more to go wrong, and when something does go wrong it costs more to fix, because they are so much more complicated.

        As I have said before, of COURSE a Corolla is going to be more reliable than a 3-series. How could it not be? It is about 1/5th as complicated a machine.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Thats something I’d like to dive further into, I have no doubt that Chrysler threw out durability as they’ve never been able to top their slant 6, same goes for GM’s 3.8l V6.

        I always said that a number of car companies started building disposable cars in the 2000’s before the big recession. Now its just the luxury brands (minus Lexus, maybe Infiniti), why else would your AudiBMWMercedes have electrical issues so soon?

        I think that their planned obsolesce is a way to keep their used cars off the road, so you can only buy new German stuff.

        Don’t worry though, you’ll have more money for next years model!

    • 0 avatar
      slance66

      That’s a bit simple minded in my view. Longevity is not the only measure of quality. How does the thing feel, look, perform. I don’t even mean speed/handling, but ride, stability at speed, safety features, braking, seat comfort, convenience features, quietness (critical to me with my hearing loss) etc. My BMW has been as trouble free as any car I’ve ever owned, and that includes 3 Hondas, a Ford, two Volvos, an Acura, a Subaru and Lexus. You can strap cardboard boxes to your feet an call them shoes if you want.

      I don’t but cars new, and agree that new German cars are generally a poor value. But for the money I spent, you’d be hard pressed to find more car for the money than I got with the used 3-series. It is built like a tank.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        Longevity is the unintended consequence of quality. You can’t have one without the other. BMWs are solid, no doubt, but their electronics and engine cooling, not so much. This isn’t a big deal in Europe’s milder climates and shorter commutes but most new BMWs and Mercedes get shipped to south western states. Where did your CPO come from?

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        @Denver Mike

        I just replaced the entire cooling system on my ’01 Z3 3.0: a top local mechanic quoted me $2,000 to do the job. I did it myself for about $700 in OEM parts, including BMW coolant. That would be radiator, water pump, thermostat and housing, expansion tank, all hoses and serpentine belt. Took me an afternoon. I suppose conceptually, if you consider all that a “maintenance item” on a 60,000 mile car that sounds bad. But just about all of the other cars I’ve owned (none of them BMWs) seem to have a hard time coming home from the shop without me dropping $1,000 for this-and-that.

        As for the electrics, they have been trouble-free in my car, as has everything else. I did have to replace one of the rubber intake hoses after the MAF, which developed a vacuum leak and also the vacuum actuated device that shifts between long and short intake runners, for the same reason. But, on a 10-year old car, I can’t complain about that kind of failure.

        I do think the rubber o-rings in the oil-activated VANOS variable valve system are leaking a bit and the system is not always working correctly. That’s another afternoon of my time and about $500 to remove the VANOS unit and replace it with a professionally-rebuilt unit with all-new o-rings & such.

    • 0 avatar
      WaftableTorque

      Lexus occupies (occupied?) what Mercedes used to: the durable luxury good niche. I drive a 10 year old LS430, and it’s the ideal car for me as a financial services broker, not too pretentious or flashy that I look like I’m wasting my clients’ money, but not so cheap that they or my agents question my credibility either.

      Just rolled over 230k km, and it’ll probably stay as my primary vehicle for another 5-10 years because the product lives up to the marketing.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Modern German cars are only ludicrously expensive to maintain if you are at the mercy of the ever so stylish cappacino machine wielding dealer. There are plenty of good, much cheaper independents out there.

      But ultimately, it is a matter of priorities. I have said this before on this forum – you can make a car that has a suspension that will last 150K without touching it in any way. Toyota calls it a Camry. Unfortunately, it drives like a Camry. Which is fine if you like that sort of thing. How would you even know when the shocks are bad on a Camry, brand new ones drive like they have a clapped out suspension already. I want a 3500lb station wagon that will carve corners like a 2000lb sports car. There is an engineering tradeoff to be made there – TANSTAAFL always applies. You are going to pay more for tires, the bushings are going to wear out faster, the shocks will need replacing sooner. Sure, BMW could probably engineer these parts so that they last just as long as Toyotas, but then they price themselves out of the realm of affordability. In my experience, the higher performance Japanese cars need just as much maintenance as the Germans.

      I will give MUCH credit to the Japanese for the superiority of thier electrical systems though – no contest there, they are simply the electron masters.

      But if my car has to go in the shop an extra time a year vs. a dull appliance car, it is a small price to pay. I have plenty of other cars in the garage to drive.

      There is also that phenomenon of Internet exaggeration in play here. BMWs are not nearly so expensive to maintain as the whiners here would have you believe, nor are Japanese cars as reliable as legend would have you believe. The truth is in the middle somewhere, and for every person going on and on about how their BMW is in the shop, there are probably 100 perfectly satisfied owners out there.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      @ DC Bruce

      Isn’t there an aftermarket VANOS eliminator kit?

  • avatar
    EarlyBMWowner

    On the subject of BMW vehicles, in 1969 I bought a new 2002. I chose it after being taken on a test drive by a salesman at Vasek Polak BMW, if that name means anything to anybody these days. Although I didn’t know how to drive a stick at the time, I bought the car based on its performance on that drive. Here’s how I view “status”, being somewhat oppositional/defiant, passive/aggressive & subversive by nature (my poor wife). Status for me meant driving a machine that shocked the heck out of other drivers, and my passengers, by how it performed and they had no idea what a BMW was. In those days in Los Angeles, 9 times out of 10 when I saw another 2002 it was being driven by a male. As the years passed, I noticed that the demographics of 2002 drivers was changing. I really got the message around 1975 when I saw 2002’s leaving the parking lot at University High School being driven by young women. Personally, it is definitely not high status to be driving something that is widely recognized to be a status symbol, especially when there are negative connotations associated with it. I still enjoy performance, but I prefer stealth to “flash”.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    My personal car is a 17 year old beater sport compact car. I can park it anywhere near my work, and not have to think about it. However, there are certain times that I don’t want to be seen in the car; I’m sure it must look odd to see a 50 year old man step out of a sport compact. Of course, mine isn’t visibly modded, but it still must look funny. Or make me look funny, and not the amusing way, either.

    I like to believe that I don’t care what other people think of my ride, but I find I do. Lame as it sounds, I know people form impressions of you based on how you dress and other factors. Your car is just a really big suit in effect. Whether it’s a business suit, a track suit or a leisure suit, what you roll up in makes a statement.

    Recently, I interviewed for a management position at another company. I know from reading various blogs that HR people take note of what you drive to the interview. Specifically for that purpose, I borrowed my daughter’s black on black Saturn Aura XR. I believe it said conservative but not totally stodgy. The follow up interviews I drove my wife’s G6 GT. I didn’t get the position. I wonder if the G6 hosed me…

    Like a good suit, a nice-looking appropriate car for your status in life is nice to have. I need more room to haul stuff occasionally, and my wife has suggested an SUV. I don’t want a SUV, but it IS within the appropriateness level for someone of my social standing and income. The (slightly extra) utility is just a cherry on top, yes?

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Let me expand a bit on this…

    In North America, status is simply not just the usual prestige brands. When it comes to working class folks and immigrants, status can often reflect the decision to buy the ‘right’ aspirational car as well.

    Toyotas and Hondas are usually preferred by most non-European immigrants in the USA. Why? Because the Japanese Big 3 in particular are seen as status symbols in their own home country.

    This is not just true for cars. But motorcycles and scooters as well. Whenever I have foreign buyers and immigrants come to the auctions I always see them in some type of Japanese car. The sole exception would be those from Eastern Europe and the Middle East who usually prefer Mercedes.

    Reputation plays a big hand in the cultivation of a status symbol… and of course perceived quality has to do with that reputation.

    The question is whether status serves to cloud our judgment, or if it helps us come to the right decisions?

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      Viewed in this respect I’d have to say that status in this sense probably clouds our judgement because it might make us overlook a brand or style that might be better suited to our actual, more ‘practical’ needs. People do still need to ‘fit in,’ however, and if not fitting in means subjecting yourself to some potentially damaging or harmful situations (physically, psychologically, and so on), then in some cases buying something that fits in with the expected ‘status’ might well be the best thing to do.

      When we first moved to this part of southern Ontario I lived in a neighborhood where a lot of auto workers also lived. I was warned by one of my neighbors (also an auto worker) than my car’s tires might get spiked because it was not made by one of the ‘big three.’ Spiked they were (as were my Nissan-driving neighbor’s across the street). We have since moved to a different neighborhood.

    • 0 avatar
      Patrickj

      Interesting about the immigrant groups. I live in an area with many African immigrants.

      They drive Mercedes and almost nothing else, often really worn-out Mercedes MLs.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      Expanding on what Steve wrote, I see different groups of people gravitating to different cars. BMW, Audi, and Mercedes own the big spender/high income or high debt market. The Hyundai Genesis and Cadillac CTS experience a price ceiling in the “real” luxury market.

      I work in the Telecom Corridor area of Richardson, TX. Lots of engineers. Engineers tend to buy Japanese cars except when there is employee pricing for a domestic brand. Asian engineers always buy Japanese cars. I think that buying Japanese has the status of signaling careful, analytical decision making even if Hyundai may offer a better value sans reputation.

      I recently brought up Google street view for a restaurant and saw multiple Chevrolet Silverado pickups with chrome strips added to the wheel arches. Didn’t need to see the surnames on the back glass to know that this was a working class Hispanic neighborhood.

      A Donk is also a status symbol that sends a very different message about one’s aspirations in life than a leased BMW.

    • 0 avatar
      onyxtape

      “Because the Japanese Big 3 in particular are seen as status symbols in their own home country.”

      I think it’s more reputation (for longevity and low-cost operation) than status in this case, with a healthy dose of Asian herd mentality. I’ve seen Asian family gatherings, esp in the 80s and 90s where multiple instances of the exact same make and model would line the driveway.

  • avatar
    DearS

    The word “should: means I don’t want to, but they are making me”. All this stuff comes from feeling inherently unworthy within. Status is a drug to deal with the feelings of unworthiness. A BMW or reliable Corolla mean intelligence and competence in the society of today IE. I’m a worthy person.

    If I have a healthy self esteem, I’d never look for status, IE worth in people or things. I’m a work in progress, a work in process, I don’t have shoulds, only opportunities for growth.

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    On getting status by buying a car, if Bruce Campbell were to explain it:

    When you have it, you don’t need it.
    When you need it you don’t have it.
    If you have it, you need more of it.
    If you have more of it, you don’t need less of it.
    You need it, to get it.
    And you certainly need it to get more of it.
    But if you already have it to begin with, you can’t get any of it to get started, which means you really
    don’t have any idea how to get it in the first place. Do you?
    You can share it,sure.
    You can even stockpile it if you’d like.
    But you can’t fake it.
    Wanting it….
    Needing it…
    Wishing for it…
    The point is, if you have never had any of it….
    Ever….
    People just seem to know.

  • avatar
    Mathias

    I have my own definition of “status” and it matters a lot. Simply put, I won’t buy a car that makes me look or feel stupid.

    There’s no way I’d drive an Escalade or a Hummer H-anything.
    I once borrowed a friend’s 2005 M3. I felt completely ridiculous the whole time. Look at me, driving in city traffic with a six-speed manual and choosing either the odd or the even gears, there’s so much power. $55k new. No thanks.

    I had a Chevy worktruck for a while and was very comfortable with it. A crew-cab, leathered-up 4×4 would make me feel, well, stupid.

    But if I ever saw a nice W124 Benz with a straight-six engine, that I might consider. Classy-like… plus I know a good indy shop that works on them. Audi? No way.

    I think everyone has to figure out what their “image” or “status” is; it is the rare person who can honestly claim that they are not affected by these notions.

    Currently driving a 5sp Vibe; next car will be a Subaru of some sort. These have their own “status.”

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      I’m fairly similar, I think. I tend to gravitate towards cars that won’t get me noticed, unless they’re so ugly as to be funny (Juke, Cube, Soul).

    • 0 avatar
      icemilkcoffee

      Driving a BMW M3 makes you look ‘ridiculous’, and driving a Pontiac Vibe doesn’t? Driving a Chevy pikcup with leather seats look ‘stupid’, but driving a Chevy work truck doesn’t? Seriously man- you’re overthinking it.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    When you no longer need to climb the social/corporate ladder and can afford anything what so ever, would you still own BMW or Merc? I know a handful of multimillionaires that all drive Chevys, Fords, Toyotas, Nissans and the like. We’re not talking Fusion and Cobalts here, but Denalis, Armadas, Sequioas, King Ranch, etc. They may trade them in or hand them down before it’s two years old, but I never suspect a millionaire from those driving luxury brands. All I see is serious debt to income ratio.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      And all of those cost AT LEAST $40K, and are just as much a status symbol as a 3-series. Spending $55K for a $18K pickup truck with bells on makes no sense to me at all though. BMW is probably losing money on every stripper 3-series they sell. The big three make big money on stripper trucks, and the luxo-versions have them laughing all the way to the bank.

      But personally, all the truly wealthy folk I know drive German or Swedish cars. But this is New England, where European cars have always had a stronger following than elsewhere. I actually don’t know any of the stereotypical ‘young person who had to lease a BMW types’ – they don’t exist here either. I did not buy a new BMW until middle age, when I could very comfortably afford it. Though at 43, I am definitely on the young side for my local BMW dealer’s clients.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        A stripper 4X4 4-door will still run you $35K. $18K? That’s like a base Ranger. 3-series also start at $35K, but also hit $55K with all the bells and $70K for the M3. Do you think BMW isn’t laughing to the bank? Actually the F-series and 3-series are the #1 & 2 world’s most profitable lines IIRC. Fools like us must be everywhere!

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        I think it’s true that most any model generates most of its profit from the options list. The issue with an F-150 is even the most basic model must be insanely profitable. It’s a low-tech vehicle by nature. I don’t mean that as an insult – those simple solutions that make it good at its job. Still, it can’t be very expensive to build.

        A base 3-series is probably decent value. Unfortunately, the Germans excel at ripping you off with the options list. Just think, if you check everything and bring it up to $55k, that is a whole Ford Focus worth of infotainment gizmos and other BS.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      I’m not sure the base 230 HP 3-series is that hi-tech or expensive to build. It must also be wildly profitable, what with its 16″ tires, CD/MP3 and vinyl seats. It looks pretty simple to me for $35k.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        Hey, they do give you 17″ wheels!

        I’m thinking independent rear suspension, the need to make the chassis as light as regulations allow at the target price point, wind tunnel testing, a back seat that is actually comfortable, dealing with NVH, etc. The “bones” of the car. It looks like the base model actually supports USB and has an aux in, but it’s a moot point. The infotainment and leather BS is not what adds value to the car or makes it expensive to build, that is where they make their profit.

        Now consider an F-150 with a rear suspension similar to what you would find on a horse carriage. A light chassis is less a priority – it needs to be strong first. The shape of a pickup is basically fixed. Trucks are increasingly comfortable, but I would say NVH is a lower priority than it is in the near-luxury segment.

        Again, I don’t say this as an insult to trucks. They have to be able to tow and carry stuff, and those functional specs dictate certain solutions that are often rather straight forward. Maybe someone with experience in the industry can chime in, but outside of the engine, I don’t see where pickups require much of an R&D investment. I’m betting there is more margin in a base F-150 than a base 3-series.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        A basic 328i wagon has leather, 17″ wheels and an iPod hookup in the States. It also has a mostly aluminum suspension, a magnesium alloy engine that has no throttle, rather air intake control is entirely by the variable camshaft lift and duration. Electric waterpump and electronic thermostat. It manages 150+ mph ungoverned, yet still manages 25mpg at 100+mph average speeds, and 30mpg+ at US highways speeds. 0-60 in ~6 seconds with the prefered manual transmission. Sharp handling without a sharp ride. So yes, VERY comparable to a base model pickup truck… Had I been able to get the vinyl seats in a more interesting color, I would have – it is far more durable and easier to care for than dead cow skin. Even better would be cloth.

        Of course the options are highly profitable! That is where the money is for all car makers. But even the basic car has nothing to be ashamed of. My car only has ~$3500 in options on it, I ordered it that way.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Keep in mind, I’m talking total 3-series profits, not a percentage, that hang right there with F-150’s despite tremendously out selling the 3-series. I’m not sure about F-series NVH, but I can’t hear my F-550’s backup beeper with the windows up and everything off, even though thing will wake the dead.

  • avatar
    TW4

    If you look at the list of best selling cars and highest resale used vehicles, it doesn’t smack of status. A majority of people actually tend to reject overt status-seeking behavior, and opt for practicality, hence the marketplace has a dearth of creativity, imo. People are complacent; however, and they are willing to accept the rigged game of optioning and false relative value created by clever placement of products and accolades.

    As I pointed out yesterday, the Camry and Fusion hybrids occupy the pricing space as a Chevy Volt. They all cost about the same, but one of those vehicles can save a driver $10,000 in gasoline bills ($5,000 in total energy compared to 30mpg sedan), and it has a long list of positive economic and geopolitical consequences. Why would people choose Camry Hybrid or Fusion Hybrid? Imo, the Volt is not a relevant relative data point. Chevy have not succeeded in making it relevant; instead, the car is an alien-space craft that carries political baggage. Auto manufacturers are at liberty to make inferior vehicles in the same segment by leveraging the power of brand names like Camry and Fusion.

    The point is that status and performance are all entirely relative and very difficult to control; therefore, those attributes should probably be judged based upon value relative to cost. For instance, when consumers buy a BMW 5-series, a lion’s share of the MSRP goes to cover inefficiency. Inefficient low-volume manufacturing. Inefficient purchasing of materials. Inefficient distribution of development costs.

    What does that tell you about status? In this day and age, status and luxury are reverse engineered from price point and product diversification (brand leverage). Car companies assign a price point, and that determines volume and efficiency. Status and luxury are rarely based on superiority of product until you enter the world of mega-wealthy products like Rolls Royce, Maybach, etc.

    Is buying luxury stupid? I don’t think so. Is purchasing mid-grade luxury stupid? I think yes. Either buy something that takes you from point A to point B with max efficiency or buy a cod piece.

  • avatar
    mikey

    To me? Automotive status is not based on what what you drive. I’m more impressed by carefull detailing,a vacumed interior,little or zero brake dust. A guy down the sreet, drives a five year old base model stripo Camry. I’m no Toyota fan but that car impresses me. I saw a ten year old Regal the other day with “whitewalls” spotless. The driver was maybe 40.

    Speaking of real estate agents. I know a lady in her fifties, very sucessfull agent. She drives a 6 or7 ? year old BMW ragtop, dark blue, with a lighter blue top. She drives it year round,and I’ve never seen it dirty. When I found out she does all of the cleaning, and detailing herself,I was very impressed.

    I used to have a 2000 base model Firebird convertible. With the top down, and meticulousy detailed, it got a lot of attention. That made me feel good,is that status?

    My wife and I are both retired, and living on a fixed income. For fun, we spend a couple of hours,detailing our four year old base model “used” Mustang convertible. Then we take it on a 50 mile cruise. Wherever we stop we get compliments,like “nice car ,what year is that?” or “wow its mint”… {it’s not} yeah, I call that status

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    I’ll make a confession, when I was a teen I owned a ’75 VW Bug as a status symbol, so I could brag that I owned “an original classic” that “got decent gas mileage, yadda yadda”.

    About the time I hit 19 or 20 I ditch the status symbol junk and just decided to buy something sturdy, cheap, carburated (I’ve had bad experiences with fuel injection, and pleasing to the eye (I generally don’t modify my cars).

    I was considering an early 80’s Toronado, something with a V8 but got 29mpg and had FWD. Something classy yet luxurious and roomy.

    I realized that parking the thing would be tricky, and after looking at a few examples the build-quality wasn’t the best.
    Plus, what good would a 6-seater be to a 21 year old student?

    I ended up just grabbing a small yet fairly roomy Tercel, yea I’ll look like a broke cheapskate, so what? It saves gas and it’ll break in the next 15 years, thats all that I want.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      If saving every possible dollar on maintenance is your highest priority then a Tercel is definitely the way to go.

      Not all of us have the same priorities, that much is evidenced by the fact that Ford pickups are the best selling vehicle in the US and the best selling car is a Camry that will out accelerate all but the hottest Porsches, Ferraris, and Lamborghinis of 25 years ago.

  • avatar

    In a 1981 interview with Special Interest Autos, former AMC head George Romney addressed this issue. I think it explains why the Tata Nano hasn’t done as well as Tata hoped. The Indians riding 5 people on a motorbike aspire to something more than just the cheapest car in the world.

    Yeah, Ford sold 14 million or so Model Ts from 1908 to 1927, and dominated the market with a cheap car, but there were many car companies that sold lots of cars that weren’t cheap.

    “SIA: One of the smartest things AMC did was to bring out that little convertible first, in order to establish the Rambler as a “mini-prestige” car, you might say.
    Romney: Yes. The Henry J failed because they stripped it to make a car for the poor people, and the poor people didn’t want “a car for the poor people”. The Rambler was introduced in the most expensive models, the convertible and the station wagon, and fully equipped. That was designed to get tehm into the hand of Cadillac and Lincoln and prestige car owners as a second or third car, and thus establish the fact that nobody was going to look down his nose at you if you bought a Rambler.”

  • avatar

    It’s for the Stupid.

    Almost always for LSE Approval-Seekers.

    & sometimes Necessary toolkit when the surplus of Pinhead Philistines in our great country have some decision-power on you.

    Lots of “Old-Money” folks generally don’t care & do most things quietly.

    .
    It’s always funny when either middle-class poseurs, petit-bourgeois new-money riffraff, or even patently Busted people express their ideas on what being wealthy is.

    Lots of Dunning-Krueger out there.

    .
    (eg.) Note to the “Millionaire Next Door” crowd:

    -The Community College down the road from me has No Shortage of brand new $30k+ leases & +/-10yo. mid-luxes circulating.

    .
    (I believe [Ikea billionaire] Ingvar Kamprad drives the same old Volvo 240 he’s got like 300k on…)

    .
    ++Also reminded of @DeadFlorist’s comment back here: https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/new-or-used-affirmative-action-on-a-lease-payout/


    Prestige=invidious pecuniary comparison=conspicuous consumption=waste to signify to the world that you are wealthy enough to waste.

    A silly game, but if you want to play it without actually forking over the Benjamins, you gotta cheat a little. Rims and Sounds are the pecuniary reputability of the poor. Lease payments on a mid-lux late model vehicle are the pecuniary reputability of the middle class. Yet both of them scream of one posing above their class, a debt slave to the end. The truly rich don’t give a monkey’s uncle of the current blue book on their car. They are the ones driving the same pristine old Benz they bought new decades ago because they like the workmanship and visibility, and new cars are just so crass in comparison. So buy that car used and enjoy the prestige that comes with not having to care about prestige.”

  • avatar
    blowfish

    Wow. Where do you live that people make such a stink over somebody having a BMW 3 series?

    Archie Bunker alive!

    In the old days Yiddish folks in a car from Fatherland was not Kosher.
    So as after the WWII hostilities many Chinese folks rejected goods from the land of Rising Sun.
    Nowadays I dont think both are true anymore.

    I am clinging onto my old oel burning Mercs, just can’t beat them with other similar oel burners. Closest maybe the Vee Dub diesels, but most of them worth more than Mercs. The same vintage of VWs were made here in US of A. Unless u buy the 30 some yrs old VW that were built in Fatherland.
    VW diesels were never as robust as the Mercs.
    Mercs all have bigger bodies, so the safety & rides are much more superior.

  • avatar
    pb35

    I would like to say that status doesn’t matter to me but of course it does. Having said that, I am on the verge of trading my 8-year old G35x for a new Charger R/T even though I can afford more expensive wheels if I chose. Not quite sure what that says about me.

    If the Charger lasts 8 years (and I keep it that long), I doubt it’s going to be worth 10k+ like my Infiniti currently is, that’s for sure.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I’m surprised the commenters know so many people that have anything beyond a very basic knowledge of vehicle names and brands.

    Every non-enthusiast I associate with is pretty much clueless when it comes to IDing a car and knowing what is currently produced.

    They could be fooled by throwing a Roundel on a Suzuki Reno. If you debadge your vehicle, they would have NO IDEA what it is.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    Dont we all have the inborn elements of wanted to be successful.
    SO when u’ve bagged the big sales for the yr, dont we all want to show the world that we have arrived?
    As simple as u have scored a bunch of As, record sales etc.
    Driving machines are as simple as apparel as we go everywhere with that, so we need the successful look, esp if u’re in sales, professional or even wannabes.
    Then again what u do u need to fit into that pigeon hole or class, if not u’ll ruffle feathers.
    Never drive a car better than your bozz.
    Similar price as co-workers.
    If u not, u’ll be typing & sending out resumes instead of finding time to read this!
    People wanna to deal with u when u have that exuberant successful look.
    Some positions in work even driving a Trabby aka Trabant or Lada is not going to pivotal to your job security.

    Atleast where I came from HK Middle Kingdom, people rely on all the right accoutrements to be considered as keeping up with Times.
    All are Guru of Guccis, Count/Countess of Cartiers, Duke / Duchess of Dior.

    • 0 avatar
      onyxtape

      Having lived there for a decade, Hong Kong is definitely the worst place for this sort of thing. Hong Kong, at one time – probably still, had the most Rolls Royces per capita in the world. Cities with high concentrations of HK expatriots (Vancouver, Toronto, Sydney) have unusually high percentages of MB drivers.

      Although the insane level of hedonism is quickly losing out in comparison to places like Shanghai.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    What I like most about my 25 yr old 528e is that I can maintain it in my driveway. That and 8 way seats, right wheel drive, and a loose band of like minded folks who congregate on and off line. I save money and have fun too. Working on them has ruined me for working on other cars. I’m not a typical car consumer. Most of my cars get hauled off for scrap. I pay cash and fix what I can. When I find a model I like , I will buy it again and use the predecessor to keep the new one going. I started with Bugs and then Jeep Grand Wagoneers, now it is 1988 528es. I wouldn’t dream of owning a new BMW, too expensive to maintain.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Having also worked on a couple of e28s, mine and my Mother’s, the current cars are not that different. No reason you can’t maintain them in your driveway. You just need slightly different tools, like a laptop, cable, and software. It’s still just a car, not a starship. The information you need is out there, and the tools are readily available. And the NICE thing about modern cars, is that quite often the software will TELL you where the problem lies, rather than having to work out what the issue is from a bunch of random symptoms. Took two years and a pile of parts to figure out a stalling issue with my Mother’s 528e – turned out to be the result of some sort of extra idle control box that was put in for a CA-only recall that had gone bad. Of course no mechanic in Maine knew anything about it, finally found the answer in an Internet forum.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        “like a laptop, cable, and software.”

        Is this a car or a videogame?

        I’ve been able to diagnose most issues in my cars just from some research and poking around under the hood.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    AndyD, did your wife post about her 528 on carsurvey recently?

  • avatar

    Isn’t another word for this, “Vanity”?

    I think as you’ve laid out, status is often a consideration, but as someone who has often been under cars, status should be the least of one’s considerations. Quality and reliability trump it.

  • avatar
    gingineer

    For a 23 year old, I consider myself fortunate to have developed my car tastes rather quickly. In doing so, I’ve found that amongst the new cars we’re constantly surrounded by, there is a threshold where the car someone buys transcends simple utility and plows into the territory of emotion. Furthermore, after really thinking about it I’ve found that what I’m calling the “emotion boundary” is surprisingly low in most cases.

    Take for instance a financial accountant. He or she needs a commuter car that will reliably and efficiently transport them to work. And say, maybe they have a dog so back doors are a plus. I submit that their needs can be met for about 6 grand (a used corolla with plenty of life in it, for instance). Anything above that amount is due to the unrelenting social pressure of appearing ‘successful’, or due to desires of driving something exciting or fast. And for a financial accountant that has plenty of steady money coming in, it wouldn’t be outrageous to see them buy an Audi A4 for a whopping 37 grand off the lot. Think about that amount. That’s a 31 THOUSAND dollar premium not to be successful, but simply to appear successful. If it weren’t for these emotional forces this normal financial accountant could go on exotic trips, start a business, or invest in assets that will INCREASE that amount. And every day, all around us, people don’t. They buy an expensive car, and that’s the end of it.

    I went from a BMW M3 to a Jetta TDI for commuting and a $1000 Subaru for rallycross/winter driving. I have more money to play with, and I get more kick out of that Subie than the M3 ever delivered.

    Just my thoughts.

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      That 31k premium isn’t all puffery. The A4 has tons more features, is waaaay better to drive, better performance, more safety features, etc… I am generally a pretty pragmatic car buyer and all of my car purchases have generally reflected that. Still, I have to constantly fight the pressure put on me by society to buy things to impress people I don’t even know. Likewise, I have to fight those same pressures to avoid judging other people by their appearances and possessions.

      • 0 avatar
        gingineer

        Agreed; it totally is a better car, but the point is it’s more than that person probably needs. Aside from safety everything you listed is a desire. Desires come from our emotions, and that’s the point I’m trying to make. Us car guys will spend more for an exciting car to drive, while a lot of people will by the same car but for entirely different reasons: wanting to feel special, successful, safe, whatever. All of which are NOT requirements, they are emotions. Anything above the utility level falls in this category.

        I’m guilty for buying through emotions. I had an M3, and want a Subaru BRZ, Porsche Cayman S, or new-gen Mazda MX-5.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        “That 31k premium isn’t all puffery.”

        Yes, but is a $37k car 6 times better than a $6k car? I doubt it.

        In other words, the luxury car’s improvement over basic transportation doesn’t scale linearly with the costs. Something’s gotta give to explain the phenomenon, and calling the point where spending more on a car gets you less of an improvement as the “emotional boundary” is as good a way to describe it as anything else I’ve heard.

      • 0 avatar
        Ubermensch

        “Yes, but is a $37k car 6 times better than a $6k car?”

        Is a new A4 6 times better than a used Corolla? Yes, or at least close to it.

      • 0 avatar
        gingineer

        I understand that an A4 has more engineering/material costs than a Corolla. 6 times more? Maybe, maybe not. Still pretty irrelevant in the scope of my point.

        What I’m saying is that if you only need to spend 6 or even 10 grand for solid transportation that does everything you need it to (again except for those rare anomolies where having a fancy car is actually part of the job), everything above that dollar amount is EXTRA. Extra in the form of emotional desire. Also extra in the form of money that you don’t need to spend on transportation. In the case that I gave, 31 thousand dollars extra is a considerable amount with which to increase your personal wealth. You ever hear the term, “it takes money to make money?” Well, it’s true. And a lot of people blow that money on liabilities like cars, clothing, and excessive housing in order to prove their success. Gross.

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      “If it weren’t for these emotional forces this normal financial accountant could go on exotic trips, start a business, or invest in assets that will INCREASE that amount. And every day, all around us, people don’t. They buy an expensive car, and that’s the end of it.”

      Is it possible that this accountant doesn’t want to take an exotic trip, doesn’t have the time or interest to start a business, and has plenty of money and wouldn’t be much happier with more; and just wants a nice car because it’s comfy and pretty and puts a smile on his face?

      Is an “exotic trip” inherently a better use of money than a nice car? One of these things will get you to work in the morning and can be resold down the line.

      Yes, people spending money they don’t have on cars they can’t afford to impress people they don’t know are dumb. But somebody who chooses to spend their real discretionary income on a car is no worse than somebody who spends it on other non-essentials.

      • 0 avatar
        gingineer

        What people spend their money on is and always should be up to them (unless they’re spending beyond their means). And for many people, they might be doing exactly what you’re describing. There is nothing wrong with wanting a nice quality automobile. Look at me: I said I still want a Cayman S simply because of the joy I know I’d get driving one all the time. The rumble behind the seat, the light agility, that is FUN for me.

        But let’s all understand that it’s because of emotion (status, joy, comfort, anything non-essential to the duties that the person’s vehicle must perform) that we would spend the extra cash on instead of being blinded into thinking this is the car I need to buy. That’s what this article is about, and it’s a great point. I don’t think people think about it enough. People buy certain cars to fulfill an emotional need all the time, and they don’t even realize it. So I guess what I’m saying is that I wonder if those people who venture deeply past the “emotional boundary” really understand what they’re getting themselves into. I bet they don’t, and I even know a couple that are doing this while simultaneously complaining that they don’t have enough money to do things with.

  • avatar
    Luke42

    I disagree with the premise of the article. Steve Lang is talking about status THROUGH BRANDS.

    Personally, I work my ass off for status, but I’m generally skeptical of brands. And I’m even more skeptical of people who define themselves by wrapping themselves in brands.

    This may just be a quirk of my personality, resulting from an unusual upbringing but, even if that’s the case, it’s still important to define the terms of the discussion.

    Status through brands may or may not be foolish. Status as part of human social structure is quite different. For many people, especially during happy economic times, these things are one and the same.

    I live in a college town, and many of our high status individuals (experts with track records of accomplishment, those with tenure, Nobel Prize winners, etc), don’t drive “high status” cars or associate themselves with “high status” brands. Accordingly, in my town, driving an expensive car doesn’t really get you much respect — because it’s not part of the town’s culture. There are people who drive Cayannes, Mercedes, and BMWs here, but it merely shows that they spend more on their car than the rest of us, which doesn’t correlate with much of anything. So, status != luxury brands. At least where I’ve lived. It’s not that they’re completely disconnected, but a luxury car is worth about one point, a PHD is worth five, tenure is worth another five, and one additional point for every influential publication on your CV. Most people in this town would rather crank out the publications.

    As much as I feel like a foreigner in military towns, you can tell by driving through the town and looking at the houses and cars that some of the same rules of apply. It’s clear both military towns and college towns share the property that doing well in town’s institution matters more than your house or your car — once your stuff is good enough to be comfortable and is kind-of comparable to your neighbors.

    I grew up in an insular rural community. Nobody could afford luxury cars, so they marked you as “he ain’t from around here”, and that’s a strike against your status. You had to both have a pedigree going back to the dirt, and work hard to help the community to be the highest status person there.

    I have been places where owning a BMW or a Mercedes is kind of a passport to being a full member of the community. But these people seem to all be my parents age and have ambitions that are different from mine. And then there are a few of their kids who think that these places are how the world is supposed to be. Against that backdrop, I’m very comfortable with looking like I don’t belong in these places, because I don’t aspire to live in these places.

    What makes you part of the in-crowd or a high-status individual has a lot to do with the culture of an individual place. Now that we have the Internet, brands don’t rule culture anymore. You can’t just wave a brand around and hope people jump on the bandwagon. Now, culture rules brands. So, if you want to do status-based marketing, you’ve got to learn the varied cultures of the people you’re targeting, and work backwards from there.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      You have just won the unofficial “TTAC Post Of The Week” Award.

      Take a bow. Say a few words, and put it on your CV.

      I genuinely enjoyed reading your post. All the best!

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