Question: Will Cuteness Always Equal Sales Death In America?

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
question will cuteness always equal sales death in america

One of the key lessons learned by American automobile marketers in the 1990s was: friendly cars flop, aggressive cars sell. Have they learned this lesson too well?

The Neon should have been a home run for Chrysler, with its all-Detroit, no-Mitsubishi-or-Simca ancestry and Civic/Corolla-beating bang-for-buck specs. This was not the case, and the Neon went on to populate rent-a-car lots and— soon after— junkyards in large quantities. Some blame alleged lack of quality in the Neon, but I’ve always suspected the Neon’s happy “face” and Chrysler’s 1995-96 “Hi!” ad campaign was the bigger factor.

After the defeat of the Evil Empire and the ass-kicking triumph of the Gulf War washed America’s palate clean of the nasty taste of the Fall of Saigon and the Iranian hostage crisis (not to mention the not-quite-ass-kicking farce of Reagan’s only real war), American car shoppers wanted vehicles that looked like victory!

Honda staggered into this new reality with the sugary-sweet-looking del Sol and alienated all the young first-time male car shoppers who had once snapped up CRXs in a frenzy. This was exactly what Honda USA didn’t need on top of Soichiro Honda‘s death, Acura’s lack of a V8, and a weak economy hammering Accord sales. Blame cuteness!

After the “Hi!” debacle, Chrysler decided that the Neon’s replacement would sprout fangs, facial tatts, and a glovebox full of temporary restraining orders. The very name suggested a car that would cold blast its opponents: Caliber!

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  • Ash78 Ash78 on Jul 25, 2013

    Nah, it really depends on the underlying car and its merits. As a teen in the early 90s, the Miata was decidedly a chick car. When the Z3 came out, it was colloquially known as the "Miata for men" thanks to slighly more aggressive styling. Now with a couple decades behind it, I no longer consider the Miata a chick car at all. In fact, I very rarely see women driving them anymore.

  • TWHansen TWHansen on Dec 03, 2013

    I go for cute. I've got 250k miles on a diesel New Beetle. My first car was a '77 AMC Pacer, of which I've had four. Angry is an easy emotion to pull off in car design; "beautiful" may be the hardest, with cute not far off. In terms of the national zeitgeist, the 2000's were possibly the least cute era of American history since the early '80's, when even professional hairstyles could draw blood. Everybody in the '00's wanted their own 9/11-proof bunker-on-wheels.

  • Master Baiter A regulator's job is never done, so yeah, bring on the next level of regulations.
  • DedBull The automatic braking system in my wife's 2019 Tiguan is easily defeated by the slightest amount of solid precipitation, which is not uncommon here in western Pennsylvania. Fortunately we have regular speed-holding cruise control, because the active cruise control uses the same sensor and becomes inactive in the same conditions. It was infuriating in our loaner. I've had a few false-positives over the years, plus a couple where it didn't like my rate of deceleration. Interestingly it did not intervene at all when I had a deer strike a couple years ago. I don't mind the application of the tech, but I think they are setting a pretty high bar going forward. I'm also cautious of over-reliance on tech in vehicles.
  • FreedMike The AEB system on my car has actually engaged only once in the two years I've owned it, mainly because I actually pay attention. But not everyone does...thus, this proposal. If everyone was as diligent as I am, I'd say there's no need, but we all know how that movie ends.if it keeps some moron in a Tahoe who's busy f**king around on TikTok from laying waste to my car from behind, I'm all for it.
  • Lou_BC I've seen photo's of plates that spell "azzhole" when viewed in the rear view mirror. There was a fellow in Canada who's last name was "Grabher". They wouldn't let him have that plate.
  • IH_Fever More nannies for those who can't drive, to try to save those who don't understand crosswalks. In the end just more good feelings and money for the manufacturer, mandated by the government of course.