Are You What You Drive?

Since there have been cars, people have chosen their rides based on what their cars say about them. AOL Autos put a list of cars before automotive industry experts to capture their take on several popular cars. Our panel consisted of Stephanie Brinley, formerly Senior Manager at Auto Pacific; James Bell, Editor and Publisher of IntelliChoice and Jim Markwalder, veteran automotive consultant from Detroit. Rest assured, these experts did not pull any punches.

Experts' First Thoughts

We presented our experts with a series of vehicles to learn more about how these are seen in the public eye. Before we get into the cars themselves, here were our experts' first thoughts on various vehicles:

Bell on Chrysler Sebring Convertible: "I hope it's a rental." Brinley adds, "It's an old person's cars, with only four-percent of its buyers from Gen Y." Bell on the Honda Insight: "They're members of the Prius Alternative Club for Honda lovers." Markwalder on Smart ForTwo: "Experimenters with a sense of humor who would rather sprint away from a light than hold up traffic."

Toyota Prius: Green No Matter Its Color

Brinley looked through her company's vast data on the Prius. "Buying a Prius shows the world that you love the environment and hate using fuel," said Brinley. "Compared to the overall industry, Prius buyers are more often women, have fewer kids and more often have college educations." Bell adds, "New Prius buyers want to be part of the 'green' club."

Toyota Prius: Green At All Costs

"Prius drivers like the video-game challenge of continuously trying to best your own fuel economy achievements," said Brinley. Markwalder opines: "There's a good chance that if you come upon a line of slow moving traffic, a Prius driver will be at the front of the line, self-righteously driving under the speed limit on his or her way to save the world." We're just quoting here, folks.

  • Image Credit: General Motors

Chevrolet Corvette: Performer For The Mid-Life Crisis

According to Auto Pacific data, the Chevy Corvette "seems to be more often a reward car. Its buyers are older than the industry average, with 88% born before 1946. Only 11% of Corvette owners are in Gen Y or Gen X." Bell adds: "Sadly, the usual stereotype of the Corvette buyer as a 57-year old male deep in a mid-life crisis is proven."
  • Image Credit: General Motors

Chevrolet Corvette: Better Car Than Its Image Suggests

Bell sees another side to the Corvette. "It is the absolute greatest performance bargain on the planet," said Bell. "It's an affordable giant-killer." Markwalder adds, "There have been 1.5 million Corvettes produced since 1953, and while plenty of old guys drive them, they are an engineering marvel that will run 180 mph or return 30+ mpg highway fuel economy."
  • Image Credit: Toyota

Toyota Camry: A Major Transportation Appliance

"I think the Camry gets a bad rap for being the 'microwave oven' of the car industry," said Bell. "It's boring, reliable, efficient, and common. But to many drivers, these words are exactly all they are looking for, making the Camry their own personal rock star. A Camry in the driveway tells everyone that you know what is important in life, and it's not your car."
  • Image Credit: Chrysler

Dodge Challenger: The Transcendent Pony Car

The Challenger looks more like its original than the 2010 Ford Mustang or Chevrolet Camaro. According to Brinley, the Challenger appeals to Baby Boomers who like styling and power. But almost 30 percent of Challenger buyers are Gen X or Gen Y. Surprisingly, this beats out the Prius, a more forward-looking vehicle; only 18-percent of its buyers are Gen X or Y.
  • Image Credit: Chrysler

Dodge Challenger: The Transcendent Pony Car

Auto Pacific's data shows that the Dodge Challenger is winning buyers too young to remember the original 1970-74 Challenger. "All ages stop and stare at this car," said Bell. "Especially when it's in Hemi Orange, from old-skool Hot Rodders to the Import Tuner crowd." This wide appeal makes pegging the Challenger owner more challenging.
  • Image Credit: Ford

Ford F-150: Working Man's Truck

According to Auto Pacific data, the driver of a Ford F-150 work truck (a plain, regular-cab model), is an employed man. Markwalder confirms with this: "Basic Ford trucks, like the XLT, make a good tool for the guy who works hard for an honest living." Bell adds, "We'll see fewer non-work trucks because using them for commuting has lost its shine."

  • Image Credit: Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz R-Class: A Marketing Mystery

"With 2008 sales of only 7700 vehicles, we don't have enough information about buyers to provide a strong picture of why somebody drives an R-Class," said Brinley. "The more expensive GL-Class and ML-Class SUVs each sold three times as many." Markwalder states, "The R-Class has always been a contradiction, looking like a minivan but not delivering on functionality."
  • Image Credit: Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz R-Class: Confused Or Clever?

Bell quips, "My experience tells me that its few buyers are attracted to its three-pointed star (badge appeal) or the large discounts because the R-Class hasn't sold well." The R-class, a "tweener" that is somewhat minivan, somewhat wagon and somewhat crossover, has few rivals. Only the Ford Flex and the new Toyota Venza seem to come close.
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