The power of emotion in the car you buy

Berlin  - Some drivers are devoted to cars made by German automaker BMW. Others think Volkswagen makes the best vehicles while some are Mercedes fans. The response to the question why a person feels drawn to a particular car brand is complicated.

There is no single clear explanation but emotion felt on the part of the car owner is very important and it is emotion that automakers play on to commit customers to a particular car model.

"Image is everything when it comes to a car. But it has nothing to do with the object itself," says Ruediger Hossiep from the psychology faculty of Ruhr University in Bochum.

User value and functionality usually play hardly any role at all. "The goal is to create a consistent picture of oneself," says the behavioural scientist. The car's image should in some way transfer to the person who drives it.

It is also important the driver identifies with their car which should evoke a particular emotion depending on the model. "A car expresses a type of philosophy," explains Hossiep.

In Europe, the Citroen 2CV stood for leftwing politics and was often driven by students whereas today's new Mini Cooper is an expression of lifestyle. With other models it's about social prestige or just being plain fast on the motorway.

However, it has become more difficult to transmit a car's particular image, according to Professor Paolo Tumminelli from the Goodbrand Institute for Automotive Culture in Cologne.

That's because the physical differences that used to exist between models such as the rear wheel drive VW Beetle with its air- cooled motor and the front wheel drive Fiat 128 hardly exist anymore.

In order to make motorists aware of the difference in image, design and marketing have become very important, according to Tumminelli.

Automakers use design and marketing strategies to create brand value, which their customers interpret as a lifestyle choice or sense of belonging.

The questions a car manufacturer must ask are "How do I get the message across? How will my customer interpret it?" says Ruediger Hossiep.

The answers to those questions have been complicated by shorter attention spans and people's readiness to try new things, adds Tumminelli.

Our early impressions of cars during childhood are also a factor when it comes to brand attachment. That explains the huge importance automakers place on the traditional brand values associated with their company, according to Frank Wilke, analyst at Classic Data, an independent firm that monitors the classic car market in Germany.

An example of a new car that draws successfully on its brand image is BMW's Mini Cooper which was re-launched onto the market some years ago. The new Mini captured the fundamental image characteristics of its predecessor.

Volkswagen, on the other hand, have failed with the New Beetle because the car is basically a Golf with another body. Beetle fans missed the rear wheel drive and the characteristic air-cooled motor, both of which helped make the original a cult car.

Daimler also had problems reintroducing the luxury car, the Maybach, because, according to Frank Wilke, the gap in the brand's production history was just too long.

Maybach's competitors at Bentley or Rolls Royce are not faced with that problem because they have an unbroken record when it comes to making cars.

"In the high-end segment those companies sell cars only using emotion," says Wilke. That's because when it comes to things like the chassis, there is almost no difference between a modern Rolls Royce and a Mercedes S-Class. Another factor plays the deciding role: "You become a member in an exclusive club." (dpa)