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For what it’s worth

Ian McLaren By:
Monday, October 24th, 2011 04:32 pm GMT +2

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“He bought what? Surely not? Did he lose my phone number? Has he forgotten what I do for a living?”

My father knows what I do for a living, of course, and he has my number programmed into his phone. He just didn’t think to call. Instead, it was the advice of the friendly second-hand car dealer that eased his mind and convinced him that his hard-earned money would best be spent on the faded Hyundai – with its cracked taillamp and taped-up side mirror – now parked outside my parents’ house.

Naturally, he thinks it was a great purchase, so much so that I doubt whether there would have been much I could have said – had I been consulted – to make him reconsider.

For him, the Hyundai does the job. The fact that he will struggle to sell it on, a replacement taillamp will be near impossible to source and, in a 2001 issue of CAR magazine we, fairly alarmingly, chose a Chrysler Neon ahead of it in a rivals panel matters little. At the end of the day, my dad is happy with his “new” wheels and, regardless of what my 13 years worth of experience as a motoring journalist dictates, that’s all that really matters.

I’m constantly reminded of what an emotional decision buying a new car can be. My family aside, I am often asked what I think of a proposed purchase. What I’ve learned over the years is that most people already have a pretty good idea in their heads of what they want and little, short of telling them that their choices are exceedingly likely to blow up in their driveways, will sway them from that notion. I now know that, in most cases, what people are really looking for when asking for advice is vindication that the car they want to own is as good as they think it is.

Fortunately, aside from some notable howlers, there aren’t too many modern vehicles that fall into the “ticking time bomb” category, so it essentially becomes a case of helping with the weighing up of the pros-versus-cons list on a proposed deal. The fun part always comes when the cons column, including potentially hefty fuel bills, poor re-sale values, impractical luggage compartments and stodgy dynamics, is somehow diminished in significance by the words: “But, other than that, it’s a pretty good car, right?”

I’ve also noted that many people in the market for a new car will have had their minds made up for them long before they’ve even seen the car in the metal – or read a qualified review. This happens a lot with more traditional, established brands where loyalty has been earned over many years and generations (both models and family). This makes it difficult for new brands to gain a foothold and why it’s so good to see that a company such as Kia, for example, has figured out that, in order to stir people’s interests and make them reconsider their loyalties, you first need to appeal to their senses. To this end, fresh new designs such as the Sportage are already proving a hit by making people want to own one. The fact that it is a very impressive vehicle seems to be an added benefit.

I recently witnessed more of this emotive marketing during the international launch of the new Range Rover Evoque. This spectacular-looking new Rangie already had more than 20 000 signed pre-orders worldwide before any journalist, let alone future owner had even pressed the ignition key. Everything about the new Evoque, from its design to its image, is exciting. In fact, one wonders whether a potentially poor review from any motoring scribe (including Jeremy Clarkson) would be powerful enough to curb enthusiasm and any future sales success. I somehow doubt it. For what it’s worth, the Evoque drives as nicely as looks.

It’s not to say that I’m not a strong advocate for allowing emotions to occasionally cloud judgment when it comes to car ownership – after all, if we were we all perfectly sensible, monthly sales of white Toyota Corollas would quadruple – but, I’m also hoping, perhaps with a lingering sense of self preservation, that there is still a place in the world for the educated opinion of an experienced motoring journalist.

Follow me on Twitter @IanM_CARmag

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PLEASE NOTE: The opinion expressed in this article is the author's own and publication does not mean it is endorsed by the CAR magazine editorial staff or RamsayMedia, publishers of CAR magazine.