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Your r�sum� says a lot about you. You know that. But did you know that the car you drive reveals plenty, too? And that “something” may or may not be a good thing. For more than 27 years, Charlie Kenny, founder of Kenny & Associates, has answered one really big question for a number of really big clients: Why do consumers buy what they buy? Armed with what Kenny knows after working with major auto companies — such as General Motors Corp., Daimler-Chrysler and Ford Motor Co. — and conducting 50,000 one-on-one interviews with consumers, any lawyer can make sure that the car he buys says what he wants it to say. Here’s an example: Jamie Dunkin, an associate who practices corporate law with Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr in Dallas, says she was concerned about safety when she chose her new car: a Nissan Maxima. Safety became an issue after moving to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Coming from the smaller towns of Dumas and Lubbock, Dunkin says, “I’m not used to Dallas traffic.” “I’m afraid that’s going to say I’m practical, boring,” she says of her car choice. However, she got the driver-preferred package for her silver sedan, equipping her auto with black leather interior and a sporty exterior with a rear spoiler. “I just wanted something more luxurious,” says Dunkin, who previously drove a Chevrolet Cavalier for 10 years. Kenny’s take on the Maxima? “Before the Maxima was reborn in the mid-1990s, it was a boxy sedan. Once rebuilt it was billed as the world’s only four-door sports car. It’s an entirely different animal than the Toyota Camry [one of its competitors].” To put it another way, the Camry is like vanilla ice cream; the Maxima is like chocolate. It has the practicality of a sedan and the feel of a sports car, Kenny says. People who pick one want the best of both worlds. Here’s another example: Mark Castillo, a third-year associate at Baker Botts in Dallas, decided to buy a new car after he worked hard and pinched pennies as an undergrad and while in law school. “I felt that I somewhat owed it to myself,” Castillo says. Besides, he’d already had two used cars, both Toyotas. At the same time he was looking in 2000, Toyota came out with a new car. “I bought a black MR2 Spyder convertible with black leather interior. It’s a Spyder, so it’s reasonably quick,” Castillo says. “It’s cheap, too. It gets confused for a Porsche, and it’s about one-third the price.” “It’s fun,” he adds. And Castillo wanted something sporty and sleek because he’s single. It’s sort of a chick magnet. It’s also a client magnet. Castillo has personalized plates. The first license plate was stamped with “CH 11.” “People were always asking me if I worked for Channel 11,” he says, noting people didn’t get the message that he was a bankruptcy attorney. So he tried again and purchased plates stamped with “REORG.” That lingo, people understand. (Well, most people understand. His neighbor didn’t get it, though. “My neighbor asked me why I left Channel 11.”) In fact, one business owner flagged him down and asked him questions about bankruptcy. Kenny’s take on the Spyder? “Toyota, as a brand, is the lowest risk one can buy, yet he [Castillo] is adventurous and freedom-loving or he would not have bought a convertible sports car. The convertible part delivers the freedom.” Convertibles give drivers the feeling of being unfettered. Some are attempting to recapture “elusive feelings of freedom associated with youth, when you are the most free,” Kenny says. However, Kenny says, by choosing a Spyder, the driving experience is also important to Castillo. It’s like “a bit of the BMW experience from the standpoint of the need to feel like one is in control. If control were not important, there are a bunch of Chrysler products that would have filled the bill.” Keeping all that in mind in addition to the fact that Toyota buyers are sensible because the vehicles have a good resale value, Kenny concludes an MR2 Spyder convertible buyer is “a very close-to-the-vest sort of freedom-loving, in-control kind of person.” So what does your vehicle say about you? Read on: SUVs Been eyeing an SUV, such as a Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Suburban or Toyota 4Runner? Kenny says that means you’re fantasizing about having no boundaries, no limits. “An SUV has off-road capability, but 95 percent [of SUV owners] don’t use it for that,” the Memphis, Tenn.-based consumer behavior expert notes. An SUV symbolizes potential and power. SUV buyers, Kenny’s research shows, want the ability to go off-road. They may not need it, he says, but it’s there. SUV owners, he says, feel they “have the ability and power to go anywhere.” People don’t say all that out loud as they’re shopping in the dealer’s showroom. That’s because the left side of the brain — the part that verbalizes thoughts — is the logical, reason-oriented, problem-solving side, Kenny says. Logic says a person buys a car because he needs to get to work, plain and simple. But when it comes to consumer purchasing, usually logic doesn’t prevail. The right side of the brain — the emotional side — wins, Kenny says. Just as people don’t verbalize their inner desire to have no boundaries and limits when buying an SUV, a firm partner isn’t necessarily going to verbalize his or her thoughts when he or she sees somebody driving one, Kenny says. But because an associate’s brain is wired just like the partner’s — believe it or not — the partner will realize, at least subconsciously, that the associate-SUV driver has a need to feel as if she has no boundaries or limits and then react to her accordingly. For the SUV driver, another aspect of having no boundaries lies in the feeling that driving a station wagon or — God forbid — a minivan would limit them as to who and what they can be, Kenny says. “The SUV protects the buyers from the fears of becoming trapped into parent roles. Most of our respondents had changing family needs that would have been met just fine with a station wagon or minivan — except those vehicles would make them feel trapped into becoming ‘like their parents.’ “ HUMMERS To lump a Hummer in the SUV category is to lump a Harley in the motorcycle category. To borrow from a Hummer Web site, “In a world where SUVs have begun to look like their owners, complete with love handles and mushy seats, the H2 proves that there is still one out there that can drop and give you 20.” “It’s the biggest, baddest, most powerful vehicle on the road,” Kenny says. “If I’m driving it … I feel I’m the biggest, baddest person on the road.” Today, especially with the world’s focus on the military, even more people are attracted to it, Kenny says. This despite its base price of $49,190, its enormous overall vehicle length of 189.8 in. and city-street-unfriendly width of 81.2 in. (excluding mirrors), its crushing weight of 6,400 lbs., and its astoundingly low (even for an SUV) gas mileage, which dealers say averages 8 to 10 mpg. According to GM’s Web site, the behemoth Hummer’s “roots are embedded in the unstoppable vehicle that has played a critical role in military actions around the globe, the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV), affectionately referred to as the ‘Humvee’ by soldiers.” The Hummer is made to resemble the military Humvee, which was designed in the late 1970s to be dropped into combat by parachute and lifted out by helicopter. TT, MINI, BUG “The Audi TT, the Mini Cooper and the new Volkswagen Beetle all appeal to the need of some people to regain psychological access to a mythical past,” according to analysts at Kenny & Associates. “These cars do not look forward, but look back, attempting to associate themselves with ‘classic’ designs that have been abandoned for generations. … Emotionally, these cars stand for the resurrection of a Golden Age in which the experience of driving a car is supposed to have created a qualitatively different feeling than the experience of driving a car of contemporary design is able to create.” Since Kenny & Associates has only been around for about three decades, analysts can’t say how drivers felt during the Golden Age. However, that doesn’t matter because “drivers do not seek out cars that are reminiscent of past days of classic driving just because they are longing to recreate a lost experience in any literal sense. Instead, they are more powerfully motivated by their reactions to their experience of driving in the present. So, drivers who are attracted to these three cars are not so much motivated by the desire to regain a feeling that they had with classic cars in the past — when these cars were not yet ‘classic’ — so much as they are motivated to escape the experience of driving cars of contemporary design.” In addition, Kenny & Associates analysts say, “contemporary cars must disturb some drivers because they all seem to look the same and because they are not connected to any particular historical context. In short, some consumers feel that contemporary cars are bland and make them feel like they are part of a herd, the same as everyone else.” EXOTIC SPORTS CARS The person eyeing a sports car — such as a 2003 Dodge Viper SRT-10 with 500 bhp at 5,600 rpm or the 2003 Ferrari Challenge Stradale, a V8 with 425 bhp at 8,500 rpm — has “the need to be different, to feel unique, the need for others to look at you and give you that feedback that you have something special,” Kenny says. “It also symbolizes power, dominance and freedom, an escape from the doldrums of everyday life,” he says — a truth borne out by the people who usually buy them: single men and men experiencing a midlife crisis. “When a guy feels youthful exuberance slipping away, he buys one in an attempt to hold on or to recapture it,” Kenny says. Drive an exotic sports car and your boss may think you have the charisma to be a good trial lawyer and sway jurors or you’re seeking the spotlight, he says. PORSCHES AND BEEMERS Porsche owners “have the desire to have something that is precision-crafted … the best possible engine, the simplicity that goes with it,” Kenny says. “They want a feeling of refined expressiveness.” When it comes to BMWs, analyzing customers’ rationale enters a gray area because nowadays many buy it just for the status, whereas years ago buyers chose Beemers “for the total car experience. Beemers were designed for the driver to be at one with the road.” True BMW enthusiasts and not those just looking for the status symbol “are much more into the driving experience” than other car buyers, Kenny says. MUSCLE CARS For those who are not car aficionados, Chevy Camaros and Ford Mustangs are among the brands considered muscle cars. “The owners … need to control the things in their environment and life and their own impulses. They want to live on the edge,” Kenny says. Their throaty, powerful engines may give owners an out-of-control feeling, but a road-hugging structure and responsive steering temper that. Muscle car drivers express impulses, but stay in control. “They know the difference between what they should do and what they want to do,” he says. What’s all that mean to a new lawyer? A muscle car owner sends a message that he or she likes to live on the edge, Kenny says. That could make some bosses wary of trusting a muscle car driver — especially if he or she peels out of the parking lot at the end of the day. LUXURY CARS Lawyers who drive luxury cars such as a Lexus, Lincoln or Mercedes-Benz want other people to notice their accomplishments. But Kenny says they’re also reinforcing to themselves how much they’ve achieved. And that means a little insecurity can show through, he says. Those who are truly secure in themselves and their success may not buy luxury cars, Kenny says, noting the example of Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart. He was rich and successful, but drove a pickup truck. (Of course, pickup drivers are sending a message, too — see below.) Kenny notes that luxury car owners rarely go back to driving something else — “even when they feel better about themselves and the anxiety dissipates.” PICKUP TRUCKS So just what does Walton’s love of a pickup say about him? “A truck, in a way, is the ultimate masculine vehicle,” Kenny says. With a pickup truck driver, “everything about him, his identity, comes through with the ownership of this truck. The tool allows him to do all the things that a real man does: haul the firewood, take the family camping.” Unlike SUV owners, truck owners tend to actually use their vehicles to haul big items — especially to help friends move. Adds Kenny, “The popularity of women with trucks is a recent phenomena.” The female pickup truck driver is saying, “I’m independent. I don’t need a man to get things done.” So whether it’s a male or a female behind the wheel, the message of the pickup truck is, “I can get the job done.”

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