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Want a sexy car? Buy a Volvo

2011 March 9

According to X & Y Communications, an agency (apparently) specialising in the impact of gender differences on business, women ask themselves one fundamental question when contemplating the purchase of a car. Is it the price?, I hear you wonder. Is it the safety rating, or the fuel efficiency?

No. It’s: “Will it make me look hotter when I step out of it outside a bar or restaurant?”

Yes, the main thing that will make a woman decide on a particular car is how ‘hot’ she feels in it. Telegraph writer Neil Lyndon – bemoaning the fact that his wife’s friend opted for a car she liked and he deemed useless – goes on to tell us all about the new Citroën DS3, decorated by graphic artist Orla Kiely. Now you really will be able to match your car to your handbag. Isn’t that snazzy, girls? All your tricksy car decisions solved by this one simple, fashionable step!

The new Citroën DS3 - if I use the Orla Kiely design, can I have this racing version? Image (c)

The new Citroën DS3 - if I use the Orla Kiely design, can I have this racing version? Image (c)

According to Lyndon, his wife’s divorced friend ignored all sensible, practical considerations when making her car choice, and simply went for a pretty French hatchback. Because that’s what women do, of course: we go for the pretty option despite it possibly being on fire.

The thing is – and this will come as no surprise to those familiar with his prior work – Lyndon is talking complete twaddle. According to’s Help Me Choose a New Car function, you can choose from six factors when trying to find the perfect car for you. They are: Comfort, Styling, Handling, Depreciation, Economy, and Safety. The price is a liming criterion: the thing that helps you to narrow your choice, rather than the main principle of selection. In fact, unless you are going into the market with an extremely limited amount of money, the cost of the car will only ever help you to select a class, or possibly a financing option. Put it another way: no one will switch from a brand-new Fiat 500 to a second-hand Volvo XC90, even though both can be had for roughly £10k.

So how do people choose cars, then, if it’s not the price?

1. First and foremost, functionality. What are you going to use the car for? If you have five children that will need running to school every morning, you will probably end up with that Volvo. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for an urban runabout, something small and easy to park is probably better.

2. Up there as a consideration is styling: you want it to look good. In fact, certain TV shows have gone so far as to have an entire segment over whether a car is ‘cool’ or not. The guide there, by the way, is whether a cool person would drive it. Perhaps X & Y Communications neglected to canvas the Top Gear audience in their research.

3. The last, all encompassing question is: I live with it? This includes things like reliability, fuel economy, ability to park it in London, whether the suspension will destroy your spine the first time you drive over road-humps.

The ‘price’ question helps to narrow your options, and, on occasion, to disabuse you of the notion that you really could afford to buy a supercar if you sell the house and both kidneys.

The key question Lyndon ignored was what his wife’s friend wanted in a car: she wanted a cute little urban runabout that would cheer her up in the mornings. Put simply, she wanted that ‘new car’ feeling: you’ve chosen well, your car looks good, and you love it more than it is natural to love an inanimate object. If she was a man lovingly polishing his vintage (decrepit) Rolls, Lyndon would have smiled indulgently.

What Lyndon is bemoaning is not women’s tendency to pick cars that make them look good – we all do that. No one has ever looked at a car and thought, “sure, it’s beautiful, but given the choice I’d go for the ugly, uncomfortable one on the left.”  Our budgets and priorities may vary, but the intent remains the same. You buy the thing that makes you feel happy when you’re inside it. Lyndon seems to have forgotten that, or have momentarily blanked out all car adverts, ever. It’s such an established cliché that car makers can now produce meta-tastic pastiches of previous ads and we lap it up. Check out this Volvo V60 “How to make a sexy car advert” clip:

When you sell a lifestyle, of course you’re going to sell a cool, stylish one. Only a fool would try to market a boring car for boring people.

I'm told it has great fuel economy. Image (c) NewCarNet

I'm told it has great fuel economy. Image (c) NewCarNet

Of course, that’s really the thing Lyndon is taking an issue with. He wanted his wife’s friend to go away and make a list of her requirements, and bring back the top three cars that fulfilled them. He would then counsel her to make the reasoned, practical decision. She wanted to buy a cool hatchback following a messy divorce. The thing is, women going through messy divorces are not meant to want cool hatchbacks. They’re not meant to want anything funky or stylish. They should be worried about making ends meet, and where the rent is coming from, and how they’re going to get to work now that their ex-husband has custody of the car. No divorced woman should want to look or feel attractive, and she certainly shouldn’t be be gallivanting around bars or restaurants. I could choose this point to make a catty comment about how Lyndon left his wife for another woman, published a book railing against the “universal dominance of feminism” and has since been struggling to rebuild his career.

Lyndon’s article reveals nothing about gender or, indeed, about car choice (and I highly doubt the odious Mr Lyndon chose his own car based on a set of requirements and flowcharts). All it shows us is how deep his prejudices still lie: a woman who is hard up and urgently needs a car should not, in Lyndon’s world, get to make that sort of choice. Having asked his advice, she should have acknowledged his superiority and allowed him to select one for her. After all, her preference for a “chic little French-made hatchback” instantly indicated to him that she must not have the know-how to do it herself.

And as for the Citroën DS3, the target of Lyndon’s ire: well, it’s not doing too badly, despite Lyndon’s contempt. It’s just been named Top Gear Magazine‘s 2010 Car of the Year.

3 Responses leave one →
  1. Jenni permalink
    March 9, 2011

    The title of this post just makes me think of Edward Cullen’s Vampire Volvo of Great Justice. Sponsorship deals you just can’t believe. Remember the TV ads? (Interesting from a selling-Volvos-to-girls angle?)

    Lyndon sounds like an idiot.

    • Miranda permalink*
      March 9, 2011

      An off-topic froth-comment, perhaps, but:

      Oh God, the Cullenmobile. So much wrong is centred round that car! The whole “get in the car I CAN MAKE YOUUU” sequence! The whole “I’M HERE TO RESCUE YOU I AM A TELEPATH” scene! The shitty driving! Ahhhh.

      Reclaim the Volvo, say I, from that association!

      Though I did like that in Twilight, Bella has this massive rusty truck. I just wish she actually drove it around more. Like, AWAY from all the other characters, onto the Freeway, into a better narrative.

      • Metal-eating arachnid permalink
        March 9, 2011

        Continuing the off-topic, with apologies…

        I’d really like to know how well this campaign worked for Volvo, though I assume that’s the sort of stuff we mortals will never get to see. At the time I thought it was a hilariously misconceived marketing strategy, since surely nobody is *ever* going to think a Volvo is a sexy and exciting car, and teenage girls don’t buy all that many cars (even in America?). But now I wonder if it might in fact have been brilliant, since several women in their 40sish also watch Twilight (I believe?), and they might now be inclined to buy a slightly-sexier Volvo for their family transportation needs, instead of a different boring car.

        Disclaimer: I have many varied, complex and strongly-held opinions on the Twilight saga, but of course I’ve never watched any of the films nor read any of the books.

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