Using consumer psychology and philosophy in automotive design

automotive design

Consumer psychology refers to the way consumers think and react when choosing between one brand or another. No matter what you are selling, whether it is cosmetic products, foods or cars, in order to thrive in the industry, you need to understand what determine customers to make a purchase. By understanding this, you will then better in designing, producing and marketing the product to appeal to consumers. 

In terms of consumer psychology and philosophy, the automotive industry is no different than any other industry. Even the most luxurious of automotive manufacturers design cars with one purpose in mind: to appeal to their ideal customers. To do so, they must follow some basic principles.

Why do consumers buy automobiles?

At its core, an automobile’s sole purpose is to help people get from point A to point B in a safe and fast manner. But people’s needs have changed and manufacturers know that. Otherwise, they would not be spending fortunes on advanced subject material to help them understand consumer behavior. Now they are not only looking to buy a car for its practical purpose. Automobiles are not only used for short distances, as they were tens of years ago. People drive hundreds of miles nowadays, which means they need a set of features that provide comfort, as well as utility. 

On the other hand, a car is quite a big investment, so it does not only need to be practical, but also to appeal to them on a personal level. They need to feel that the car they are driving matches their personality and status. You will rarely see a family with three children looking to buy a Ford Mustang as their family car. Instead, they will be looking for something that suits their family needs. A car that they can use to drive kids to school, run errands and go on vacation together – a hatchback car or an SUV for example. 

How have consumer needs evolved through time?

As consumer behavior changes, many make the mistake to think that the reason why people buy cars has changed. In reality, the reason remains the same – need. People need cars to make their lives easier. But what did change, however, are the needs of customers. 

One good way to explain this is to go back to the Hegelian Dialect, an idea promoted by the German philosopher Georg Hegel, which can be applied to car interior design as well. The example used here is the Ford Focus, Ford’s global small car. 

When it was first launched, back in 1998, the car’s interior design aimed to tackle all the needs that their ideal customer might have. It was the epitome of what the end of the 90s represented – less is more. Technology was just starting to evolve, people were driven by it, but they did not necessarily express the need for it. They needed simple and clean controls, which would bring them comfort, but would still look modern enough to show that the world was heading towards the 21st century. This, in Hegel’s terms, was the thesis

According to Hegel and his philosophy, after the thesis, there comes the antithesis and so it did in Focus’s 2012 interior design. People were thriving for technology, for as many features as possible, to resemble as much of their new gadgets, such as smartphones and navigation systems. As a result, the new model featured a MyFord touch system, revolutionizing even the more basic of features, such as the radio which was now a satellite one. The reason why this design was the antithesis of the first one is because the simplicity of the ’98 model was nowhere to be found. The cockpit was full of control buttons, to accommodate all the new changes and features. 

Now, customers are looking for both simplicity and immense functionality, so the designers needed a way to combine both the simplistic aesthetic of the ’98 model and the high technological functionality of the 2012 one. So, in 2015, the new Ford Focus model was launched and it highly represented Hegel’s synthesis, which was a perfect symbiosis. The number of physical buttons and commands was reduced, but the overall functions of the car were actually bettered. 

Will consumer psychology be the same in the future?

As needs will continue to change, one must wonder what effect is this going to have on future car design and functionality?

Time seems to be the biggest concern of people nowadays, and it comes as no surprise. When it comes to the automotive field, no matter what manufacturers do, they seem to not be able to solve the most persisting problems that the modern society is dealing with: traffic congestion, road safety and productivity. But there does seem to be a solution to those issues: autonomous cars.

Smart, self-driving cars aim to be equipped with various sensors that enable cars to communicate with each other, as well as have access to real-time satellite maps, in order to streamline traffic and avoid congestions. At the same time, if they drive themselves, the person in the car can focus on doing other things. For example, if you are going to work in the morning, you can continue to work on that difficult presentation while the car will safely transport you to the office. Sounds pretty good, right?But will manufacturers be able to add all these new features and completely keep the old ones, such as durability and reliability? Well, the answer comes from the operations chief of Ford Autonomous Vehicles, John Rich. He believes that autonomous cars will not last for more than 4 years. He explains that the reason why conventional cars last so much is that they spend most time parked, while in order to be worth the money, autonomous cars need to be running almost nonstop. This will not make them suited for individual use, but rather as a car-sharing system. This means that, in order for people to satisfy their need for being more productive and reduce time wasted when driving a car, they have to give up on the desire to own a vehicle.


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