There was a time when I wouldn't have understood some of the recent commercials and advertisements for sport utility vehicles.
Back then, I thought like an engineer -- which is to say, I was afflicted with logic. Luckily, though, 12 years of writing about automobiles has clouded my thinking. So I'm proud to say that, yes, I now understand the ads.
For example, there's the recent magazine advertisement for the Nissan Pathfinder. The ad says: "It takes the SUV to the next plateau. And ridge. And butte. And bluff. And mesa. And razorback. And summit."
Time was when I would have flung the magazine aside and said: "Why don't they mention the differential? Or the suspension? What about the transfer case, transmission, or prop shaft? What do buttes and bluffs have to do with anything?"
That's faulty thinking, of course. If 12 years of automotive writing has taught me anything, it's that buying decisions are based on feelings, not logic. And buttes, bluffs, and razorbacks are about feeling like a hearty outdoorsman, a rugged individualist.
That's the kind of thinking that also went into a recent billboard for the Ford Expedition. The billboard shows a photo of the Expedition. And next to it are the words, "Whoa, big fella."
Back in my engineer days, I might have growled, "What is this thing about horses? Why don't they give me some information I can use?"
But now I know better. If advertising teaches us anything, it's that horses makes us feel good. Horses remind us of the great outdoors. The Wild West. The Lone Ranger. John Wayne.
Besides, horses are far more poetic than differentials and prop shafts. If you don't believe it, consider the horse's role in great literature. I assure you, it's more prominent than the differential's.
For example, what did the king say in Shakespeare's Richard III? Did he say, "A transfer case! A transfer case! My kingdom for a transfer case!"?
I should think not.
And did the great English writer D.H. Lawrence ever pen the words, "Differential! Oh, differential! How thou does prevent torque wind-up"?
Obviously, he didn't.
And what about that inveterate horse-lover, former president Ronald Reagan? Did he ever proclaim, "It's often said that there's nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a GSA P225/75R15 tire"?
If he had, he might never have been a two-term president.
I could go on and on, but I think the point is obvious: Americans prefer horses to mechanical objects. And if horses make people feel good, and if good feelings help sell sport utility vehicles, then it doesn't matter if consumers don't understand what they're buying. And it doesn't matter if -- as the Wall Street Journal pointed out last January -- hundreds of Chicagoans have to have their SUVs towed out of heavy snow because they don't know how to use their four-wheel drives. The important thing is they feel good when they are getting towed.
That's why you see precious few advertisements or commercials that mention such things as wheel-slip, torque wind-up, or ground clearance. Who wants to know about those things? Consumers would rather hear such words as big, powerful, and muscular.
And that, of course, is why Ford chose to compare the Expedition to a horse, as opposed to, say, a hamster. Small rodents just don't project the right image.
So you see, if you're one of those people who prefer to buy based on logic, rather than emotion, you're in the minority. Judging by the enormous sales of sport utility vehicles, consumers must prefer ads that are light on information and heavy on image.
Still, there may be a way for the ad execs to satisfy those left-brain-dominated, engineering-types. They need to create a billboard showing a middle-aged stockbroker at the wheel of an SUV, stuck in a snow bank. And he could be saying: "I don't know anything about four-wheel drive, but I feel really muscular!"
It might not make us ultra-logical consumers run out and buy SUVs. But it would sure make us feel good.
Detroit's newest SUV, the X-Terminator, weighs 20,000 lbs. Neglecting all friction, what is the approximate power required of its engine so that it can maintain a 35 mph speed while moving up a 7% slope?
A) 130 HP
B) 152 HP
C) 173 HP
D) 330 HP
E) 362 HP
The same SUV moves down a 7% slope at 35 mph. If its brakes are applied so that a frictional force of 16,000 lb is exerted, the stopping distance is most nearly:
A) 26 ft
B) 36 ft
C) 46 ft
D) 56 ft
E) 66 ft
Selected from Fundamentals of Engineering Examination, copyright 1986,Prentice Hall Press, reprinted with permission of the publisher.
Solution 1: A
Solution 2: D