Everyone on the road is unconsciously judging other drivers. Doing so is both a survival instinct and a social instinct. The problem is that we don’t have much to go on, other than the kind of car people are driving and our stereotypes about them. Some of these assumptions are wildly inaccurate, while others appear to be spot on.
For example, it’s true that red cars seem to drive faster. In truth, the data shows that they don’t. We’re convinced that some luxury brands have rude drivers. Probably true, but we’re enabling this behaviour by being submissive to them.
Sports cars really do have aggressive drivers. It’s not just the horsepower that’s propelling them forwards.
A car brand is an even more powerful predictor than these basic attributes. This makes sense – a car is one of the most carefully branded objects we use. More importantly, we have the data to prove it. Here’s a sample of the findings we’ve discovered recently.
Mini drivers are typically young, wealthy, and stylish women who live in London. They are overwhelmingly more likely to be affluent (51.63x), have dogs or cats (5.07x), and buy jewellery (11.98x). They might work in advertising or marketing (6.52x) and probably head to the gym a few times a week (2.93x). Many of them are new mums (4.34x), while others are thinking about marriage (6.54x).
This is not an adventurous group. They drink cautiously (6.24x) and enjoy light entertainment – (4.70x) more likely to listen to pop music, and are (7.18x) more likely to watch Friends. (Still!)
Mini drivers are principled and conscientious. They follow Angela Merkel (9.96x) and Hillary Clinton (4.35x), read the Independent (4.13x), and favour sustainable restaurants (19.61x). If a Mini driver cuts you off, they probably didn’t mean to.
BMW and Audi
Just start a Google search with “Why are BMW drivers so” or “Why are Audi drivers so” and you’ll see some unprintable completion suggestions. Some associations I can relay are “arrogant”, “rude”, and “aggressive”. Suffice to say, many people really do not like them. As it turns out, this stereotype is more true for Audi drivers than for BMW drivers. (Not that any of these stereotypes are truly deserved, as I’ll explain in a bit.)
Both Audi and BMW are luxury brands, likewise these drivers are quite affluent. BMW drivers tend to be a little older. Both brands are favored by successful executives. Audi drivers are more likely to be consultants (4.92x) while BMW drivers are more likely to be in real estate (4.13x) or banking (6.37x).
The differences are almost as easy to understand. Audi drivers have loans (4.56x) while BMW drivers have mortgages (5.36x). BMW drivers follow tennis (9.07x); Audi drivers favour motor racing (7.4x), wrestling (2.17x), and even windsurfing (2.94x). Of course, both groups love golf (4.12x). BMW drivers read the Guardian (3.13x). Audi drivers favour the Financial Times (2.45x), if anything. BMW drivers appreciate healthy eating (9.32x), while Audi drivers are eating KFC (3.27x) and drinking Red Bull (2.15x).
Whilst both BMW and Audi drivers are partial to a few rounds of golf, it seems that’s where their similarities end.
Volvo and Peugeot
These brands share much more than pronunciation. Both attract an older, educated audience prioritising space and comfort. The simplest way to sort these drivers is gender.
Volvo drivers are more likely to be teachers (2.67x), engineers (4.76x), or researchers (2.51x). They enjoy gardening (6.97x), are much more likely to have a slow cooker (14.82x), and eat a healthy diet (12.59x). They follow the news (2.34x), likely reading the Daily Express (2.81x). But compared to Peugeot drivers, they are much more likely to watch football (6.11x), buy hardware (5.86x), and drink scotch (3.44x). Not that women don’t do these things, but men do them more.
Peugeot drivers are more likely to be teachers (1.77x), human resources professionals (3.95x), or writers (3.90x). They enjoy gardening (6.01x), are much more likely to have a slow cooker (22.72x), and eat a healthy diet (14.06x). They follow the news (1.78x), likely reading Daily Mail (2.34x). But compared to Volvo drivers, they are much more likely to watch the Food Network (4.05x), buy makeup (4.20x), and drink diet cola (3.67x). Not that men don’t do these things, but women do them more. (Customs such as wearing lipstick make it much easier to identify women, both online and off.)
The next time you see a Volvo and a Peugeot sharing a driveway, you can guess why.
Vauxhall and Renault
Let’s set aside the Vauxhall Corsa, which is favoured by younger drivers on a budget who turn heads with their speed. For the remaining Vauxhall and Renault drivers, we find middle-aged drivers on a budget who aren’t turning heads at all. As one blogger wrote, these brands are “the car equivalent of a Boots meal deal for lunch”. These owners are in the middle muddle of everything, except when it comes to geography – they’re most likely to be found in the Northeast. (1.73x for Renault and 3.18x for Vauxhall)
They’re surely lovely in their own right, but not likely to stand out in a crowd. They really like greeting cards (7.01x and 1.28x), book reading (2.15x and 1.78x), and bird watching (2.22x and 3.76x). They watch movies (1.44x and 1.28x) and the BBC (1.80x and 1.44x), and read Garfield (2.55x and 1.92x). They are a practical lot, more likely to worry about fuel efficiency (1.81x and 1.61x) and plan for retirement (3.05x and 1.11x) than other drivers.
Renault drivers, predictably, are more likely to travel abroad (5.10x), wear perfume or cologne (2.59x), and drink wine (1.89x). Vauxhall drivers are more likely to travel within the UK (2.18x), wear watches (2.74x), and drink beer (1.41x). Choice of pet divides the two as well, with Renault drivers favouring cats (1.27x) and Vauxhall drivers preferring dogs (1.78x).
So, perhaps the strangest thing about Vauxhall and Renault drivers is that they aren’t really stereotyped at all.
Despite the above, when you encounter a driver, whatever stereotypes you hold about them are more likely to be false than true. Stereotypes persist because once we begin to anticipate a certain behaviour, our perceptions change to accommodate it. This is why people can accurately gauge the speed of an Audi without a driver, but regularly overestimate the speed when the driver is also considered. It’s fun to think about stereotypes, as long as one recognises they are more likely to be mental accounting than reality. The next time you find an Audi tailgating you, recognise that your internal bias is making it much worse.