Why there’s no Maslowmobile

Mark Alger details his Hierarchy of Vehicular Needs:

I prize (in this order), comfort, wide field of vision, visibility, crash-survivability, winter traction, and cargo capacity over fuel economy.

Which got me thinking: what criteria drew me to my present set of wheels? Expediency was certainly a factor, since my previous set of wheels had been rendered inoperable and, in the judgment of some auto-insurance type, unfixable, but there were thousands of cars for sale that June day in Oklahoma City, and Carmax would happily have trucked one up from elsewhere had I asked, so there had to be something drawing me to this particular car.

The first order of business was size, and there were two sets of dimensions to consider:

  • Many people seeing me seated assume I’m six-five or six-six, until I stand up and reveal myself to be more of a point guard than a power forward: six feet even, with a 28-inch inseam. So I could give a flip about legroom; I just want to make sure I don’t scrape my scalp against the headliner.
  • The garage at Surlywood was built in 1951 — three years after the rest of the house — and was not ideally suited to the longer, lower, wider stuff that Detroit ground out later in the decade. The previous owner drove a Nissan Maxima, so I would consider no vehicles that substantially exceeded its size.

Beyond that, I was looking for some measure of reliability, since I was buying used, and I didn’t like the machine-gun slits that passed for windows in some recent models. I ignored utterly the crash-test results — having just had a crash, I was in no mood to contemplate the likelihood of another — and I paid only perfunctory attention to fuel economy, inasmuch as all the cars under consideration were what the EPA terms “mid-size,” and that commonality of size suggested to me that gas consumption was likely to be about the same with any of them.

What sealed the deal, though, was a piece of cheap metal: the badge. As I explained at the time:

As a practicing plebe, I’ve always felt that if you want a Camry, you should buy a Camry, and forgo the big L badge. But there’s another side to this story: suppose, just suppose, that the guy who buys the Lexus, knowing he paid the big bucks, actually does a better job of taking care of his pricey little beastie?

And the other side of that coin: the Lexus dealership, by repute anyway, is going to be more anxious to curry the favor (possibly even the favour) of its customers than is your average Toyota store.

Which explains why I have an Infiniti I30, which, were it not for the badge and some glitz and 100 lb of sound insulation and a whole lot of manufacturer obsequiousness, would have been, yes, a Nissan Maxima. It’s something of a tradition around this house.


  1. fillyjonk »

    25 November 2008 · 9:33 am

    My criteria would include, I guess:

    Safety/survivability of crashes
    Ability to actually SEE when I am driving the thing (smallest “blind spots” possible)
    Unlikeliness of breaking down (as much as I love the look of some of the classic British sports cars, I would never actually own one)
    Comfort in driving long distances
    Fuel efficiency
    Ability to carry stuff, whether it’s field equipment or those cute chairs I couldn’t pass up at the antique shop.
    General cuteness would be nice, but it’s way down the list.

    I also note with some surprise that at 5’6″ (or thereabouts; I claim anywhere from 5’6″ to 5’8″), my inseam is an inch longer than yours.

  2. Sarah »

    25 November 2008 · 8:55 pm

    I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to spot a Maslow name-check outside of a social science textbook.

    Well played.

  3. Mark Alger »

    26 November 2008 · 9:14 am

    Another thing that bugs me about the watermelon arguments is the “nobody NEEDS to …[fillintheblank]” In my case that would be “Commute in an SUV.”

    Which is true. But more to the point, I can’t AFFORD to own several specialized vehicles for all my transport tasks, so I engage in a little auto-minimax.

    Or, maybe, maximin, depending on whether you think this is a zero-sum game.


  4. CGHill »

    26 November 2008 · 10:41 am

    Besides, if the Greener Than Thou folks really took their own advice, the original Honda Insight, which you had to abuse seriously to yield less than 50 mpg, would have been the top-selling car in the nation for several years instead of a vague memory.

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