What does the reptilian brain have to do with car manufacturing?

SUVs and Reptilian Brains
The Fisker Karma
The Fisker Karma
Courtesy of Fisker Automotive

There's more to our brains than the reptilian, of course. Rapaille reminds us that we also have the intellectual cortex and the emotional limbic brains in addition to the gut-level reptile brain. After years of appealing successfully to our base-level brains, car manufacturers are beginning to catch up with our cortex.

Sales of full-sized, four-wheel-drive SUVs were already declining when gasoline prices hit record highs during the summer of 2008. And apparently that was enough of a change for the number-loving cortex to take over for the reptilian brain when it came to car shopping; sales of gas-sipping compacts and hybrids got a big boost.

As the world economy took a hit in 2008 and 2009, consumers relied even more on the cortex when purchasing vehicles. People assessed their needs and their bank accounts and were less likely to be swayed by the perception of power and sex portrayed by expensive, gas-guzzling SUVs and fast cars. Safety features, affordability and fuel consumption became more important to car shoppers.

However, don't count the reptilian brain out of car manufacturing just yet. Sports cars that use alternative fuels, like the Tesla Roadster and the Fisker Karma, actually appeal to all three parts of our car-buying brains. Now, that's an interesting thought, isn't it? Maybe you should consider which part of your brain is likely to win the next time you decide to purchase a new car.

For more information about the reptilian brain and other related topics, follow the links below.

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More Great Links


  • Carwinism.com. "Darwin, Calvin, and Pavlov -- Is the car an endangered species?" Sept. 16, 2009. (Feb. 8, 2010) http://www.carwinism.com/content/darwin-calvin-and-pavlov-car-endangered-species
  • Leung, Rebecca. "The Thrill of the SUV." 60 Minutes - CBS News. July 13, 2003. (Feb. 8, 2010) http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/07/11/60minutes/main562824.shtml
  • Rapaille, Dr. G. Clotaire. "Your Car Is the Message: So Sexy Beats Utilitarian." Jan. 6, 2003. (Feb. 8, 2010) http://www.rapailleinstitute.com/articles/detroit.pdf

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