Pickup Anthropology

cliff-drive Quasi-official, occasionally sponsored dogma holds that “Americans are having a love affair with the automobile” is all anybody needs to know about the sociology of transportation in the United States. In this familiar view, cars are, in the words of Heritage Foundation house economist and CNN employee Stephen Moore, the spontaneously-chosen “exoskeleton” for the “rugged individualists” who constitute the great American majority.

Funny, then, that those who make and sell the “exoskeleton” we allegedly demand as an expression of our primordial freedom seem to have such trouble receiving our commands. According to yesterday’s edition of Automotive News, one of the things the Ford Motor Company does to keep selling the pickups that are “so important” to its profit stream is this:

To coax devotees into the greener future, the company won’t be stressing the benefits of cutting back on carbon-dioxide emissions or the costs of tanking up. Instead, the marketing will go something like this: The battery in the hybrid F-150 not only feeds the electric motor, it’s a mobile generator that can keep the beer cool at a tailgate party, charge your miter saw and run the coffee maker on a camping trip. “It still may be a hard sell,” said Michelle Krebs, an analyst at Autotrader, “but they’ve got to have this in their lineup.”

The company came up with it after researchers spent a year on an anthropological mission, embedding for thousands of hours with hundreds of F-150 owners. “We immersed ourselves in their lives,” said Nadia Preston, the research team’s project leader. “That meant going camping with them, tailgating, going to rodeos, even spending the night.” They were looking for what CEO Jim Hackett calls “bungee-cord solutions” — workarounds for tasks the F-150 couldn’t perform. They found owners often in need of portable power.

AutoNews, in a sideways acknowledgement that embedded anthropology designed to discover the basis for new marketing tricks is rather hard to square with the claim that cars are freedom machines, subtitles its piece “Key to selling truck no one asked for”.