- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 25, 2006

Speak softly and carry a big stick shift, please. Britain’s International Motor Show has released a survey of 2,000 drivers revealing that half of them regularly talk to their cars, offering words of encouragement on road trips and lavish praise at journey’s end.

Another 68 percent said they felt their cars had distinct personalities and were capable of becoming upset; 19 percent were worried about how their cars were “feeling.”

All of us here at the National Car Cuddling Society concur. But of course. Of course we talk to our cars until both parties are, well, exhausted. (Sound effect: rim shot, audience laughter.)

But wait. We are even more obsessed with our wheels than the British.

A recent Car Love Survey conducted by the International Carwash Association in Chicago found that 84 percent of Americans feel so affectionate toward their cars that they chat constantly with the cars, give them names, adorn them with trinkets and include them in “life’s most significant moments.”

Eleven percent, incidentally, admitted that they liked their cars more than their significant others.

Not to be outdone, a new survey of 550 South African drivers by a Capetown auto insurance company also revealed the depths of auto-human companionship — 60 percent of the respondents said they talked to their cars, and 51 percent believed their vehicles reacted positively to such treatment. Ultimately, 79 percent believed a “good relationship with their vehicle” made them safer drivers.

“Many motorists see their vehicles almost as people and feel a few words of encouragement or a pat on the dashboard helps,” noted company spokesman Angelo Haggiyannes.

Hmm. Are you listening, Mr. Ford? Manufacturers struggling with tepid sales should pay close attention to these findings and offer a nice car voice option on all future models. Salesmen will have yet another item to flaunt:

“Yes ma’am, this model does feature a V-56 conversational unit with the electronic anti-testy feature, a comedy chip, civility module, mellifluous enhancement and a flirt button.”

We are not far away from such things. Earlier this year, VoiceBox, a “voice search” technology company in Bellevue, Wash., announced it had partnered with Toyota and XM Satellite Radio to feature a new device that allows drivers to carry on conversations with voice-activated electronics or navigation controls — rather than bark unruly commands.

VoiceBox President Mike Kennewick told C-Net News that the unit looks for clues and cues in voices, “just like a human would.”

There are those who think one truly is what one drives. Four Japanese engineers already have patented technology for a new car that can wag its antenna, glow, rise up on its wheels, frown and wiggle its headlights with built-in eyelids and brows.

The patent application noted: “Vehicles having expression functions, such as crying and laughing like people and other animals do, could create a joyful, organic atmosphere rather than the simple comings and goings of inorganic vehicles. Such emotive, organic vehicles could also lead occupants to have great affinity for their vehicles, and make the driving experience more comfortable.”

Quick, everybody, look. There goes the brand new 2007 Wagging Organicar.

There has been much ado about car color as well. A 1999 psychiatric analysis compared human personalities to the auto hues we choose. Driving a silver auto? That signals success but also pomposity. Black means ambition, red an impulsive energy. White implies the driver is reliable and methodical, blue means the driver is sociable but unimaginative.

Americans are stuck on success and ambition, apparently — 24 percent of all new cars sold are silver and 17 percent black, according to Road & Travel magazine, which dryly notes that Mercedes-Benz offers cars in a “spectrum” of blacks.

Last but not least, those who travel with wet dogs, student athletes, heavily perfumed spouses or small children eating Big Macs should heed a study from the RAC Foundation, a research group. It has determined that car smells affect drivers for better or worse.

Should there be a lingering fragrance of french fries and hamburger buns from that last drive-through dinner, the driver may be subject to road rage, spurred to drive fast out of hunger, the foundation revealed.

The group recommended “good odors to have in your vehicle,” including peppermint, cinnamon, lemon, coffee and maybe a blast of ocean scent to help relieve stress. Chamomile, jasmine and lavender are dangerous, RAC notes, as the scents could cause drivers to relax and/or fall asleep.

Tempted to drive a smell-free car? Don’t, the group cautions, noting that astronauts in an odorless environment became irritable and even experience “olfactory hallucinations.” No word, though, on how human smells affect the cars. Doubtless, though, someone’s working on it.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and hubcaps for The Washington Times’ national desk. Reach her at 202/636-3085 or [email protected]washingtontimes .com.

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