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Delight leads to dedication from car buyers Add to ...

Winnipeg’s Doug Henning was not just a talented illusionist, he engaged with the audience to make it feel as though it was being invited into his magical world.

And Henning closed each of his 1970s-era American TV specials – which were viewed by as many as 50 million people – with an empowering incantation: “Anything the mind can conceive is possible. Nothing is impossible. All you have to do is look within, and you can realize your fondest dreams.”

The automotive marketplace is similarly host to vehicles that promote compelling magical features. Though none of these cars hails from Manitoba or has a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame, that doesn’t prevent them from showing off their tricks to attract, engage and maintain an audience.

A year-long study by automotive research firm Strategic Vision demonstrated that when a customer is delighted by a vehicle’s features, there is a correlative increase in the perception of the vehicle’s overall quality and value. This resonant emotional connection to a car can be used to predict a consumer’s future loyalty to a brand, and to help sway a consumer’s decision to leave one brand for another.

“About one-third of consumers look at vehicles like toasters,” says Alexander Edwards, president of Strategic Visions. “It’s an appliance that gets them from point A to point B. For the other two-thirds, there is a greater connection in terms of what the car says about who they are, and how they want to be perceived.

“In this kind of relationship,” he says, “it makes sense that consumers develop an emotional relationship with their vehicles.”

When consumers discuss their love for their vehicle, they often connect it to specific attributes, according to Edwards’ research.

And the contemporary car that ranked highest on Strategic Visions’ survey of delight was the all-electric Tesla Model S sports sedan. Customers were certainly attracted to its unique powertrain and the endurance of its batteries, which allow it to travel nearly 500 km on a single charge.

And while they also loved the voice-activated controls, and keyless entry system – with flush door handles that emerge from the body and then retract to aid aerodynamics – the biggest driver of affection was the Model S’s distinctive technology: in particular, the 43-cm touch-screen, which allows for multiple and driver-configurable functions to be utilized simultaneously, as well as delivering app-based entertainment and Internet access.

“It’s really the hero of the interior of the car,” says Franz von Holzhausen, Tesla’s chief designer. “The large screen allows for a great interaction with the car because we removed the hard [physical] buttons – the things that age pretty quickly in a car – and turned them into soft [on-screen] buttons that can consistently improve and modernize and grow with you over time.”

This interface allows Tesla to update the entire control panel, and push these updates to consumers via the in-car Internet connection. “There’s no other car out there,” he says, “that gets better with age.”

Edwards posits that the next set of beloved automotive components will fall into the category of “functional luxury.” These are features that add fun but are also practical. As an example, he singled out the “invisible hood” on Land Rover’s recently unveiled Discovery Vision Concept. This feature incorporates a pair of bumper-mounted cameras that project onto the windshield an image of what is directly beneath the truck’s hood.

“If I do go off-roading – which Land Rover drivers do maybe once a year, if ever,” Edwards says, “it has great functionality. And if I don’t, it still communicates the right brand cues of indomitable capability.”

Tesla is planning some functional fun of its own for its upcoming Model X crossover. This seven-passenger all-electric family hauler will feature what von Holzhausen calls “Falcon Doors” in the rear of the car. These portals are hinged at the centre of the roof and at the top of the window to fold up and in when opening, allowing for what von Holzhausen calls “an incredibly interesting, delightful experience” that also has a utilitarian side, especially for loading and unloading kids.

“It actually makes a bigger opening to the second and third row than any other vehicle out there, yet it does it without giving you door dings, or slamming into other parked cars or your garage.”

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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