James May

James May

And our survey says...

Statistically, I have half a penis. And so do you, even if you’re a woman. As we know, there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. But it gets worse, because after that there’s market research.

Market research may have established the most popular colour for a Smartie, but I don’t believe it has ever produced a great car. I bet Adolf Associates never went out and canvassed popular German opinion on the design of the Beetle. I doubt Issigonis got the idea for the Mini from a survey conducted in a shopping centre. Henry Ford didn’t ask people what colour car they wanted, he told them what colour they were going to get.

The people, on the whole, do not have any radical ideas about the future of the motor car. I certainly don’t, and I spend quite a lot of time mucking about with the things. If, for example, you’re a builder, you spend your time thinking about building, not book-keeping. You get an accountant to do that, leaving you free to concentrate on what you’re best at, which is not turning up when you said you would.

So what’s with this market research nonsense? If I were going in for a brain operation, I’d want to be in the hands of an absolute expert. I wouldn’t want a man who opened my skull and then leant out of the hospital window to ask some blokes at a bus stop what to do next.

So why does anyone imagine that car designers should defer to the authority of the sort of person who can be bothered to fill in a form? Next time you’re in a shopping centre or walking down a busy street, look at the people around you, with their glazed eyes and their minds evidently far from any concerns about cabin architecture and the ride/handling compromise.

Do you really want them to have a say in the design of your next car? You do? It’s a mid-size diesel MPV with lifestyle attributes for you, then.

To prove that market research doesn’t work, I’ve taken a leaf out of the motor industry’s  engineering book and reverse-researched an event I was at recently. It was one of those outdoor concerts in a public park, the sort where you take a picnic and usually ends with some fireworks and the 1812 Overture. Only this time it was a Sixties tribute band.

Our party trudged in with our tuck box, itchy blanket and 1,001 beer bottles and established a pitch in the Arcadian surroundings. The bandstand was a distant speck. There was something not quite right with the speaker system, so when the music started, it sounded more like the tinny outpourings of a transistor radio on the adjacent picnic rug rather than the work of a professional five-piece beat combo. But we unwrapped the pork pies and got on with it.

Then, of course, it started raining. At this point the Italians would have left, but because we’re British we put carrier bags on our heads and continued drinking the beer.

“It started raining. The Italians would have left, but because we’re British we put carrier bags on our heads and continued drinking”

For the last few numbers everybody in the park linked arms in a big circle and danced around, crushing the remains of the picnic equipment into the mire. Everyone agreed it was a top night out.

Now – let’s imagine we were proposing this event to a commercial organisation: “I’ve had this idea. We’ll charge people £20 to sit in a field and listen to some music from a long way away, while everyone drinks heavily and shouts. Then we’ll spray them with water. And they have to bring their own food.”

They’re not going to be convinced, but they might be cowardly enough to commission some market research. Here’s how the questionnaire might go:

1) How do you like to listen to your music?

A) In the comfort of my own home, on the hi-fi, positioned between the speakers.

B) In a proper concert hall with excellent acoustics and facilities.

C) In a muddy field, about 2,000 yards from the performers.

2) What is your favourite type of music?

A) Strictly classical, the New York Phil doing Beethoven would be nice.

B) Contemporary pop.

C) Some blokes on a crackly PA pretending to be The Beatles, with bad haircuts.

3) What is your idea of a good meal?

1) Proper home cooking, in the company of entertaining guests.

2) An evening spent at an award-winning ethnic restaurant.

3) Some curly sandwiches that taste of polythene bags, surrounded by pissheads.

4) Choose your weather...

1) I prefer to be indoors.

2) An early summer’s evening, warm enough for a T-shirt.

3) Like that bit on the bridge in The Cruel Sea.

Respond honestly to this survey and you’ll be going to an evening of pop classics at the Albert Hall with spicy sausage rolls in the interval. A shame, really, because you’d have had a much better time rolling around in the mud with us and listening to Hey Jude.

Let’s face it – market research would have killed the car from the start if Herr Benz had sought his neighbours’ opinion on his new horseless carriage idea. Great cars, like all great things, stem from the fevered imaginings of a few inspired people, not from the collective opinion of the masses. Lamborghini didn’t get the layout for the Miura from a vox pop and I’m not going to run this column past the chaps in the pub before I send it in.

Market research is rubbish. It doesn’t even fulfil a useful sociological function in keeping people off the streets, because they’re all out there harassing the innocent public.

So next time someone approaches you with a clipboard, tell ’em to bugger off. Market research gave us the Suzuki X-90, a car that sold so badly you probably can’t remember what it looked like. Apparently, it was exactly what you wanted.


James May, Column, Suzuki

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