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Cars that CEOs drive



CEO Cars

What kind of car comes to mind when you think of a CEO's vehicle?

Is it a custom-made Mercedes Maybach? A limited-edition Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini?

"Whenever you get crazy weather, you get a rash of insurance claims later," says NICB spokesperson Frank Scafidi.

Actually, there's a better chance it's a fairly ordinary passenger car, SUV or even a van, minivan or pickup truck. That's the outcome of a 2006 Careerbuilder.com and Cars.com study, which left in its exhaust the popular notions of the vehicles driven by the nation's top business executives.

Although the study was undertaken more than four years ago, it's likely more relevant today than it was back in those economically healthier times, says Chicago-based Cars.com editor-in-chief Patrick Olsen.

"I suspect the turbulent economy since the survey was done several years ago has helped ensure CEOs are remaining realistic and pragmatic about their purchase of cars," he says. "They're not spending a boatload of cash these days in fear of sending the wrong message to employees and shareholders. . . . In today's environment, CEOs are more cognizant than ever of the eyes on them when they're behind the wheel. Extravagance is frowned upon in this economy."

The first goal of the survey, which polled 2,344 Americans age 21 to 65 who held valid driver's licenses and were employed, was to determine popular perceptions of CEOs' rides. The majority were convinced CEOs drove vehicles costing at least $70,000. But that assessment proved overblown.

Of the total number of respondents, 340 were CEOs, chairmen, executive directors, presidents or chief operating officers. These individuals collectively spent an average of less than $25,000 on their primary vehicles, and more than one in four (26 percent) spent less than $20,000.

Among these top executives, 29 percent were driving passenger cars and 24 percent SUVs. Nineteen percent drove luxury cars, 13 percent hit the road in pickup trucks, 9 percent drove vans or minivans, and 6 percent preferred the flash of a sports car, Olsen reports.

These results can be seen on the street - not all CEOs are seen in cars like the Porsche 911 (which Bill Gates of Microsoft has been known to drive):

  • Steve Jobs of Apple has owned a Toyota Prius

  • Oracle's Larry Ellison has been seen in an Audi R8

  • Berkshire Hathaway's Warren Buffett famously motored around Omaha in a Lincoln Town Car.

Motivated by style and performance

Some findings, however, did match expectations. For instance, CEOs in banking and finance were more likely to drive luxury cars. Those heading construction and engineering firms were more likely to have pickup trucks.

Reliability, price and value for the money were leading motivators for respondents as a whole. But the CEOs were more motivated by styling, interior roominess and performance in their car-buying decisions.

David Jacobson, CEO of GrooveCar, a Hauppauge, N.Y., company that helps credit union members shop, buy and finance their vehicles, is typical of the survey respondents in the Cars.com study. After years of driving performance-type cars like Porsches and Maseratis, he decided to purchase an American vehicle within the budgets or many ordinary folks, a GMC Yukon.

"My major car right now for the first time in my life is an American-made car, because the quality has come up and I want to drive an American-made vehicle," Jacobson says. "It's good in the snow, it's luxurious, it's got OnStar and it has the bigger Corvette engine. It's the first American-made vehicle that really hits on all my needs and wants."

When his attorney suggested buying an American-made luxury car like a Cadillac or Lincoln because they provided the right kind of image for him, Jacobson nixed the idea. His main motivator was pleasure, not image. "When I get into my car in the morning, I actually enjoy driving to work," he says of his approximately 25-minute Long Island commute. "It's enjoyment, it's not a status symbol. I truly enjoy the feel of the wheel and the suspension."

Still, he doesn't believe he fits the mold of the business leaders in the Cars.com survey. "I'm a car guy," he says. "I'm someone who loves cars. I collect cars. I have motorcycles. I'm not your typical CEO."

What's more, he suggests that some CEOs might not be telling the truth about their primary vehicles. "If I was a CEO of a publicly traded company," he says, "I wouldn't admit to driving a Maserati."

He admits that the cost of car insurance did not affect his car-buying decision. Given his age and safe driving record, he said premiums remain affordable.


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