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G. Clotaire Rapaille: Cupholders

While researching an article on SUVs one day, New Yorker scribe Malcolm Gladwell met with French-born cultural anthropologist G. Clotaire Rapaille. Rapaille (who worked with Chrysler on the PT Cruiser) offered an interesting analysis of the psychology underpinning the vehicle's design:

"The No. 1 feeling is that everything surrounding you should be round and soft, and should give," Rapaille remarked. "There should be air bags everywhere. Then there's this notion that you need to be up high. That's a contradiction, because the people who buy these S.U.V.s know at the cortex level that if you are high there is more chance of a rollover. But at the reptilian level they think that if I am bigger and taller I'm safer. You feel secure because you are higher and dominate and look down. That you can look down is psychologically a very powerful notion.

"And what was the key element of safety when you were a child? It was that your mother fed you, and there was warm liquid. That's why cupholders are absolutely crucial for safety. If there is a car that has no cupholder, it is not safe. If I can put my coffee there, if I can have my food, if everything is round, if it's soft, and if I'm high, then I feel safe. It's amazing that intelligent, educated women will look at a car and the first thing they will look at is how many cupholders it has."

[Ironically, SUVs are among the most dangerous vehicles on the road. Among the safest are the midsize imports, like the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord. Even drivers of the tiny Volkswagen Jetta die at a rate of just forty-seven per million, copmarable to the rate for drivers of the five-thousand-pound Chevrolet Suburban and almost half that of such popular SUVs as the Ford Explorer and the GMC Jimmy.]

[After right-wing talk-show hosts began referring to John Kerry as "Monsieur Kerry" and "Jean Cheri" during the 2004 presidential election, G. Clotaire Rapaille offered to help the Senator rid his speaking style of French influences.]

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