Automotive News is reporting that Infiniti has settled on producing a new “halo” vehicle. A halo vehicle is a flagship model which sells in low volumes, perhaps at a loss. Why would Infiniti devote precious resources and money on a car it might actually lose money on? The idea behind building such a vehicle is the “halo effect,” discovered (or invented, depending on one’s views on the idea) by psychologist Edward Thorndike.
Thorndike’s idea was that people’s perceptions of other people are skewed when presented with certain positive attributes about them. If a person is particularly attractive, for example, one is more likely to incorrectly assume that the person is especially trustworthy. Car companies believe that this concept holds true for vehicles. Ford produced the Ford GT with the idea that people would have more positive perceptions about the rest of the brand’s fleet, based on their perceptions of the GT.
I believe there is one key difference between Thorndike’s halo effect and that which auto companies use. While it is clearly incorrect to assume that a more attractive person is more intelligent, it doesn’t seem entirely incorrect to assume that a car company which is able to produce an incredible halo car, such as the NSX, is a better company than one which is not. A lot of the technology from cars such as the NSX and GT end up in lesser vehicles, and the halo cars also prove just how good the best engineers at a certain company are.
What really matters in the end though, is whether people buy more cars because of halo cars (whatever the reason) and specifically whether they buy enough to offset the cost of the flagship cars.