Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Legacy Department

Planning, Design, and the Built Environment


Ellis, Cliff

Committee Member

Nocks , Barry

Committee Member

Meyer , Michael D


Despite the best intentions of public policy to cure societal ills, for the individual American consumer, the solution to the problem of automobile dependence is simple: buy an automobile. Consumers are alleviating societal pressure of not having a car rather than focusing on the negative impacts of vehicle usage after the purchase. Marketing and advertising play an important role in portraying how the public views transportation. Marketing reinforces automobile dependence and automobility by creating images and messages that say the norm of American life requires an automobile; therefore, marketing creates, controls, and reinforces values within the automobile consumer culture. Addressing automobile marketing as a part of transportation discourse is applied and applicable to a broader population, which can potentially shift the approach to automobile dependence and automobility. It offers a new approach that can expand the way planners approach automobile dependency.
The objective of this research was to identify a relationship between automobility as a cultural norm and the ideology of marketed images of private vehicles. The two goals this study achieved were:
1) to characterize the message and ideology of vehicle marketing to inform a portion of the American mobility discourse and
2) to evaluate how the differences in the discourse of vehicle types interact with American values.
This study examined automobile manufacturers' marketing materials used to advertise vehicles of two distinct fuel-efficiency categories: passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks. A content analysis of marketing materials showed the dominant ideologies in these advertisements, such as land-use settings and values attributed to specific vehicles, while the theoretical lens of critical discourse analysis investigated the underlying power and ideology of the advertising media (Fairclough, 1989, 1995). The study found marketing has created specific links between vehicle types and land use and a connection and conflict with specific vehicles and nature; passenger vehicles were removed from rural landscapes, and messages presented to consumers conflicted with official designations in the federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) system.
Planners often view education as the means of convincing the public to support initiatives that reduce negative impacts of human activity; however, automobile marketing inundates the consumer public with messages of the automobile as a preferred travel mode serving as a critical part of American life. As a result, vehicle marketing contributes to the automobile-dependence discourse in a significant way that requires attention.