Infographic Of The Day: Volkswagen’s Charming (But Sobering) “True Life Costs”


Listening to a car manufacturer drone on about how much money its automobile will “save” you over the course of its lifetime is snoozy at best and suspicious at worst. Volkswagen makes the point obliquely by letting you discover it for yourself — in a charming set of animated infographics called “True Life Costs.”

It’s still a car-salesman tactic in the end — as the incessant voiceover and pop-ups can attest — but the overall experience is so packed with interesting facts and delightful interactive elements, it’s hard to hold it against them.

The experience launches with a beautifully animated cutscene of a leisurely evening drive toward a quaint country town, designed to look like a tiny diorama brought to life. The first fact you see is a rather shocking number: £1,758,914, representing the total amount that an average citizen of the United Kingdom will spend in his or her lifetime. (The site is aimed at a U.K. audience.) You can see how this breaks down right away, in a handy pie chart:

pie chart

From there, you can zoom in onto various buildings in the diorama that represent slices of this pie. Clicking “Fun” takes you to the interior of a house, where a set of tiny personal effects hovers in mid-air to visually represent average expenditures for “Going Out” (a stocking cap), “Clothes” (a smart-looking shirt and tie), and “Hobbies” (a pair of sneakers). By adjusting sliders underneath each object, you can adjust how much more or less than average you spend on each of these categories. As you do so, the objects morph to reflect your new life choices: Increasing the “Clothes” value causes a bespoke suit jacket to fly onto the dress shirt; decreasing it makes the dress shirt unbutton itself and fling away, revealing a dingy undershirt.



All the while, pop-up messages inform you of fun factoids like “Gentlemen spend around £502.47 on underwear.” It’s all funnelling you toward eventually clicking on that “Car” tab, though — which starts the Volkwagen pitch proper. Apparently, owning two Tiguans (what is up with VW’s names?) will save me £5,310 over the course of my non-British lifetime compared to a competing car.


Eh, maybe, maybe not. But what is certain is that by offering an immersive, personalized, interactive learning experience (the site encourages you to log in via Facebook to make the figures more accurate), Volkwagen did get me to spend a solid 10 minutes of my precious attention bathing in their brand message — and I actually liked it. Regardless of whether I buy a Golf in my lifetime or not, that’s no mean feat.

[Experience “True Life Costs” here]


About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.