The car world is overflowing with extra cost options for the head and heart. The functional ones are more likely to retain their value, but many’s the buyer prepared to hang the expense in the name of self-expression – and many’s the dealer there to serve them
If you’ve decided to buy a new Honda CRV and you’re looking for a little something extra, once you’ve chosen your base, Sport or Luxury spec you’ll find two option packs on offer. The Active Pack includes running boards, side sunvisors, Bluetooth connectivity, a protective luggage area tray and reversing sensors. The Modulo Pack adds chrome trim elements, a sports grille and a tailgate spoiler.
Honda is not alone in this strategy. Indeed the CR-V buyer’s choice neatly symbolises the natural division of options lists into two basic categories – function and form, head and heart.
On the function side are components fulfilling a practical purpose. As such, they not only make life easier for drivers and passengers but also minimise the whack you take at resale time.
The most obvious asset in this respect is air conditioning. How much of this we can to attribute to climate change and how much to good marketing is debatable, but Aussie car buying habits have changed dramatically on this front over the last several decades. In the 1970s, factory fitted air was the expensive preserve of the vinyl-roof set. Now it’s hard to find a new vehicle without it. Which means: if you happen across one and buy it, today’s bargain is tomorrow’s white elephant come resale time.
On the form side are the aesthetic and luxury enhancements we buy for ‘Me’ reasons – the indulgence and expression of self. Because they’re cosmetic and therefore more about individual taste, they’re less likely to retain their premium when you sell. Auto ‘lingerie’ like wheel upgrades, body kits and uncommon colour schemes are bought for your own pleasure — know up front they’re less likely to retain their value.
“You need to find someone who shares your tastes enough to pay anything extra,” says Chris Breen, a sales consultant with Hornsby Honda on Sydney’s North Shore.
Increasingly popular equipment like satnav warrants a second look because it helps keep your car abreast of future models in which it will likely become standard. Looking at the way the market is heading, multimedia connectivity will likely prove a worthwhile investment, too. Breen says one of the most popular options – and therefore one well worth considering – is Bluetooth connectivity.
“Especially now it’s moving down into mainstream models as standard. The next Honda model due for a major upgrade is the Civic. It’ll probably make it in there as standard.”
Alongside satnav, the USB interface is worth a look. In not much time, it will replace the CD player for two reasons that amount to a win-win for consumers and manufacturers alike. Buyers can carry dozens of CDs compressed into MP3 form on a $10 4GB USB stick, while carmakers get rid of costly moving parts up front, and many problems are fixable with software upgrades rather than hardware replacement.
With both those technologies fast becoming standard, if you’re looking at a new model on which they’re optional, you might do well to take the pain now, at least at base level. Some of the German makers offer premium upgrades on standard-issue systems, with audio systems by big names like BOSE, and better navigation packages with larger screens. An example is Audi’s MultiMedia Interface – $6200 on a Q5.
Indeed, the premium German marques are masters in the art of indicative-only base pricing. As part of their love affair with conspicuous consumers, these brands serve up long, complex option lists inviting you to add tens of thousands to your final purchase.
You can spend well over $5000, for example, upgrading the seating in your Porsche, while many such makers want $2000 to $3000 for xenon headlamps. Lotus charges $7000 for rear seats in its Evora 2+2 [Ed: it’s a 2+0 standard!], Lexus LS600hL buyers pay about the same to fit a third backside in the rear, while at the very top end, Bentley’s Naim audio upgrade costs more than $15,000.
On the matter of colour, metallic paint is often laugh-out-loud costly among luxury brands. A bit of extra sparkle on your Q5 will cost you $1900, while Lotus asks $3000 for ‘Lifestyle Paint’ on its Elise.
The industry as a whole has been exposed a number of times on this count. Many brands skew their duco lists heavily towards extra-cost metallics, forcing many buyers to either pay up now or wait for the standard hue. Note how somehow silver has become the new white?
Lastly come the options that shouldn’t be options. Namely, the safety features, of which stability control is the best example. It’s common, but some low-enders like Kia’s Rio, Suzuki’s base Alto and Proton’s S16 either don’t have it at all or offer it as an option. So convincing is stability control in its capacity to save lives – particularly on youth-market models like these – that the federal government is making it compulsory on all cars, people movers and 4WDs sold new in Australia from January 2011.
The situation is similar with airbags. In a nutshell, the more the better. Curtain airbags are proven lifesavers, yet remain lamentably optional on as many models as they are standard. Kia adds $1500 to the Rio’s base price for a package of side and curtain bags along with… antilock braking – a technology that’s been around too long to be optional on anything.