Car Design and Pricing


I was sitting on my soap box yesterday and thinking about car pricing and design and wondering about some of the rationale of car companies.

This train of thought started on my way home from the Hamilton 400 where I was the guest of Navman and Ford New Zealand who hosted me royally, thank you very much. I had lots of time to think about this because my trip of 120 or so km took me 4 hours as it seemed that most of the 60,000 people attending were taking the same trip north after a great day of V8 motor racing.

The first thing that I wondered about was why a Holden Commodore cost so much more than a Ford Falcon. What do they put in those cars that make them worth a huge premium? When it comes to German precision and safety and having had brief opportunities to drive BMW 6 and 7 Series cars, I can see where they get to charge a premium. They offer both highly sophisticated features including at the safety level and with new requirements such as ADAS,(which will include things like warning if you move out of your lane, monitoring distance and speed of the car in front of you, checking your eyes to see if you are alert and awake etc) they will continue to be in the forefront.

But when I was looking for my next car and comparing cars like the Commodore and the Falcon, I could not understand the price difference and even less when comparing to the features offered in Japanese cars today. You will appreciate that being a toy boy, I like to have gadgets and features as well as sleek lines and lots of power, so when I looked at entry level Commodores, I couldn’t see what the fuss was about.

Sure Commodore won the V8 series, but that was in a $500,000 racing car, not a street car. Anyway after pondering this for some time, I decided that the premium was about status and brand value, not necessarily about the end experience and practical value, which I am sure the manufacturers will argue, but not to my satisfaction as a consumer.

Then my thought process went on to the design of cars and the accessories and features included and decided that we are being ripped off. What a difference there is between concept cars and the cars that we get to buy. My theory is that they come up with a huge number of innovations and drip feed them to us so that they have something to offer into the next model to make us update our car.

The shape of cars doesn’t change significantly. Cars have slowly become more aerodynamic, which means improved performance through less drag. With the cost and future scarcity of petrol, performance is going to become far more important. Why do they move from the bulky square edged gas guzzlers to sleek aerodynamic shapes over 15 years of model enhancements instead of immediately? Are they afraid that they will not be able to come up with new design enhancements? Isn’t it likely that if they dramatically improve car design, features and accessories in one go that their cars will sell more competitively and be more popular. Given how creative people are in the industry (look at the annual Honda car design awards or the annual solar energy races they have in Australia), isn’t it likely that car design would radically improve at an ever increasing pace? It seems as though the industry is deliberately holding back.

I hope that one or two brands of car get the message and start sharing their creativity with us. We should have small (but impact safe) town cars that can slide sideways into tiny car parks in the city and have larger comfortable but economic sleek cruisers that are fun to drive and own for out of town driving, with all the features one would expect like ADAS, navigation with real time traffic, events, reservations for food and accomodation, electric seat memory controls, iPod dock, heated and cooled cup holders, personalised audio and climate control memory, tyre tread sensors and loads more, like TV, games and DVD players for rear seat passengers, interenet browsing……………………………

Imagine, if that was the starting point, how car design would develop for the future, the pace of change and growth would be unbelievable and people would happily upgrade their cars to new models more frequently.