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When did buying a car become so difficult?

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With more than 2.5 million vehicles being bought each year, I never cease to be amazed at the over-complicated ranges of models in the market. It used to be mainly the German manufacturers with long options lists, but nowadays most of them are at it.

Not to rest on their laurels, the Germans have upped the ante even further. Take an Audi A3 Hatchback, for example. There are 31 distinct models, around eight engines and five starter trim levels.

Not surprisingly, there is the same number of by-products for the five-door A3 sports hatch. And as you move up the range, lo and behold, there’s even more choice – more than 40 versions of the A4 saloon and the same for the A4 Avant estate. It’s verging on ridiculous!

When I first set up the London Chrysler Jeep dealership there were only three Jeeps to sell – the Wrangler, the Cherokee 4.0 Ltd and the Grand Cherokee 4.0 Ltd. For a good few years there was only one trim and one engine size and, believe me, Jeep established a good slice of the emerging 4×4 market.

Today the Jeep range consists of the Compass, Wrangler, Patriot, Cherokee, Grand Cherokee and the Commander, all offered with up to five variants. By comparison, the relative market share for all of these models put together is less than that of 15 years ago. They would do well to return to the original line-up and ditch some of these superfluous additions.

Over the past few weeks I have been trying to buy a new car for my daughter and I thought that life would be a lot easier considering all we wanted was a small, popular hatchback…well, think again! How do you choose from the 29 variants of the Fiat Grand Punto, 49 Peugeot 207s, 55 Vauxhall Corsas and a whopping 65 different Renault Clios? Crazy!

What’s worse is that people don’t realise that it doesn’t even help the manufacturers’ bottom line. All these different models add cost in manufacturing, planning and sales, while dealers are left to speculatively order showroom and stock vehicles as if they are entering the lottery.

Beyond the bewilderment of different models, consumers are also faced with a staggering array of manufacturer-fitted options – typically, a choice of more than a dozen colours and trim combinations start off the pick ’n’ mix process of “speccing up” a car.

Even if you have got your head around the list of options, you then have to get to grips with each manufacturer’s “options rules”. In layman’s speak, this means that some options are only available as part of a package. So if you tick one box you would also have to tick some others. Some, on the other hand, are mutually exclusive, so if you have one thing you cannot have another. Even more irksome is that some options in an exterior package require other seemingly unrelated items!

What people are unaware of is that residual values are often depreciated, as poorly “specced up” cars find their values depressed in the used car market. In fact, many cars are valued on the assumption that certain features are standard.

The time has come I feel to bring some common sense to bear. There are so many competing brands that consumers have a hard enough job just selecting the model they want, let alone making a balanced decision about specifying options.

My solution would be to radically reduce the number of variants and choices. There should be a car on offer with a maximum of three engines; one high-performance petrol, one high-economy petrol and one diesel with no more than two trim levels – low and high.

Jaguar has got it spot-on with the newly launched XF saloon, which comes in six varieties, comprising of three engines and two trim levels. What a shame that Ford has to sell Jaguar now with such an exquisite car to launch.

Congratulations to Tata, the likely buyer of Jaguar. They’ve just announced their new model, the Tata Nano. At £1,250, it’s the world’s cheapest new car – and there’s only one version! In my opinion, less is definitely more.

Visit Clive Sutton Premier Marques or his online car dealership at www.motorati.co.uk.

For more articles written by Clive, click here.

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