One Car May No Longer Fit All
By Anthony Fontanelle
One car for the family no longer fits all. Car manufacturers mix up auto parts, lines, styles, hues and amenities to especially cater to the needs of a particular cluster of individuals. As evidenced by auto shows and showrooms, car models are now engineered with and for a distinct niche in mind.
The days of the mass auto market is gradually fading. The market has now transformed into a jam of varied types of cars that boasts of different features, amenities and plus factors – indeed, this is quite far from the vehicles of the past. As they evolve to be more powerful, stunning, innovative, and sophisticated, they become more and more diverse and personalized.
Sport utility vehicles, compacts, sedans and crossovers have been tamed without compromising the funky and idiosyncratic charisma. These vehicles have morphed and continued to entertain interesting modifications to captivate more enthusiasts and leave behind passersby awestruck. Off-roaders add a dash of gentleness while crossovers entertain the high-riding feel. They are far-off the "moving boring cubes" on the roads in the past decades.
For every aficionado, there is a niche of cars that consider his personality, lifestyle and income. Based on the recent analysis made by AutoPacific Inc., a research firm, an estimated 50 new automotive nameplates will be introduced in the United States over the next five years, bringing to 277 the number of separate and distinct vehicle choices by 2009. The figure is twice the number of the automobiles that was on the market three decades ago.
With the diversity of options available, even automakers are confused about the type of cars that they are making. "Anytime you don't know what it is, it's a crossover," said General Motors Corp. Vice Chairman Bob Lutz. "The traditional segmentation of the automotive market has just completely broken down."
The changes in the auto industry produced a domino effect on economics. The automakers are facing challenges to spread development expenses over a wide variety of vehicles and invest hundreds of millions of dollars in flexible factories. Tapping the slimmest auto target group is in full throttle. Analysts say that this is a sign of the times and a reflection of the new era of consumer empowerment fueled by advances in technology.
Fashion, media and now, auto industry, is getting personal with their customers. "The customer wants what he wants," said Jim Hall, AutoPacific's vice president. "If you don't give them what they want, somebody else will." Hence, when customers wanted an oozing hot roadster or an SUV hybrid equipped with all the trusted auto parts like the EBC pads, K&N filters, advanced heating and cooling system and more, automakers can readily deliver it to them.
Hot styles, innovative features, as well as exotic combinations - all are part of the recipe for a vehicle that can attract new customers into a showroom. The personalization of cars evolve faster that aficionados expect. The Audi A8, is one good proof, how evolution could be both breath-taking and functional. The car features the ultimate individual touch -- a fingerprint recognition pad that starts the engine and adjusts the seats, mirrors and climate control to the driver's customized settings.
The rush of new models demands personal expression. "Your vehicle is the most expensive suit you'll ever buy," said Marilyn Parrett, a global futuring manager at Ford. "It helps identify who you are." Mark LaNeve, GM's head of North American marketing added, "With the way communication works now because of the Internet, people want to get the latest thing, the newest thing."
"The future is diversity," said Jim Lentz, group vice president for marketing at Toyota. "And the key to the future is flexibility." Lentz points to the Toyota Camry, the best-selling car in the United States, as the symbol for flexibility. "It's a platform where we build 400,000 (units), but three or four different grades to the car so you can target it even more," he said. "The Camry SE has a different suspension, different engine, a different driver feel."
"The market is cluttered and swamped with a super-abundance of quality automobiles," concluded Barbara Caplan of the market-research firm Yankelovich Inc. in Chapel Hill, N.C. "Brand loyalty has to be earned with each and every new product."
About the Author
Anthony Fontanelle is a 35-year-old automotive buff who grew up in the Windy City. He does freelance work for an automotive magazine when he is not busy customizing cars in his shop. Visit EBC pads for more information.
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