MY SAY – Don’t fall for vehicle extras

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At the end of July, CAR Magazine ran an online story about how using the configurator on the German automaker’s website, they took a base-model BMW 3-Series and attempted to make it as expensive as possible by way of optional packages and equipment. The result of this little experiment was that this luxury sedan, which with its small 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine good for 100 kW and 220 Nm of torque (I note this because BMW and its drivers like to brand themselves by way of performance), went from the basement price of R498 100, all the way up to a gobsmacking R914 300, near doubling the price of the original car. Two weeks later, they did the same with Mercedes-Benz, using the configurator to take a C180 sedan with a base price of R496 798, and got it up to another crazy total of R894 898.

CAR’s little experiment is a clear demonstration of the importance of looking at new cars as a complete package. It is extremely easy to look at the straightforward retail price of say, a new Volvo or Chevrolet and assume that it comes equipped with all of the creature comforts, a service plan whose duration is as long as the warranty, and enough safety features to save you from a possible write-off. But in actual fact, it is with each of these different aspects that various car companies can catch you short and add a few grand on the final amount (or in BMW’s case, my four years’ worth of university tuition and accommodation).

In today’s day and age, one would be very hard-pressed to find a car that isn’t decked out with your daily conveniences as standard. So far down as a bog-standard Datsun Go, one of the cheapest cars you can buy locally, will get you air-conditioning, and a media outlet such as a radio or audio inputs. Standard equipment is actually where the South Korean brands such as Kia and Hyundai have made the biggest advancements in recent years, with their models regularly appearing in value-for-money lists and rankings. There are some brands that don’t even offer their customers an options list, simply pricing and equipping their vehicles in the manner they prefer, and then presenting them as the whole available package. A good example to this approach is Renault, whose only addition a customer could give their ride is a different shade of metallic paint. On the other end of this cosmetic, and general additions scale do we find the biggest perpetrators of the options list; the Germans. With the exceptions of small-time offenders Opel and Volkswagen whose options lists extend to simply improving upon what one would find in their cars, such as climate control and cruise control, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and their owned brands such as Smart and Mini, have become masters at doubling the initial costs of their cars, making use of both cosmetic and technical alterations that carry exorbitant prices. That is not to say that it’s great that you offer your customers such an extensive level of personalization, and certain technologies (particularly the developments made in autonomous driving) may be too expensive to install as standard, but it has reached a point when cars from the Hinterland have to be bought as bare-bone husks devoid of all the toys that you were promised in the commercials.

But where the Germans redeem themselves is the second aspect that car companies can add extra digits. Higher-end cars will in all likelihood carry a service plan that will adequately cater to their high-end drivers (If you are looking at a car priced at say over R500k, then I would suggest that you back off. Go look at Renault. No bias here, honest). Service and maintenance plans as standard can be varied for any vehicle segment, but what I can make out is owing to a highlighting of these plans in marketing strategies, cars that have higher sales numbers tend to devoid of them. Examples include the Volkswagen Polo Vivo (the best-selling car in South Africa) and the Nissan NP200 (a car that, following Chevrolet’s departure from the country, will have a whole segment all to itself).

The third and final aspect is different to the other two, in that its omission from the package is either a cost-saving measure, or just a result of the vehicle segment. The latter can be met with understanding, with cars like the previously-mentioned Datsun Go and the Renault Kwid. Their prices and subsequent quality reflect those specifications. That is not to say that budget hatchbacks are expected to have meagre safety offerings. Just look at the Toyota Aygo and its four airbags. The former is where those two Koreans, Kia and Hyundai, are very sneakily guilty of, offering their budget hatchacks such as the Picanto and i10 at lower prices, with the price paid by the customer being the absence of ABS.

All these cars and details show the complexities one experiences when looking for a new set of wheels. Always take care when comparing equipment, and to look at the car and all its features as the complete package that it is, not necessarily just things like performance or vehicle size.

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