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back to index backEUROtalk March,  2005

European car options lists spiral upwards

Great for consumers, logistical headaches for carmakers and dealers

The number of optional specifications items available on passenger cars in Europe has increased dramatically according to new research by JATO Dynamics. In 2004 there was an average of 65 optional items available on each passenger car, up from an average of 39 in 1999.

The rise reflects dramatic developments in technologies which have been given automotive applications, such as telematics and info-entertainment, but also increasing emphasis on safety. At the same time, compact, mainstream and affordable cars are being offered with the sort of options lists previously associated with premium models. A mid-range Opel Astra such as the 1.8 Elegance, for example, is available in Germany with 50 options, including such sophisticated items as adaptive lighting, low tyre pressure indicator and hill start assist.

It's great for consumers that their cars can now be equipped as an extension of their homes and offices”, says JATO's Duncan Whitehead. We can work and be entertained on the move, and be given the best route to our destination even if traffic conditions change en route. And we can do so in remarkable safety, keeping a set distance from the car in front and with protection from multiple airbags in a collision.

However, the growth in the number of options available significantly affects the whole process of manufacturing and supplying vehicles. Carmakers have already achieved impressive manufacturing flexibility and responsiveness, but also need more robust ordering systems and additional sales training. Dealer staff in particular will need to be trained more extensively to be able to handle the complexities and communicate the benefits of specific items to consumers.

There are also implications for fleet operators purchasing and running large numbers of vehicles. And the traditional brochure cannot easily accommodate such lengthy specifications lists, so we may ultimately see it migrate to an online environment.”

The highest average number of options per car in 2004 was 91, in Germany. Of the big five markets, Italy was next on 72, followed by the UK and Spain on 60, and France with only 50 options per car.

A possible backlash is already being seen – in both Germany and the UK the number of options available actually dropped between 2003 and 2004, by an average of as much as 12 options per car in Germany's case.

However, with technological progress accelerating this may well be a temporary pattern”, Whitehead comments. The less mature, lower-volume markets, especially in Eastern and Central Europe, will doubtless continue to see growth in the range of options available as their economies and automotive markets grow, while in the more sophisticated markets the trend will increasingly be for consumers to personalise their products with a more bespoke specification.”

Source: JATO Dynamics - GAI

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