Automakers say ‘have it your way’ with myriad options
You can personalize your Nikes, why not your car?
Sales of new cars have leveled out after record years in 2015 and 2016. As the market shrinks, carmakers are offering as many customizable options as possible to grab new buyers and give others reasons to return.
Take Ford Motor Co.’s effort to promote the 2018 Mustang. Fans and owners can use a simple design-engine online to create a custom multi-hued pony-emblem for the grille. The cost to add stripes and swooshes for a horse of a different color is $68. They also can print their painted pony on T-shirts, mugs and stickers.
“When you start to talk about customization from a personalization standpoint, we haven’t seen the limit yet,” said Mark Schaller, Mustang brand manager at Ford. “Every car is set up a little different. There’s always customization in every single Mustang we sell.”
The Mustang is an example of what analysts say is an emerging trend across the industry. Automakers are looking for ways to make their most famous — and profitable — products stand out.
In the market for a new pickup? The 2019 Ram 1500 will debut with seven trim levels, all with different interiors aimed at different buyers.
The Rebel trim is the Ram’s sportiest model, outfitted with red highlights inside, an aggressive grille and off-road tuning.
Ram’s Longhorn trim targets the most specific market: It has a Western theme, which Fiat Chrysler says is a big seller in the Southwest. Its tan-and-brown leather and wood interior is branded with filigrees like you might find on a dinner-plate belt buckle.
Ford’s F-150 has more than 35 build-combinations. The Chevy Silverado has five specific appearance packages.
The 2018 Camaro has four trim levels with varying color schemes and interiors. A Redline Edition blacks out the front and rear emblems, has a red-accented grille, dark-finish tail lamps and 20-inch black wheels.
Toyota offers a Toyota Racing Development off-roading lineup for the Tacoma, 4Runner and Tundra. They get unique badging, blacked-out exterior details and LED lighting in addition to more powerful engines, Kevlar-reinforced tires, skid plates and terrain-control systems.
“It’s certainly good business for automakers,” said Brian Moody, executive editor of Autotrader and analyst with Atlanta-based Cox Automotive. “Without spending a lot of (research and development) money, they give buyers the option to buy a different-looking car but still offering them the car they want.”
Ford’s Schaller says the custom pony badge is one way to keep the product fresh and fun.
Ford is feeling the sales plateau like every other automaker and, while the pickup wars ramp up this year, the Big Three muscle-car teams are battling for market share, too.
“With the new-car market shrinking, automakers are exploring different ways to capture the attention of buyers in order to maintain or grow market share,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of industry analysis for Edmunds, an industry analysis company. “The idea of customization is especially effective in segments where consumers are passionate about their vehicles like sports cars and SUVs. These owners typically delight in making adjustments to their vehicles as a greater reflection of their own personality.”
For the Mustang team, it’s easy to push the envelope with perks. A Mustang customer is already looking for something beyond basic transportation.
“Mustang is never a rational choice,” Schaller said. “Someone never says ‘I want a very practical car’ and walks away with a Mustang. We want that customer to be able to buy in and experience their car in their own way.”