It can be difficult to navigate the huge choice of models available from car manufacturers when it comes to choosing a new car these days. Coupe, convertible, crossover, four door coupe, SUV, MPV – what will it be? This week Caroline Kidd considers the explosion in the number of niche car models and crossovers onto the market in recent years. Why has the car industry taken this approach to sell cars?
Last month MINI unveiled the Paceman at the Paris Motor Show. MINI describes this new model as a “sports activity coupe” which is a perfect example of a niche vehicle.
Indeed, MINI itself is a good example of a brand who have taken a basic car design and used it to spawn a series of distinctly different incarnations of the same car. The original MINI hatchback, launched by BMW in 2001, has already produced the Clubman, Roadster, Coupe, Convertible and Countryman models. The new Paceman will be the seventh variant of what is essentially the same car underneath. With that sort of line-up there has to be a car to suit all tastes and needs in the MINI range.
But MINI aren’t the only ones who have recognized the value of creating several models based on one design. There has been a steady stream of niche and crossover models entering the market from car manufacturers over the last few years. Buying a car has become a bit like a trip to the supermarket; the choice available for even the simplest product, like a tube of toothpaste, can be bewildering!
But there must be a reason why car manufacturers are producing so many niche and crossover models. More importantly, such cars would not be produced if there was no market for them so we must be buying these cars too.
Niche vehicles provide something a bit different which may appeal to a new class of buyer. The increase in coupe and crossovers is likely to be a response to a younger generation of buyers and their preference for innovative styling. More and more they emerge from the premium brands like BMW and Audi. These vehicles expand their market line up to gain a greater market share over their competitors.
Competition is an important factor. If one car manufacturer begins making a car in a niche segment, other car manufacturers will naturally want a slice of that market too and will want to develop their own model to compete for sales.
Take for example the German luxury brands Mercedes, Audi and BMW. In 2004, Mercedes led the way with the concept of a four door coupe when they launched the CLS. Audi and BMW have released their own models to gain some of the Mercedes market share; the Audi A7 and the BMW 6-series Gran Coupe are obvious competition for the Mercedes in this segment.
Why do “premium” brands indulge in this proliferation of models based on a standard car? Luxury car buyers tend to be fussier. They want a car with the latest technology and a luxury finish so it is not possible for these brands to produce cars at low cost and sell lots of cars cheaply to make a profit. “Instead they offer more niche vehicles and broaden the appeal to more consumers while staying true to the brand’s reputation and heritage,” says motoring journalist and www.wheelsforwomen.ie founder Geraldine Herbert
Producing multiple vehicles with a similar architecture also makes good economic sense for car manufacturers and helps them to cut costs. But there is a downside. “The increased trend to squeeze as many vehicles from the same platform is likely to be contributing to the rise in recalls,” says Geraldine.
Odd and quirky like the Paceman, big and opulent like the Audi A7, or a saloon on steroids like the BMW X6, niche and crossover models come in all shapes and sizes. The question is how do you like yours?
18th October, 2012