When it comes to ordering new cars, buyers are finding you can’t always get what you want.
Automakers are drastically cutting the potential combinations of trim levels and options in a trend that recently has accelerated:
Buick offers its new Verano compact in only 18 potential combinations of trims and options.
Volkswagen slashed the ways you can order a Passat midsize sedan from 148 to 15.
Toyota cut the ordering complexity of its current-generation Sienna minivan by 80%.
Automakers say fewer choices lead to higher quality because they perfect the few configurations. It avoids “creating complexity for the sake of complexity,” says Chuck Russell, General Motors director of compact cars in North America.
It also cuts costs with fewer combinations to plan for and track on assembly lines, and it simplifies inventory planning for dealers.
One way automakers cut complexity is to herd options into “packages.” Sienna’s “preferred” package, for example, bundles power side doors with satellite radio. To get a Passat with a sunroof, you also must buy the premium sound system.
The potential downside: “You end up buying things you don’t want or need in order to get things you do want or need,” says John O’Dell, a senior editor for car research site Edmunds.com.
Automakers say the lower costs may be passed on to buyers and that they’ve gotten better at figuring out bundles buyers want.
“It’s actually a relief. They are removing the work of trying to figure out what I want,” says Kristen Andersson, senior analyst for shopping site TrueCar.com, who says buyers can even end up happier, with goodies they wouldn’t have ordered but later love.
Not all makers are embracing the trend. High-end brands are more likely to still let buyers pick and choose. About 30% of Porsche buyers, for instance, custom order their cars. “It’s expensive to do it the way we do it,” spokesman Dave Engelman says. “It slows down the assembly line.”
Even mainstream makers are going that way for key models:
Chrysler Group, for example, has cut combinations on many vehicles, such as reducing the number of ways you can order some of its biggest-selling vehicles for 2012, like Dodge Durango crossover or the Grand Caravan minivan. It reduced trim levels to five, down from 12, then but for its $15,995-to-start, all-new 2013 Dodge Dart compact, it is allowing custom factory orders in up to 100,000 combinations.
Dodge Director Richard Cox says à la carte choices include “citrus peel” paint — a “vivid greeny yellow” — and push-button ignition. “They might want the 8.4-inch touch-screen but don’t want navigation. We give them the ability to get that (without having to buy) a $3,000 package.”