Car trim levels have always been the trick of the marketer, and the one I have noticed the most—probably because of its huge range in the UK—is that of Ford. Many car nuts my age can rattle off the Escort Mk II trim levels of base, Popular, Popular L, L, GL, S and Ghia, and Mexico and RS2000—letters or words that denoted how well equipped a car was, even if, fundamentally, they all looked roughly the same and they all went equally fast. Unless you opted for a bigger or smaller engine. But you were buying an Escort for three reasons: you were a ﬂeet manager, you were a private buyer who conformed, or you wanted to relive either Doyle off The Professionals or successful European or Mexican rallies.
Back in those days, they made some sense, mostly by counting the number of letters used. Nowadays, they seem harder to follow, because people do not wish to be separated by trim levels any more. Chevrolet followed such a course with one of the last Camaros: if you didn’t go for a Z-28, you weren’t treated (by pony car standards) as a pauper. The public tended to ﬁnd it harder to separate if you had gone with the cheap model, or a high-line one.
This is a reﬂection of how we don’t appreciate trim-level snobbery any more: that the person who buys a Focus Platinum deserves as much respect as someone who has a regular Focus. Both look pretty good—the base Focus no longer appears stripped-down from the outside. But Ford’s trim names are particularly tricky now.
There is a trim level called Zetec, named after a type of engine Ford used. In the case of the old Mondeo, it denoted a model that did not have a Zetec engine.
There is a trim level called Ghia, a car design studio in Torino. In the case of most Fords, it denotes a model that has no connection with the Ghia studios.
The Renault Scénic, not ofﬁcially the Mégane Scénic as it was at launch, still bears a little Mégane legend in the B-pillar, so why not refer to the Mégane heritage?
At Holden, the new Commodore has a trim level called Omega, which is also the model name it will have in Brazil; and the intermediate model continues to be called Berlina, but it is, according to the badging not a Commodore Berlina—the name it once possessed in the mid-1980s. To an Italian, Berlina Wagon seems contradictory. To the neophyte, the names are meaningless because (s)he does not know if the car is well equipped or not.
I don’t really enjoy this confusion, and I wonder if these tricky names mean anything to twenty-ﬁrst-century consumers. But since we no longer go for separating cars with L and GL these days, it is no wonder we have gone for names instead—names that are incomprehensible to all but the dealer and the car nut.
There has to be a better way to inform consumers. Sure, there’s the web search, which most people will do when car-shopping. Comparing trim levels between models is laborious and the tables are usually biased, anyway, if you see them in an ad or brochure.
Is it time to reintroduce the easy-to-understand trim level codes again—we can count letters like kids counted portholes in Buicks—or have we moved well beyond that in 2006? Do we shout simplicity: offer one trim, well equipped?
That theory does not really wash as people are very affected by prices in this business. But pretentious names, to me, don’t sound like informing the consumer that well, either. Posted by Jack Yan, 13:24
This is way off topic but I have to say, if you could give BMW a call or a letter or something and tell them how their latest design really stinks, it would be greatly appreciated. After the year 2000, it all went down hill. I know they hired the new American designer and head honcho but that was a mistake and when I am done driving MINE (a 2000 528i) I will move on to something else, probably a Merc or Lexus or something. Please Jack see what you can do.
I used to work in product planning at GM's Saturn division here in the U.S. and trim level determination and optioning is not an easy thing. And we weren't trying to fool anybody. It's difficult to come up with names for the trim levels. (We had the ION.1, ION.2, and ION.3) but that is being changed in the future, (now that I'm not there), to more tradional lettered trim levels like XR. Once you decide how many trim levels and what names to give them, then you have to figure out how to give them appropriate levels of standard equipment to make everybody happy. You have to differentiate in terms of standard content and price as well as optional content either free-flow or in option packages. This seems trivial but it can have a significant impact on profitability for a vehicle line, especially when there are powertrain differences between the trim levels. That even impacts volumes which have an impact on meeting government fuel economy requirements, (CAFE in the U.S.).
By the way, thanks for the mention on your blog regarding 25peeps. You did quite well to get into the hall of fame!
Blackops, I am not sure if my word will do much at BMW, but you have a lot of allies when it comes to Mr Bangle’s work. Have you considered an Audi, or is it driven at the “wrong end” for you? (I certainly prefer rear-wheel drive—my ﬁrst front-wheel-drive car took some getting used to.)
Atul, I had always wondered how these trim levels came about and I am really happy to read of your experiences.
How did the letters come about? I note that the base trim level always sounded fancier by the year: with the Opel Vectra A sold in New Zealand in the 1980s and early 1990s, CD was the top trim’s name. With the current Holden Vectra C, CD is the base model. Ford Telstars went from no-name to GLEi in their lifetime. Just idle curiosity, really.
Funny you should say that, I have considered Audi, since I dont believe I would be losing much in quality and driving experience and I like the all wheel drive aspect of them as well. I figured since you are so much more versed at dealing with folks on this level (the car leve) you could be on the one to champion the Beemer cause. I just dont see myself getting another beem unless they fix this design. We shall see, my car has much life to it left, its only got 96,000 MILES on it.Post a Comment
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