Axon's Automotive Anorak – Build It And They Will Come

12th May 2016
Gary Axon

I should have known better really. Last week an acquaintance that I don’t see very often invited me out for a drink. I instantly smelt a rat.

After a pint my colleague turned the conversation around from catch-up small talk to new cars.  It transpired that as he was looking for something to replace his faithful old Saab 9-5, and wanted my advice on what he should consider buying.


He’d already looked at the websites of a few of the premium car brands, but had got himself thoroughly confused by the vast and bewildering proliferation of new models out there to choose from today.

Let’s take the popular German car brands that he is considering, for example.

For decades, most of these prestige marques offered three or four models in their range, with a 3, 5, 6 and 7-Series, for example, making it logical and easy to understand. Now they all offer at least a dozen distinct models. No wonder by new car buying acquaintance was confused!

For example, fifty years ago, in 1966, Audi offered just one basic model range - the 60-80-90 series – with three different body shells available for the same model, a two-door saloon, four-door saloon and three-door estate, all based upon DKW’s final model, the short-lived F102. Audi’s second post-war model, the more successful Mercedes-Benz developed 100, didn’t appear until 1969.

By comparison, today Audi offers 24 different body types, spread across 13 separate model ranges, segmented even further once you add in S, RS and All Road derivatives, plus a myriad of engines, for example. 


It’s a similar story with BMW.  In 1966 the Bavarian manufacturer sold just three model ranges in the UK, the 02-Series (1600. 2002, etc.), the Neuer Klasse (1500, 1800) and the overlooked 2000 Coupe. Today, the BMW range extends to a dizzy 27 body types, with no less than 16 distinct models, and that’s excluding the performance M derivatives.

Back in ’66 Mercedes-Benz sold just four models in the UK, the mid-size W114 saloons, the W112 ‘S-Class’, the stylish ‘Pagoda’ SL roadster, plus the special-order-only range-topping 600 limo. Fast forward 50 years, and today the 2016 Mercedes-Benz line-up runs to 19 models, spread over 28 body styles. Phew, it’s no wonder new car buyers get confused now!

It’s a similar theme for the more mainstream car brands too.  Fifty years back, Volkswagen, for example, sold four basic passenger car models in the UK, the Type 1 chassis-based Beetle and Karmann Ghia, plus the Type 3 1600 and razor-edge Karmann Ghia 1600 coupe. And today? Well, how does a range of 14 models grab you, with a mind-boggling 23 body types to select from. It’s a similar story too with Ford (four basic model types in 1966, 13 today), Vauxhall (three basic model families in ’66, 12 today), Peugeot (two models in 1966, 10 now), and so on.


Although is it great to have a much broader choice of new cars today than our parents and grand parents did 50 years ago, do we really need quite so many derivatives? Who is it that has asked for a three-box saloon version to be added to the existing hatchback range, for example, as well as an all-wheel-drive version with a tougher ‘off-road’ look, or an even more powerful higher performance version, and so on…

Having worked in new product strategy for one of the European premium car brands for many years, I know and understand just how difficult and expensive it can be to invest in a new model derivative, never mind a brand new model itself. Countless hours spent in the design studio, engineering, and consumer research clinics often puts paid to a new model ever seeing the light of day, so it’s somewhat miraculous to see just so many new models and versions of it available these days. As long as they all make a profit and continue to find willing buyers, that’s fine, but I really do wonder with some of the more self-indulgent models and engine types.

As for my acquaintance, he’s settled on a new Audi A6 Avant estate, but he’s now just got to narrow down his choice down to one of the 27 trim levels and engine available. I don’t envy him the task!

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