Ever notice that every year we get a new model of the same line each automaker made the year before? Well, it’s not a coincidence. When car designers and marketers collaborate to create the new models of car for sale they often start with the features in the last model to see what might be incorporated in a new design.
Why Not Start From Scratch?
While an automaker may decide they have identified a market segment they haven’t yet exploited which requires a whole new model of car, there’s a reason you generally just get a new year’s version of last year’s model. The reason is they’ve sunk a lot of money into establishing that model, creating name/style recognition and reputation, for that model and a certain number of people will buy it simply because they’re looking to replace their old version of that same vehicle.
It’s a big decision to discontinue a model line and it’s not always replaced with a new model in that category. Sometimes it signals a retreat from that category entirely. One example would be when, in 2008, Ford announced that they would no longer continue to produce minivans for sale in the US market. The Aerostar line seemed plagued with reliability issues and sales were lukewarm compared to competitors. Ford needed to start from scratch and that included letting the consumer forget the bad taste in their mouths around the failed minivan.
Then in 2010, Ford returned to the minivan market with their Transit Connect Eurostyle model of delivery van. Given the trend of a family vehicle from Station Wagon to Minivan to SUV, the gamble y Ford to return to minivans seemed a bit crazy. But their strategy included manufacturing the vans as cargo vehicles outside the US and then importing them to be retrofitted as passenger vehicles domestically. This lets them tip their toes back into the minivan market without a full-blown commitment. It also gave them a way to introduce a vehicle that looked so different from it’s predecessor that it didn’t bring the failed Aerostar back to mind. The gamble seems to have paid off.
The Goal is Reinvention:
Selling a car is a strange type of alchemy, as with anything else, it’s impossible to know whether a new style of car or even a new brand will sell. Usually, it’s safer to simply update and add features while staying within the same price point and target market.
There’s always something that can be tweaked, for instance, color. Can we upgrade the suspension and add a roof rack and call it a sports package? Silver is currently the most popular color for cars, but that changes decade by decade. It’s quite tricky to know when tastes in car color will change.
However, the most frequent type of big change is to reinvent the existing line. When creating a new car it’s all about the little improvements, can a two-door work as a four-door? Can a gas car work as a diesel, or maybe as a hybrid? The cars may have similarities to what has gone before, but the small differences make the car.
The First Thing to Look at is the Consumers Need:
Consumer need and desires will change over time. What sells now will not be what sells in a decade’s time, or even in five or six years. This is why new models need to be designed. Even bigger shifts occur though when the actual consumer make up changes.
In the 1980’s it was all about bigger audacious cars, perhaps because automakers were still targeting predominately the male, young-urban-professional. Even though women had been entering the workforce in droves the car industry still perceived that men made the car purchase decisions for families. Cars targeted at women were sporty for single women or second vehicles. This has now changed.
Nowadays, with mass transit, we aren’t so interested in people who live in the bigger cities, though we are still interested in those who work for the big companies. Fuel economy is a winning consideration regardless of gender but the primary family vehicle needs to appeal to women regardless of who actually ends up driving it. The second vehicle is often a truck which may still need to have room for four or five passengers.
In other words, the best sellers are going to be gender neutral small, easily parked cars, or big max passenger vehicles cars, but either way with the best gas mileage possible.
It’s Not All About Size:
The biggest changes may be on the inside. The general trend from year to year is making the car easier to operate. To make it interesting let’s go way back to the earliest Ford’s.
When Ford went from the Model “T” to the Model “A” the outside differences were mainly:
- The Model T has a straight line across the top of the radiator core; the A has a double curve dipping in the middle that looks somewhat like the top of a valentine heart.
- The vertical sides of the T radiator shell are perpendicular and parallel; those of the A slant outwards going down and are not parallel.
- The A has a gas cap in the middle of the cowl; the T has a rectangular vent door there.
- The A has smoother, rounder front fenders.
- The T headlights are painted; the A headlights are shiny metallic.
- The A usually has a black horn immediately below the left headlight.
And so one…pretty small stuff really.
On the inside, however, the car went from having a pedal for every gear including “reverse” and “reverse slow,” to having a transmission and stick shift. The ease of drive move didn’t reduce the cost to build the car, this was a direct result of the consumer base expanding when the car became easier to operate.
Of course, the 1927 “T” and the 1928 “A” were more alike than the 1928 “A” was to many of the later “Model A’s.” The Model “A” Ford had so many different styles that it wouldn’t be considered now one make of car. Some versions had two doors, some had four doors, some were a sedan (that is, had an obvious trunk area). Because the car had so many different functions (mail car, taxi cab, etc.) it wasn’t practical to make all the cars the same.
My How Things Change:
Compare those early models to the current successful model is eye-opening. The most popular car in 2018 was the Honda CR-V, which according to carandriver.com, is a compact car which uses some of the features of a hatchback. Described like that, it’s clear Honda’s not trying to break new ground when they could just give the American public what they like at the moment.
Although what is in vogue in car design changes all the time the Honda CR-V went on the market in 1997 so that’s a good deal of staying. It only really caught on in the American market in 2007, whereas people in Japan or the UK have begun looking for a different make of car. A car maker that can ride a successful design from one country to another without making a significant redesign is a company that’s making money hand over fist.
One Trend Above All:
How does the Honda CR-V and the Model A compare to drive? Well both need gas and oil and new tires once in a while. But the Model A has strange arrangements of levers and rods (such as the choke rod), as with all modern cars, with the Honda it’s mirror, signal, maneuver and then put the key in the ignition. So an automaker is never wrong to focus on easier driving in new year models.
Over ninety or so years many things have changed about a car but they are still about getting from point A to point B in relative comfort and quickly. What never changes is the need to new your customer.