Guess how many of the Honda Civic sedans sold in Canada last year were the base DX trim. One per cent. Only one buyer in 100 chose the most affordable model. Or how about the entry-level Nissan Micra, the subcompact that debuted in 2014 at less than $10,000? Usually less than 10 per cent of Micra sales actually were the $9,988 version.
Even bargain-basement car shoppers want more than just the bare-bones. These days, the Micra’s base MSRP has edged up to $10,488, but what hasn’t changed is that manual transmission is mandatory and air conditioning is not an option. Most people do want auto and air. Both are available in a Micra – but for $14,298.
As for Honda, the Civic DX currently MSRPs for $18,390, but like the Micra S, it’s stick-shift with no A/C. Last year, most Civic sedan buyers chose either the LX trim (45 per cent), which asks almost $23,000 with the optional automatic; or the EX (27 per cent) which for $25,390 includes auto and air (actually dual-zone climate control) plus a power moonroof and other nice-to-have non-essentials.
The remaining 27 per cent of Civic-sedan buyers paid even more, indulging their wants and stroking their egos with higher-level Sport, Touring or Si trims.
So it goes throughout the industry. Car shoppers willingly pay extra for features they don’t need but which please them in some way or other. And here’s the thing – whether it’s a more powerful engine, a sunroof, a leather-and-lumber-wrapped interior or just a less-car-for-more-money premium nameplate, nobody expects to make a profit on it.
Indeed, unless you’re a high roller who wheels and deals in historic Ferrari GTOs and classic Shelby Mustangs, there is no financial payback on car ownership. It’s pay-through-the-nose from the moment you drive off the lot. At best, you can hope decent resale value will soften the depreciation hit.
Payback? Heck, most extra-cost options also increase daily running expenses. Added weight, aerodynamic drag, higher electric loads or increased performance can all drag down fuel economy.
There is, however, one option available on many vehicles that can save meaningful gas money – and yet it seems those who choose it are the only buyers who are obliged to justify their choice by showing a positive return on investment. I’m talking about powertrain options that reduce or replace fossil-fuel consumption.
I’m as guilty as anyone. When I review a diesel or hybrid or electric vehicle, I feel duty-bound to calculate and report the likely pay-back period (never mind the unknowns, such as resale value and future energy prices, that could totally invalidate such projections). And yes, there are some buyers for whom it is all about the bottom line. If you have a lengthy commute or drive for work, there’s no point slashing your gas consumption if the dollar savings don’t exceed the higher initial outlay.
But we’ve already established that many of us happily pay a premium for features we don’t really need but which enhance our driving pleasure or comfort. So why can’t some of us pay the premium for a diesel or an electrified vehicle just because … well, because?
I don’t like sunroofs, and I prefer fabric upholstery to leather. My self-esteem doesn’t need to be inflated by premium nameplate. And living in the Greater Toronto Area, how can I responsibly enjoy a high-performance engine on public roads? But the challenge and the achievement of saving fuel? That makes me feel good.
I’m not a complete eco-wuss. There’s a 1995 BMW M3 project car in my garage, which I plan to take to the track when it’s ready. But since long before anyone cared about climate change, I’ve enjoyed the challenge of maximizing fuel economy. I’ve competed in fuel-economy rallies. I’ve modded my hobby cars for greater fuel efficiency. I’m part of a movement they call hypermiling – the virtuous, socially responsible counterpoint to hot-rodding.
Consuming less fuel is what drives me, but that doesn’t mean fuel-efficient technologies can’t also provide actual driving pleasure; don’t knock it if you’ve never experienced the opulent torque of a diesel, the silence of a hybrid running in electric mode, the silken effortless acceleration of a battery electric vehicle. All this, while spending less money on fuel.
And beyond all that is the socially redeeming virtue of consuming less carbon-based energy: mitigating carbon emissions; conserving a finite resource; reducing dependence on energy imported from hostile foreign dictatorships.
So go ahead. Spend a few grand on the Premium Package with the motorized skylight and cow-skin armchairs. Feel free to splurge on a luxury-brand nameplate that makes you feel special. We’re not judging you. But if some of you prefer options that let you feel good about doing the right thing, just do it.
If in the long run the savings provide a positive return on investment, so much the better. Just don’t let anyone say you’re obliged to justify your choice by showing black ink on the bottom line of some accountant’s spreadsheet.
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