Auto makers compete for growing affordable-luxury market
Sales of premium vehicles jumped by about 9 per cent in Canada last year, and show no signs of slowing down
Is there really such a thing as "affordable luxury"?
While many consumers covet a German nameplate, premium marques such as Lincoln, Buick, Acura, Infiniti, Volvo and Genesis are also competing for the growing market.
Automotive sales increased in Canada last year by about 6 per cent, but sales of premium vehicles jumped by about 9 per cent. And it's not slowing down.
"To be very frank, we don't look at the Germans as our true competitors," says Jim Rideout, product marketing manager for Lincoln Canada.
Lincoln's flagship sedan is the new Continental, which stands out in the market by offering many of the comforts and abilities of the big German cars, with a starting price of about $58,000. Top it right out with the 3.0-litre twin-turbo V-6 engine, all-wheel drive, 30-way adjustable front seats and heated rear seats and the MSRP will still be less than $80,000. The Mercedes S-Class starts at $106,000, the BMW 7 Series at $116,500.
Technology is so far ahead of where it was just five years ago that it doesn't have to be expensive to include acoustic glass and sound-muffling foam for a super-quiet ride, or software-managed independent suspension for a smooth glide on poor roads. Mercedes, BMW and Audi are improving on already-exceptional technology, but how much do you really need?
Buyers get more access to content today than previously, says Adam Paterson, managing director of Infiniti Canada.
The Infiniti Q50 sedan, for example, competes against the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, but its starting MSRP of just less than $40,000 includes all-wheel drive. It's much less powerful at that price than the Germans, but even upgrading to an equivalent engine still brings it in at several thousand dollars below their price. The leather is no less thick, nor less heated, and its features are cutting edge, with electronic power steering, voice recognition and full connectivity.
Cars have become so complicated and capable that it can take a couple of hours for a salesperson to guide a customer through all their features. Infiniti, however, has a delivery system in which a customer can see all the features on a tablet and go straight to what they want to know more about. The salesperson is there for additional explanation and a demonstration.
Genesis, Hyundai's luxury brand, has finessed the system even further.
It is selling through storefronts at high-end shopping malls, and a consumer can arrange to buy one online in fewer than 10 minutes. If your Genesis needs servicing or fixing, an "agent" will come to your home or office, leave you with a car and take your vehicle to a Hyundai dealership for the work. The idea is that a Genesis driver will never visit a dealership – especially not a Hyundai dealership – which saves money that can be taken directly from the cost of the car.
This also allows Genesis to sell at a fixed, non-negotiable price online, which is only possible with an agency system, where consumers buy directly from Genesis, rather than through Hyundai's franchise system.
Thanks partly to this approach, the Genesis G80 is an alternative to an Audi A6 or BMW 5 Series or Mercedes-Benz E-Class with a price that starts at least $5,000 less for its equivalent features
Maybe there is such a thing as affordable luxury after all.
At the show
A full-size sedan that promises quiet luxury. The front seats are available with as many as 30 different configurations.
The middle of the pack in the Genesis fleet, which is Hyundai's new premium brand, the G80 offers cutting-edge technology with style and comfort.
More than just a Honda Accord with thicker leather, Acura's performance sedan has every level of technology possible.
A new "sportback" shape to the latest generation of Buick's midsize sedan gives the Regal considerably more practicality for carrying luggage, with a sporty style and attitude.