Reader RDB commented:
Do you think that automakers will ever make it possible to buy a car with fewer features as opposed to cars that continue to have more features? The basics like PS, PB, power windows, AC, cruise are a given and I prefer these things on my vehicle. But I can live without bluetooth, a nav system, 42 sensors telling me I am about to run over something, tire pressure sensors and the list goes on and on. By this rant you can probably tell I'm 50+.The short answer is "No."
I know manufacturers have tried some stripped down models or more inexpensive versions, but I wonder if they were marketed correctly.
We haven't bought a new car in almost 15 years. It's hard to justify the cost of a new one...
Many of those "luxuries" like tire pressure sensors are federally mandated. The reasons given for mandating TPS were underinflated tires disintegrating and causing accidents and to help improve fleet fuel economy.
Other luxuries were driven by "customer voices" like Consumers Reports and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The growth in vehicle complexity and cost is a four-strand braid composed of the consumer's willingness to pay for features, the industry's pricing models, the economics of production and external mandates.
I am going to detour into the price of housing because I think it is more intuitive.
Consider a person who wants to build a small cottage in the country. The prices I throw out may be completely unrealistic in your part of the country but understand this is simply to illustrate a concept.
Suppose the lot cost $40,000.
Suppose the well, the driveway, the garage and the septic/drain-field cost $10,000 each.
The builder will have $80,000 into the project before he pours the foundation.
From the buyer's standpoint, the price he is willing to pay is primarily based on the square-footage. Imagine the buyer wants a thousand square-foot cottage. Looking at existing structures of that size he might expect to pay $100k-to-$120k.
The builder cannot build that cottage for $40,000 ($120k-$80k). He will lose money.
Suppose the builder quotes $160k and the buyer agrees. The builder starts the cottage as planned and the buyer finds an existing property for a better price. They buyer bails out on the project. The builder is screwed. He cannot unload the property for what he will have into it.
If, on the other hand, the "cottage" was 2500 square-feet, the builder is protected even if the buyer bails out because 2500 square-feet offers the builder enough pricing power.
In the case of autos, those hidden costs analogous to septic, driveway, etc. are the content forced into the product by stakeholders who are not paying for the vehicle.
What ends up happening is that golf carts and ATVs and gators evolve to "look" like primitive cars and small trucks and fill that niche. When there are enough of them running around on public roads to attract attention you can expect legislation to be written that will impact them.