Do car buyers have too much choice?

Buying a brand new car is an absolute nightmare. And not because you have to negotiate the dealership assault course of pushy salespeople and incomprehensible finance agreements.

No, there’s a much bigger problem, before you’ve even walked through the plate glass door. How the hell do you decide which car you want to buy?

It used to be so simple. Cars came in small, medium or large. Pretty much everything was a saloon; some came as an estate as well. Easy.

The advent of the hatchback added another layer of complication. Then Land Rover invented the SUV with the Range Rover, and Renault came up with the Espace MPV.

Then along came the Renault Scenic, which started the craze for small MPV’s. Though that lasted less than a decade until Nissan launched the Qashqai and unleashed a wave of crossovers.

This continuous invention has opened a seemingly unending quantity of market niches that manufacturers are desperate to fill. As a result, many have catalogues that are looking distinctly bloated.

Audi, for instance, has 45 combinations of model-line and bodystyle. Fourty-five! And that’s before you get into the mind-boggling array of drivetrain and trim combinations.

Let’s suppose you decide what you want is a medium size family car, what the industry now calls the C-segment. But do you want a hatchback, an estate, a crossover, an MPV; a halfway-house between hatch and MPV like the VW Golf SV, or a cross between a crossover and an estate like the SEAT Leon X-Perience? Err…

Quite frankly, you may as well just draw a name out of a hat. Although that wouldn’t actually be much help; you might draw the Vauxhall Insignia and there are well over 200 of those.

I’m lucky. I know rather a lot about cars, so I have a pretty good idea of what I would buy on a given budget for a certain set of circumstances.

Want something cheap and fun? Fiesta ST. Easy. A big estate for 25 grand? Skoda Superb. Bang. A sporty coupe for £35k? BMW M235i. Done.

But if I was like most people in the world and didn’t really know much on the subject, my ears would start bleeding after 10 minutes.

Those 45 Audis I mentioned are just what’s available in the UK. Worldwide there’s about 50. Apparently Audi wants to increase that to 60.

But what’s the point? Surely car manufacturers will get to a point where they are spreading themselves too thinly. While it’s true that many manufacturers, VW Group in particular, are now making huge savings by sharing platforms and major components across dozen of models, they still have to design, develop, build and market those models. That remains a humongously expensive process.

The market must surely reach saturation point, where manufacturers have so many models that it can’t make enough money from any of them to sustain itself.

Or, and I suspect this is more likely, car buyers will become so confused they simply revert back to buying hatchbacks and estates. No matter how little you know about cars, you almost certainly understand what they are.

What do you think?


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