Thu | Dec 8, 2016

Car designs shape choice - New models influence demand for, against purchase

Published:Sunday | September 7, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Kent LaCroix
The new shape Toyota Yaris. - Contributed
Sam McKenzie
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Sheldon Williams, Gleaner Writer

Automobiles do not change shape quickly and frequently as autobots responding to commands from their leader Optimus Prime in the Transformers movie series. However, exterior styling continues to influence consumer choice heavily.

Chairman of the Automobile Dealers Association (ADA), Kent LaCroix, explained that manufacturers consider several factors before they decide to change an automobile's shape. "It is all up to the manufacturer in terms of how feasible it is for them to change shape, depending on how expensive it was to initially make that vehicle," LaCroix said.

"They have to make sure they will be able to make back their initial cost. It is not just something on a piece of paper; it is machinery.There are different dyes to be made and metals to cut."

He also said due diligence contributes to manufacturer choice. "Many of the manufacturers have a research and development department which looks at a trend, looks at what other consumers are doing and what other brands are doing, and then effectively come up with what they think is going to be best for them to sell as many vehicles as possible," LaCroix said.

However, he pointed out that the impact of a vehicle's shape on the potential buyer varies. "The shape of a car to some people is very important, but to others it is not necessarily as important. Usually, vehicle shapes are changed maybe once every four years, some of them last longer, depending on how well that product has done in a particular marketplace," LaCroix said.

LaCroix noted that dealers have to be mindful about how they announce the arrival of the changed shape of a particular model, because it might have an adverse effect on its predecessor. "Customers are going to want the newer model year as soon as they hear it is going to come out," he said. "Particularly at this time of the year, because we have new models coming out, whether they change shape or not."

According to some local new-car dealers, consumers give mixed reviews to shape changes. Sam McKenzie, general manager at ATL Automotive, said Honda models undergo a minor model change every three years and a full model change every five to seven years. He explained that shape changes are welcomed by dealers, but the consumers are usually divided.

He reasoned that it matters to car designers and dealers because "it allows designers to continuously upgrade and reinvent the brand to meet or exceed consumers' ever-evolving demand for greater quality and dependability ... Dealers welcome a shape change, because it keeps the car trendy, increases sales and shows creativity and engineering/technological prowess for their brand."

On the other hand, McKenzie said, "Consumers
have mixed reactions to shape changes, depending on their individual
needs or sense of style. However, they generally accept it because these
days the competition is so tight that automotive manufacturers are
going all out to come out ahead of the
competition."

He noted that other consumers readily
accept a change because of the favourable attention it garners. "They
tend to quickly gravitate towards a new shape because of the image that
they own the newest and hottest thing on the market," McKenzie
said.

However, he said, "The regular customer who's
just looking for a good deal might take advantage of a model year-end
sale or other special offer ahead of a shape change, as that buyer is
not highly concerned about owning the newest
model."

David Crawford, marketing officer at Fidelity
Motors, said there are shape changes to Nissan vehicles every three to
five years. "Some customers really love shape changes, while others
don't always appreciate them as they may see the change as changing the
spirit of the brand," he said.

He also hinted at
competition as a contributing factor to changing a vehicle's exterior
design. "Shape changes are key to the continued success of any brand.
Brands are constantly modernising their fleets to outdo each other," he
said.

McKenzie said consumers do one of two things
when they are aware of the arrival of a new-shaped vehicle - "either
await the new shape or buy the older model as a collector's
item".

Efficiency

Also influencing
shape change, McKenzie pointed out, is the material being used in the
manufacturing process. "Cars are being made lighter for aerodynamics and
efficiency, plus increased cargo and cabin space, more comfort and
room," he said.

Marcia Reid, sales manager at Kia
Motors Jamaica, identified new material being used in models as an
important factor in shape change. "Vehicles are now being made of
recycled material, which make them more cost-effective to produce," she
said. " The subframes are now made with cast iron technology, which
makes the vehicle more sturdy, safer and ride more smoothly. They have
also designed the crumple zone to fold under the car rather than into
the car, so they are highly rated for safety," she
added.