PARIS -- Mercedes-Benz and BMW are aiming to sell more standardized cars and services to boost profit margins and simplify the complex list of options for buyers -- while also giving them the choice of a bespoke car if they want.
The move is partly aimed at attracting customers who might struggle with the ever growing list of model variants, multimedia features and safety technology available in new cars, the companies say.
Ian Robertson, BMW's board member responsible for sales and marketing, said the new 4-series coupe was being offered with four different trims, and the i8 hybrid sports car was being offered in only three packages of options.
"We have packaged a number of trim levels to help the customer and ourselves, because the complexity was very high. A clearly understandable package was the M sport package," Robertson said, referring to cars equipped with the performance luxury trim which comes with more ornate bumpers and spoilers and top of the line engines.
Standardizing equipment also helped the market to gauge the second-hand value of a car.
"It helps customers with understanding what is available, that also helps with the residual values of the car and therefore the leasing rates," Robertson explained.
Volvo Cars CEO Hakan Samuelsson said the trend to offer more and more choice in equipping cars was over-rated.
"There is no customer desire for all these options. The iPhone has demonstrated that you can compete by selling a good well thought out product," he told Reuters in an interview. "They out-competed rivals who offered many more model variants."
Samuelsson said Volvo has spent the past two years reducing the complexity of its vehicles in a bid to make life easier for buyers, arguing this did not run counter to customer tastes.
"You eat better in a good restaurant where the chef has made a clever combination, than one where you have to ask for what you want," he said, adding that cutting down the options list also helped profitability in manufacturing.
Standardization is also a response to the polarization of customer tastes in various countries.
BMW has, for example, stopped proactively offering manual transmissions in sports cars offered in markets such as the United States, and tends to push four-wheel drive versions in markets such as Austria, Robertson said.
Customers nonetheless have the option to order a bespoke, tailored vehicle if they want to, Robertson said, adding that was still a key part of the premium buying experience.