A Crazy Challenge for Manufacturers to Benefit New Drivers

We want to throw a truly crazy challenge at automakers. It falls out an item we saw in Consumer Reports, so we’ll start there.

Teen driverEvery year, they put together a list of the best used cars for teens, and they did so again this year in late January. They range in price from a low of $3,000 to nearly 10 times that. And its a great list, based essentially on reliability for the dollar. You can find it here.

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This really got us thinking. For decades, we’ve all lived with the hand-me-down paradigm, where a new teen driver gets someone else’s pre owned car, the old family car, big brother’s old car, etc. And this was fine when a car’s safety meant a seat belt, and good tires and brakes. But now, now, safety includes an expanded list with the likes of front air bags, anti-lock brakes and stability control. And the latest? Multiple air bags, automatic braking and blind spot detection, and more.

So who are our most vulnerable drivers? Clearly those with the least experience and teenagers in particular. So, a challenge — for someone in the industry to assemble a new car intended for first time drivers at a truly affordable price point, while including the latest safety features to help keep these drivers as safe as possible.

Kia SoulSo now we’ll try to show why this just might be possible. We will use the Kia Soul as an example. This is not to pick on Kia in particular, because what we will illustrate is pretty much how all new cars are sold. Rather we chose the car because, while it actually sells to a broader range of drivers, its intended demographic is younger. It also acknowledges that a new driver will want to drive something that fits.

The Soul has nearly every safety feature imaginable available. But lets look at how the car is actually sold. As you can see it is available in three trim levels. We’ve checked off the base model, which starts at $16,200.

We next look at available options, and all we have are a list of appearance items. So we move up to the Plus model, where we now start at $20,400, getting a larger engine, automatic transmission a 7-inch touch screen and back up camera, and automatic temperature control, most of which we can live without.

Now, moving to packages, we find the Primo Lit Package, which at $4,500 has the safety features we want, but we can’t check it off without first adding the Audio Package, another $1,500. We also found that the Primo package was also unavailable in the first three colors we chose. Why the hell is that???

In any case, the resulting car is now going to cost over $26,000. We started at a base of $16,000 and in order to get the safety features we want, we were in fact forced to step up to the second level car and then forced to buy an audio package with things like satin chrome door handles , a leather wrapped steering wheel, and more. And then, in the package that includes the our safety features, we now find a panoramic sunroof, led lighting, leather seats, heated seats — front and rear and on and on!And again, nearly every manufacturer does this in one form or another.

Now its virtually impossible to accurately say what each of the add ons costs, but for sake of argument lets divide by two and make a safety package worth $2,250. Then lets go back to the base model car. We’ll concede that automatic braking should only be included on a vehicle with an automatic transmission, so we’ll add it at $1,600 to the base price of $16,200.

We can then perhaps build a safety-packaged model for $20,000 or dollars.

Now, looking at our list of safety features, rear cross traffic alert is going to require the back up camera that is found in the Plus model we walked back from. But we are comfortable with stating the our package list at 50% the the Primo price likely has room for the back up camera. We can also do without Smart Cruise Control if there’s additional cost, but it may simply fall out of the first two items.

Now $20,000 is still a bit steep for a first time car buy, but its a far cry from $27,000, and then the challenge for manufacturers is not only to remove what unnecessary, but to find additional savings and maybe, just maybe produce a safety-oriented automobile at a price point closer to $15,000, that just might have some attractive lease potential.

And a final thought — since we are still several years away from self driving cars, wouldn’t we want a car like the one we assembled in the hands of a good many of our older drivers as well?

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Now for sure the industry will just throw its hands in the air and just say it can’t be done. So, how about someone not cede all the it can’t be done glory to Elon Musk and make it happen.

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