There's a low-volume growth market in Canada for vehicles that are one-of-a-kind designs.
For $1,000, customers can meet with Canadian fashion designer Sid Neigum who will help them come up with ideas for a car to reflect their personality, or at least their budget. It’s a new service offered through Pfaff Autos of Vaughan, Ont. Two of Neigum’s designs, a BMW 7 Series and an Audi Q7, have been sold.
“We’re treating it as a differentiator rather than a major driver of sales,” said Laurance Yap, director of marketing for Pfaff Motors Inc. “You can buy an Audi or a Porsche or a BMW from a number of different dealerships, so we want to give people a reason to come to us.”
The choices are almost limitless.
“There are options that aren’t even on the [online] configurator,” said Yap. For Porsche, “there are these things called CXX options. You tick the box and then the factory calls you and says, ‘What do you want to do?’”
Such factory customization has long been possible for premium brands. BMW Individual, Audi Exclusive and Mercedes-Benz Designo all offer one-off choices for paint, leather, woodwork and other design elements.
“We get people who just want something that absolutely no one else has,” said Matthew Wilson, BMW Canada’s national manager for product planning. “They’ll ask us if this (paint) colour has been produced yet. They want to know that they have the only one in the country.”
It’s not a large number — about 100 of the 38,000 cars BMW Canada sold in 2016 were highly customized by the factory, Wilson said — but it’s considered a service to drive loyalty to the brand. “The profit, based on the volumes, is quite insignificant.”
It can cost thousands of dollars for a different paint job because it’s no longer part of the assembly-line process. The paint must be approved, likely tested and verified, and the vehicle removed from the line and taken to a special painting facility.
If customers have the time to wait for intensive changes, the sky is the limit, from custom leather to exotic woods. This is where designers such as Neigum come in. “We’ll try to guide and give some options,” Wilson said, but when it comes to taste, “There are some customers who produce things we wouldn’t otherwise produce, but that may be their personal taste. They’re allowed to order whatever they want, at the end of the day.”
Mercedes-Benz, however, is not so forgiving.
“Some people, they have money, but they don’t have taste,” says JoAnne Caza, Mercedes-BenzCanada director of communica-tions. “(Mercedes in) Germany has kind of put its foot down and said, ‘We want to be able to control the population of cars, and be sure they look good. That you’re not putting a bubble-gum pink interior with a caramel exterior, or whatever.’”
ORIGINAL, NOT GARISH
Mercedes offers an extensive range of factory-approved options through its Designo program, all created by designers in Germany to make the car original but not garish. “The amount of interior choices: colours, leather options, trim choices, even paint finishes, has expanded into more of a series-run of options, to give customers that choice without having to go through more of a personalized delivery process,” said David Sherrard, national manager for product management.
“The company has tried to adapt and respond to the request for more customization, but to do so in a way that it can actually be done in series production. The level of customization is certainly there and probably greater than it was before, but it’s being done now in a way that has a lot more benefit to our customers and our dealers.”