Stand out from the crowd: How to make your marque

More manufacturers are offering eager buyers the chance to personalise their vehicles and create their dream drive

The early years of motoring were years of choice – at least for the few who could afford to buy a car in the first place. Dozens of companies produced small numbers of one-off vehicles while specialised coach-builders provided bespoke bodywork according to taste. But soon, mass motoring demanded mass production, which meant standardising vehicles.

By the 1990s, the most popular factory-fitted options were features such as power-assisted steering, electric windows and air conditioning: expensive items that made a big difference to the comfort and convenience of drivers and passengers. German premium manufacturers in particular had a reputation for offering bare-bones cars on which even basics such as radios were extra-cost options. As the decade drew to a close, though, most of this equipment, previously the preserve of luxury models, was fitted as standard on even the cheapest runabouts.

Then the options game got a new lease of life. Instead of asking buyers to cough up extra for kit that should have been fitted to their cars in the first place, manufacturers began offering them the chance to personalise their vehicles with options such as special finishes, contrasting roof panels and fancy wheels. Even in North America, where buyers like to turn up and buy a fully loaded new car straight off the lot, the made-to-order approach is gaining ground, notably with BMW's Dream It Build It Drive It programme for the US-built X3 and X5 SAVs.

So why are manufacturers so keen on the idea? Personalisation edges up the average price of each car supplied and a car built to order is not going to sit around on a dealer's forecourt for months or need heavy discounting to get it away. This is especially attractive to mainstream car-makers. Personalisation helps them kick the discounting habit and grab some of the pricing power enjoyed by premium brands. Modern systems make it easier for manufacturers to handle the complexity involved and web and iPad-based configurators instantly show buyers how the choices they make affect the appearance of their future pride and joy.

The Mini kicked off the new trend. Ever since it was reinvented by BMW in 2001, the company has offered a high degree of personalisation. Modern Minis have been available with option packs that group combinations of popular extras at attractive prices. Add features such as bonnet stripes or alternative finishes for items such as door mirrors, and BMW's claim that no two Minis are alike may be correct.

BMW says the average Mini buyer spends a hefty £1,700 on extras but a scheme launched last November, Mini Yours, takes the upgrade game to a new level; the Mini Avenue package, the first to be launched under the programme, costs £4,880. For that, customers get seats covered in satellite grey soda lounge leather, 17-inch alloy wheels and a choice between two metallic paint options. BMW's Mini Park Lane dealership has also delivered one-off cars for customers whose specific tastes can't be accommodated even by the range of choice offered by the extensive Mini personalisation programme, including one with mirror finish paintwork.

Several other manufacturers are taking a leaf out of the Mini book. Fiat has its own cute retro baby, the 500, and is offering a wide choice of colours, wheels and accessories. The company says there are 500,000 ways to personalise its smallest car and is paying particular attention to reinforcing the identity of the characterful two-cylinder TwinAir model, which is offered with options such as black alloy wheels that aren't available on other variants.

Another model that has taken its cue from the Mini is the Citroë* DS3. I used the excellent DS3 configurator to spec up an entry-level car with Dsign trim and a base price of £12,600. Belle ile metallic blue paint and a white roof took the total to £13,330. Another £1,100 for Claudia leather trim and £650 for 17-inch Bellone alloy wheels raised that to £15,080. I liked the signature LED running lights, and added fancy carpets and interior brightwork. Together with a few more options such as a rear roof-spoiler and on-board wi-fi, the total hit £18,166.98, almost 50 per cent more than the starting price. Then I tried customising the most expensive car in the range, the Ultra Prestige, and managed to get that up to £25,316.61.

Another good configurator is Land Rover's one for the Range Rover Evoque. While the Evoque has a comparatively high base price of £27,995 with the least expensive Pure trim, you can spend more than £50,000 if you go for the top-of-the-range Dynamic version and start loading it up. The look and feel of the Evoque's interior can vary remarkably according to the choice of colours and materials. At one extreme you can achieve a modern interpretation of traditional Range Rover wood and leather themes; at the other you can have a completely different, all-black, "technical" look.

So is there such a thing as too much choice when it comes to personalising a car? Certainly, some of the wilder combinations of colours and finishes that can be specified on the configurators might not be great for resale value. And the manufacturers won't thank me for saying it, but online configurators present their cars so well that even no-frills versions still look pretty good. This is especially true of the Evoque, which looks great however you spec it up but comes closest to capturing the spirit of the LRX concept car that inspired it in basic Pure trim. Better too much choice.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Direct Mail Machine Operative

    £13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an i...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

    Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

    Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

    £16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

    Day In a Page

    Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

    Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

    Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US