Special Report on the Motor Show (4): A passion for revelry in creature comforts: Martin Derrick picks his way through a glut of in-car accessories for staving off boredom on interminable journeys

THE British car buyer is noted for his love of creature comforts. Sun roofs are almost obligatory on all but the most basic models. Stereo systems more sophisticated than most people have in their own living rooms are commonplace. Electric windows, central locking, fog lights and adjustable steering columns are becoming not so much luxuries but more the norm.

Alfa Romeo was the first manufacturer to offer a CD player as standard on the 164 in the late 1980s. Now, however, it is not enough to offer just the player. Ford, Saab, Jaguar and several other manufacturers are specifying multi-disc systems for their discerning clientele.

For some people, however, it does not seem to matter how sophisticated the 'standard' stereo system is; they demand to be able to choose their own unit. Volkswagen and Audi have therefore got together with Sony to offer a trade-up programme to give that all-important consumer choice.

John Anderson, product manager at Sony UK says: 'It has been assumed that the most expensive hi-fi should be restricted to buyers of the most expensive cars, thus penalising music lovers who purchase lower specification vehicles.

'Although the Golf is fitted with a high-quality Sony radiocassette, the customer can opt for the top-of-the-range CD system. This approach has revolutionised the way car audio is retailed and has now become as important an accessory as sunroofs.'

But the world of hi-fi in and out of cars is changing. Philips is launching its Digital Compact Cassette system at the Motor Show while Sony is coming in later this year with its rival, the recordable Mini-Disc.

Bosch, maker of Blaupunkt, has devised an in-car system that remembers traffic information so that you know which routes to avoid before you start your journey. The Blaupunkt Stockholm stores information about traffic jams and will play the data back at the touch of a button.

But customers with money burning a hole in their pockets can buy far more than hi-fis to personalise their cars. Car phones are becoming commonplace and cellular technology is being extended to include the use of car-based fax machines too. Do we need it? The market appears to answer 'yes'.

Car mats remain the UK's biggest-selling accessory, but there is some sense in this. One of the larger suppliers, Vischer Caravelle, says that not only do they improve the look of the car, but they also help to keep up its value by protecting the existing carpets from dirt and damage. Seat covers also remain big sellers.

And as for keeping children quiet on long journeys, of course the hand-held Nintendo Gameboy has become a godsend for parents.

Casio is also marketing a range of portable colour televisions designed for plugging into the cigarette-lighter socket, which are and supplied with a built-in aerial and earphone option. Prices start at pounds 99.99, which Casio reckons is little enough to pay for 'a peaceful, relaxing and squabble-free journey'. What next? In-car video recorders?

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