Motor Show 1993: Why a sunroof might soon cost you the earth: Chris Wright reports on how tax changes will affect accessories for company cars

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The Independent Online
FROM NEXT April, changes to company car taxation will mean that vehicles will no longer be rated by size of engine, but on price - including the cost of any extras which may have been fitted.

Fears that this will have an effect on the take-up of accessories, however, have been played down. Industry analysts do not believe customers will go without their luxuries, because the additional tax burden to company car drivers will be no more than pounds 1 or pounds 2 a month.

The UK's thirst for additional equipment is one reason why vehicles are more often more expensive here than in the rest of Europe.

Most manufacturers and importers produce cars for a central stocking bank, rather than have dealers holding vast stocks, or waiting months for supply of the right car. By making fewer options available, customers are more likely to be able to pick off the shelf, leaving simpler, dealer-fit items, such as alarms, alloy wheels, CD players or fog lamps.

Rover has been pioneering this particular area. Spokesman Denis Chick said: 'We made a conscious decision to cut down the options list to reduce complexity on the production line and so improve distribution. We looked at the most popular options and included them as standard further down the model range.'

Ford equips its top models with air-conditioning as standard while it is an option on everything from Escorts upwards. Popular choices, however, are increased security and better in-car entertainment systems, including compact disc players.

When Renault UK introduced its Safrane executive car earlier this year it made a decision to fit air- conditioning across the range instead of a sunroof. Customer demand for a hole in the roof has since forced the company to rethink.

Renault still sees a future for air- conditioning, particularly for those living in large cities where the benefits are more obvious. Special edition models could be targeted at London, something Toyota did during the summer with its Corolla and sold through dealers inside the M25 ring.

At present, the cost differential is still high. Quoted as options, sunroofs generally cost pounds 400- pounds 450 while air conditioning is around pounds 1,OOO, but the price is falling all the time. It will drop further once volume builds up.

It is becoming more cost effective for manufacturers to include much of what once was considered an option on the standard vehicle. Buying in bulk for fitment at the production stage can reduce costs.

The industry feels that a reduction in equipment is unlikely, but it is already experiencing signs of fleets down-sizing, encouraging employees to have smaller vehicles. This is the main reason the executive car sector has suffered against the general rising trend in car sales.

Optional equipment, it seems, remains a very British way of demonstrating that you are just that little bit higher up the ladder.