Limited Editions: silk purse from a sow’s ear?

Just as location, location and location are the three most important factors when buying a property, there are only three reasons why car manufacturers produce limited (or special) editions: to shift metal, shift metal and shift metal.

These ultimate reasons are often dressed up by product managers as a means of helping to achieve other ‘brand goals’ – adding exclusivity and/or sparkle to a model range or commemorating a special event, for example. But the bottom line is that LE’s offering extra goodies for a proportion of the additional cost don’t happen through altruism by manufacturers – they either have a problem or can see an opportunity.

It’s largely to do with the product lifecycle: new models rarely get the LE treatment – they are young and fresh and don’t yet need the ‘Botox’ and added bling. Having said that, there are increasing numbers of ‘lifestyle’ LE’s on fairly new product which are designed to trade on other brands images and form the basis for affinity marketing.

Take the Fiat 500byDIESEL LE – actually a petrol car! Diesel clothing branding is emblazoned on an already chic design to persuade you that you really are cool and hip (hip hop as opposed to hip op?) To quote, ‘It’s an urban survival vehicle that bristles with attitude.’ Altogether more sophisticated than the thinking behind LE’s some years ago when LE’s were devised with vinyl roofs just to hide rusting sub-standard Russian steel.

As a product hits middle age then the temptation to ‘tart it up’ becomes greater: newer, more up-to-date rivals will have hit the streets, stealing sales. Salespeople will have moved on to ‘the next big thing’ in the range. A well judged LE can just add that bit of sizzle to re-ignite demand. The same applies when a product is on run out: often the successor has already been revealed and even test driven so shifting the existing stock quickly is imperative and LE’s are often more palatable than discounts, especially to premium brands.

Once again, premium brands go about things somewhat differently and luxury brands can get away with giving you less whilst charging more: the ultimate expression of brand power. The just announced Porsche Cayman R which ditches door handles, audio and AC is a case in point: all to make a ‘purer’ Porsche. That’s an extra £5,102, thanks.

So, are LE’s worth it? Should you buy one? Yes, these days they can be and you should consider one just so long as the ‘donor’ vehicle is a good product. Don’t get seduced by the kit – just ask yourself, ‘Is this a good car anyway?’ But the real deal comes when you sell it. The trade guides usually make some allowance for the extra kit attached versus the standard model upon which it was based, and this may not have cost you a penny. Put yourself in the shoes of the person buying your used LE 3-4 years down the line. Faced with 2 cars – one LE, the other not – but otherwise identical and with roughly similar prices, which would you choose?

Anyone for a recession special? We could call it the ‘Dip’ and follow it up next year with the ‘Double Dip’!

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