Think Pieces

Michael's thoughts on the auto industry, its products, and/or this website.

Those nasty option packages

Manufacturers keep lumping more and more features into fewer and fewere packages. What's going on?

If you haven't been buying cars for long, you might not be aware that as recently as the 1980s most features were available as separate options. And I do mean "most features." Go a bit further back, to the 1960s, and if you wanted something as simple as a heater or clock in your car you could plan on spending a few extra bucks to get it. Very little was standard back then. Many options were minor items with prices in the low two-figure or even single-figure range.

This system possessed two fatal flaws. First, with so many boxes on the order sheet, configuring a car posed a much different challenge than in does today. It was too easy for someone ordering a car to miss something critical. Like a heater. Second, every option exponentially increases the number of different ways a car can be built. Many cars back in the "old days" could be built about a bazillion different ways. This hyper-complexity increased costs and decreased quality.

Imports forced the industry to recognize these flaws. With cars shipped from overseas, there is a strong incentive to offer few options. Honda went the furthest--it offered no factory options. If you wanted the top trim, you got a sunroof whether you wanted one or not.

When Honda sales took off in the 1980s, Detroit realized that people might not even want a large number of choices. Struggling to remain competitive, the domestics boosted standard content and began to put options into packages. Chrysler went first with "Popular Equipment Discount Packages" on many 1986 models. Two years later, GM introduced its now ubiquitous 1SB-1SC-1SD packages and Ford made a few trial moves in this direction. Mercedes-Benz joined the fray in 1994, and BMW offered its first Premium Packages in 1995.

The new packages included a large number of features that often had little to do with one another. As a result, many people have had to purchase features they did not want to get a few they had to have.

Some features just don't make sense in packages. For example, chrome wheels. Chrome wheels don't require a different wiring harness than regular alloy wheels. They have no impact on any other feature in the car. And they're very much a personal preference item.

This movement away from individual options to option packages picked up speed in the 1990s, and has reached new heights in recent years. When Toyota introduced the current Sienna minivan in 2004, virtually everything was available only as part of a package. For the XLE trim alone 21 packages were offered.

TrueDelta helps you deal with these packages. Unlike other pricing sites, at TrueDelta you simply select the features you want and the program automatically selects the best packages.

Better still would be more logical packages. Maybe TrueDelta can help here as well. The pricing program collects and presents stats on the percentage of an option package's contents that was actually requested. This analysis, performed every time a single vehicle is priced, is made possible by TrueDelta's unique feature selection process.

Thanks for reading.

Michael Karesh, TrueDelta

First posted: September 30, 2005
Last updated: November 16, 2006