Monday, May 16, 2005

Lunchtime Notes: An Automobile Marketing Oddity

by Tom Bozzo

Car geek stuff here.

Many cars with alphanumeric monikers advertise their engine displacement in their names somehow — unless one, in the Euro fashion, deletes the model badge to avoid showing off as, variously, a gas-profligate or a cheapskate. So my car has a 3.0-liter engine (2979 cc to be precise) and is labeled a "330Ci." Had I opted for the "325Ci," I'd have had a car with a 2.5-liter (2494 cc) engine. All nice and logical so far.

During my adventure in BMW land the weekend before last, one thing that caught my attention was an offhand comment from the salesman that in the U.S. E90 3-series, the 325i and 330i, which one would expect to be separated by a half-liter of engine displacement, both have three-liter engines. Since I was driving, I don't think my reaction was anything more than a "heh" (no "indeedy," thanks), but I was thinking something like "surely you mean that the cars have basically the same engine block but different crankshafts, or something like that, but I don't really know myself and I'm too polite to correct you anyway."

Well, I apologize to the Motorwerks salemsan for that which I didn't say: he was right per specs on, and it's not a typo according to a administrator. This apparently helps them meet U.S. emissions requirements. (In the rest of the world, apparently, a 325i has an actual 2.5-liter engine with nearly identical output to that which the 3.0-liter U.S. 325i is tuned to produce via a more restrictive intake and exhaust than the 330i's.)

This isn't the first such displacement demotion I've heard of. The "323" models of the previous E36 and E46 generations had 2.5-liter (gas) engines, and were renamed apparently to avoid confusion with a 2.5-liter diesel model; that also widened the named-displacement gap to that apparently magical half-liter. It's hard to imagine someone walking into a showroom and walking out with a 325d when they really wanted a 325i. Not that I'd complain if someone swapped my car in the middle of the night for a Euro-spec 330Cd, which is amply fast, is in essentially the same UK CO2 tax band as the anemic 2-liter gas four (not sold in the U.S.), and gets 26 MPG on the EU urban loop to boot.

As it happens, BMW sells about 2-3 325s for each 330, and according to marketing material provided to me in lieu of a brochure, they'd really like to upsell more people to 330s (currently at a price premium of roughly $3,000). The 330 premium is actually lower compared to the outgoing model, so it'll be interesting to see how the sales mix responds to the combination of the lower price differential and the badging obfuscation.

Those of you following the expanding blogosphere discussion of class issues may note now, if you haven't already, that this sort of concern in my life pretty much identifies me as upper-middle class. Perhaps even "yuppie scum" in some circles. Though, to echo a point raised by the Phantom Scribbler, I'm in that part of the upper-middle class that still feels guilty about some upper-middle class consumer amenities, so I care about Hondas, too; just not quite as much.

I'll have more about the class mobility topic later.
Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?