October 10th, 2010

Not so special, special editions

The person who sticks the badges on the back of Porsche’s used to have the easiest job in the world. All he had to do was get some glue, grab one nine, two ones and stick them on the back of the car. But over the last couple of years the dedicated badge man has had a lot more work to do.

Some car companies have a bit of an obsession with maintaining their product life cycle by creating ‘special editions’, or slightly different spec cars with ‘limited’ paint schemes and special silvery trinkets stuck onto them. It is a popular move by car companies with good branding and a decent demand for their products; i.e. MINI and Porsche. But isn’t this model dilution just an excuse to squeeze as much cash out of us consumers as possible? And where should we draw the line?

Believe it or not, there are now a total of 20 variants of the Porsche 997 available. Two more have just been recently confirmed; the 911 Carrera GTS and the all-new Speedster. The Speedster is the product of a 997 S getting jiggy with Quasimodo, and the Carrera GTS is a widebody, two wheel drive that places it above a Carrera S but below a GT3. Are they needed? Well, the finance department will always say yes, but I think there is a way round it.

With the recent fascination for online configurators and apps, I was thinking why not have an app to build a 911? Instead of having 20 different models you get to build your own from scratch. Porsche have pretty much all the bases covered in the current line up, but the whole 911 range would be covered under one app. If you want a rear-wheel drive, Targa top, with a widebody 4s kit, “Don’t worry” the dealer will say, ‘There’s an app for that”.

But increasingly new car buyers are now put in a slightly contradictory position where they are encouraged/forced to spec their car to a decent level, but they are pressured to go down the other route of going for a ‘Special Edition’ specs dictated by the manufacturer.

MINI are pros at this technique. Not only are they trying to grab as much of your money in their ever increasing line up, but once you have decided on a car, you can then more than double its price in accessories. If you want to avoid the thousands of possible boxes to tick, you can tick one big box for a package. This could be the Camden, Park Lane, Mayfair, Graphite or Checkmate ‘Special Edition’. All this customizability has left me wondering whether you stand out more for speccing your own model or going for one of the ‘Special Editions’. Are they even that special if your neighbour can buy one too? And what happened to old fashioned personal tuning and customisation?

It is not just MINI and Porsche diluting their models though, the big boys at the exotic end of the spectrum are up to the same tricks too.

A new Lamborghini Gallardo and Bugatti Veyron edition seem to be coming out monthly. The latest is the LP570-4 Blancpain Edition. A Superleggera on steroids with added options of cheese grater engine cover and a big rear wing, along with carbon fiber parts, Skorplus wheels and carbon-ceramic brakes. This car is a bit more special than a MINI Camden but it leaves me thinking that Lambo are seriously in need of a new model. Wasn’t the LP 550-2 Balboni meant to be the Gallardo’s last hurrah?

But I have saved the special edition King for last. The Bugatti Veyron is a very special car, we all know that. But for a single model it has an absolutely ridiculous amount of special editions. There is the Veyron Pegaso Edition, Sang Noir Edition, Pur Sang Edition, Fbg by Hermes Edition, Grand Sport Edition, Super Sport Edition, Gran Sport Sang Bleu Edition, Bleu Centenaire Edition and the Grand Sport Grey Carbon Edition. The Veyron comes with one of the most plenitudinous option lists in the world so are all these ‘special’ editions really that special? I don’t think so.

Rowan Horncastle