I’ve been around this industry long enough to remember Ralph Nader, the guy who started the whole car safety issue rolling. It took consumers another 30 years to discover car safety, but now they’ve grabbed it they won’t let it go. You can’t market a car these days without talking safety.
And yet most of it is just that, talk. Lots of the safety features you see car manufacturers listing in their ads and brochures are there because they are required by law. Any others are only listed because they help sell the car or fill the space. Call me cynical, but in the end I believe that all that those long lists of safety features do is re-assure buyers in a decision they’ve already made. And they can tell the neighbours they’ve bought a safe car when what they really wanted was a sexy car, or a cheap car, or a red car.
Are big numbers of buyers really motivated by safety? I don’t think so. I think the only buyers genuinely into safety are the ones who have just survived a big crash and are still fairly twitchy about the whole business. Don’t believe me? I can prove it.
My company started importing cars with airbags back when everyone else started importing cars with airbags, the one thing we did differently was to make the bag optional on one model. You could have the car without a bag for one price, or for an extra two grand you could have exactly the same car with a bag.
The difficulty with importing is that you need a really good crystal ball because you have to be able to tell a factory off in another hemisphere somewhere how many you’re going to sell. We figured about 20 percent of buyers would pay the extra for the bag.
We were out by 20 percent. The number of buyers willing to pay extra for an airbag was zero. That’s none. Finally we had to bonus the hell out of those airbag-equipped cars so our dealers could give away the bag for free.
Sure lots of buyers talk safety, but only when they can get it for nothing.

 

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