The automotive world continues to consolidate technology by sharing engineering across platforms. Vehicle manufacturers are constantly tearing down each other’s vehicles and looking for solutions to their own engineering hurdles in coming up with new features. The parts are generally being outsourced and produced by a few parts manufacturers for use in numerous manufacturers. You need only browse through the features in any late-model vehicle to see that Apple CarPlay, AndroidAuto, and Bluetooth are practically standard equipment that must be included if you want to sell your model. The trend with creating new crossover vehicles is another one that seems to have a global drive as manufacturers scramble to keep up with consumer tastes.
Reliability Figures with Negligible Differences
Some further considerations have to be made when you consider the studies on the reliability of late-model vehicles. The difference in the number of complaints among the most reliable vehicles made by Lexus and the other major manufacturers such as Honda, BMW, Volkswagen, etc. are negligible. Is it really compelling empirical data if I am more likely to avoid the need for repairs a fraction of a percentage more if I buy a Lexus?
Parts Crossing Over
We can even see now that manufacturers themselves are partnering up and sharing a lot of the same parts and technologies. This has always been the case between companies with symbiotic relationships like Mazda and Ford, and Ford Volvo. But, now, you even find competitors of large companies like GM and Ford entering into a joint venture to manufacture a smooth-shifting 10-speed transmission. After Porsche went into a mutual collaboration with its parent Volkswagen company to build the VW Toureg and Porsche Cayenne on essentially the same platform with the same engine, the pair reunited during the last recession to bail each other out by purchasing stock from each other to prevent corporate buyouts.
Reducing the Number of Models
The other trend that you will notice across auto manufacturers is a steep reduction in the number of models available. Mitsubishi has knocked its lineup down to just three key brands with some variations: Eclipse, Outlander, and Mirage base models. Chrysler is all but dead with only two model platforms left: Chrysler 300 and Pacifica. The interesting thing about the Chrysler Pacifica is that they are using a leftover name from a model that was scrapped and putting it on what is essentially the reinvention of its Town and Country and Grand Caravan lines. Ford has announced its plans to scrap everything in the near future except for its popular truck lines, the Ford Focus, and Mustang.
Safety Features Implemented with Imperfect Results
Because the majority of automobiles from the Hyundai to Mercedes-Benz have so many features that are so similar, does it really matter which one you choose? Looking back at history, Mercedez-Benz has invented and patented a lot of safety features that are now standard equipment in all other autos. These include crumple zone technology found in all uniframe vehicles, Anti-lock Braking, independent McPherson struts, airbag technology, and many other features.
If we look at how these technologies were implemented in the market, we see that brands like Ford had originally botched when they tried installing airbags in their vehicles. The airbags were deploying with such explosive force that they themselves were blamed with breaking ribs, killing, and causing other severe injuries to occupants.
We need only look at other recent scandals where parts manufacturers made defective parts that were installed in the vehicles of numerous large auto manufacturers and caused many tragic accidents (e.g., Takata Airbags). The explosive Takata airbags were installed by 19 different manufacturers in vehicles over a 13-year span of time. To date, the airbags were responsible for 28 deaths and at least 300 injuries.
Does the Brand of Vehicle That You Drive Really Make a Difference?
When you consider that vehicles have so much in common, it may be better to solely look at price and shop in the economy aisle if you are just looking for basic features. However, since these technologies are not always implemented with the same quality of engineering, going for the cheapest knock-off version is probably not equal to the same features in high-end vehicles. Therefore, when you see a manufacturer that is advertising that they have the safety features that you need, buyers should beware and take this with a grain of salt because the devil is in the details.
All vehicles come with some sort of sound system, a car that has Bose wave radio surround sound with 18 speakers probably sounds a lot nicer on the ears when you listen to that symphony orchestra than a basic factory sound system in any old economy daily driver model. So, all and all, you probably get what you pay for even if it is in engineering refinement and build quality.