It's just like complaining about taxes, which are always too high. New cars just cost too damn much, right?
Well, perhaps. But in between bouts of griping, U.S. car buyers should pause for a moment and reflect on how much better off they are than their counterparts in some other markets, including much of Europe.
Take the new 2012 Ford Focus compact, for instance. The base price here in the States is $16,995, but the cheapest 2012 Focus you can buy in the U.K. starts at £15,995, or almost exactly $25,000 at today's exchange rate. Ford hasn't yet announced pricing for other European countries.
The cars carry different specifications, of course. The U.S. model has to meet different and more stringent crash tests, along with emissions requirements stricter than present European standards.
No fewer than seven engines--three gasoline and four diesel--will be offered in Europe. At the moment, the U.S. version comes with a single 160-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Ford expects to obtain a highway rating of 40 mpg in the new Focus, a level that has become a new benchmark for compact cars.
More powertrains will follow, though. A Focus Electric model will be launched next year, and hybrid, and plug-in hybrid models will follow, possibly joined by one with an EcoBoost engine.
All U.K. Focus models will include digital radio, both USB and Bluetooth connections for mobile phones and other digital devices, and Torque Vectoring Control software that manages the even distribution of torque between the driven front wheels.
Options in the U.K. include a crash-avoidance system similar to the Volvo CitySafe system offered in its new S60 sedan, blind-spot alerting, and software that both keeps the car within lane markers and parallel-parks the car.
Still, a difference in base prices of almost one-third is pretty steep, even after you add state sales taxes (up to 9 percent) onto the U.S. price (European value-added tax is included in the vehicle price).
The 2012 Focus is the first Ford sold in the U.S. market developed from scratch to be sold around the world. Ultimately, it will be built in the U.S. (in Ford's Wayne Assembly Plant in Michigan), Europe (both Germany and Russia), and China.
Ford has said 80 percent of its components are common to Focus models sold anywhere in the world--versus about 60 percent for the 2011 Ford Fiesta subcompact, which was adapted for U.S. buyers after it launched in Europe.
Nonetheless, a Ford executive told trade journal Automotive News that while the new Focus is a global car, it "will be priced for local market conditions." That means, we suspect, as high as Ford can get away with while remaining competitive within each market.
Volkswagen, for one, has recognized that to sell at high volume in the U.S. will require it to offer cars at lower price points.
So the new 2011 Volkswagen Jetta sedan, while visually similar to the same model sold in Germany, carries a less sophisticated rear suspension and a 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter engine that can only be described as archaic and underpowered.
That lets the company offer a 2011 base model at just $15,995, almost $1,750 lower than a base 2010 Jetta.
Will U.S. buyers care? Perhaps not. According to Jonathan Browning, Volkswagen of America CEO, November sales of the new 2011 Jetta were up 40 percent over those of the outgoing model.
[Automotive News (subscription required)]