5 hidden ways automakers keep new cars affordable

May 22, 2018

A cheap car used to feel like what it was: a cheap car. That’s no longer the case, and it’s due in part to exceptionally careful cost-cutting. Car manufacturers trim pennies here and dollars there in ways not always obvious to consumers.

Here’s a look at a few tricks automakers use and how they’re passed onto consumers.

2019 Subaru Ascent first drive

2019 Subaru Ascent first drive

1. Platform sharing

New cars are all about scalability, at least in terms of what you can’t readily see. Peel a new car’s fenders back and you’ll probably find a lot of things shared between models in the automaker’s lineup, even if they look very different.

Car manufacturers call it scalable architecture and it’s a relatively recent development that lets them stretch what’s underneath to make cars larger or smaller. Common mounting points for suspension and powertrain parts help automakers shave development and production costs.

For example: Subaru and VW are consolidating their lineups to just a single platform each for everything from compact cars to three-row crossover SUVs.

2018 Honda Civic

2018 Honda Civic

2. Forgotten features

The CD player has gone the way of the tape player, which bit the dust a few years after the 8-track. Eventually, wireless charging pads and streaming music will do the same for USB ports.

But not all features bite the dust due to irrelevance. Automakers sometimes restrict small features like one-touch power windows, map pockets, rear-seat air vents, split-folding rear seats, and illuminated vanity mirrors to higher-spec trim levels. These aren’t usually deal-breakers and they help automakers trim costs to keep models and trim levels price-competitive.

For example: The 2018 Honda Civic LX lacks a map pocket on the back of the passenger’s seat. The Civic EX has one.

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