• Shoppers buying a new car spending less on options
  • Today's option-spending numbers are lowest in years
  • May be because of an increase in standard equipment

New-car shoppers are scaling back on options. Today's car buyers are choosing fewer options this year than they did in the recent past, according to CNW Marketing Research -- a company that tracks option spending and other auto-industry metrics.

CNW measures option spending by looking at a car's average purchase price, then comparing it to the lowest possible base price and the highest possible price with options. For example, a car that starts around $10,000 and tops out at $30,000 would have a "50th percentile" ranking if the average sale price was around $20,000.

During the first half of 2013, the industry average landed in the 57th percentile. That's down from last year's first-half number, which was a robust 61st-percentile average. It's also down from peak periods in the 1990s, when the industry average was steadily in the 80th-percentile range.

Today's spending levels are roughly even with figures from the economic recession. Then, the industry average quickly plummeted from the 80th percentile to the 60th percentile, where it has remained ever since.

While shoppers may indeed be spending less, there's also another explanation for the lower figures: Today's cars are simply equipped better than they were a few years ago. Fewer items were standard in the mid-2000s, when cars were averaging 90th percentile sales prices.

But now, automakers are all including air conditioning, power windows and other conveniences as standard equipment -- even on their least-expensive models. That means shoppers don't need to spend as much to get a well-equipped car. And as CNW's study shows, shoppers are taking note.

What it means to you: Shoppers buying a new car may find more items are now standard, meaning they don't have to pick so many options.

author photo

Doug DeMuro has a wide range of automotive industry experience, from work at a Ferrari dealership to a manager for Porsche North America. A lifelong car enthusiast, Doug's eclectic vehicle purchases include a Porsche 911 Turbo, an E63 AMG wagon, an old Range Rover and a Mercedes Benz G-wagen.

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