I've decided to devote today's column to one of the most annoying, perplexing, upsetting issues in the entire modern automotive industry.
Just to be clear, I am not referring to those people who install European license plates on the front of their cars. I never make fun of those people, because I'm worried that I might piss them off, and then one morning I'll wake up to discover they've vandalized my car by adding a European front license plate that reads "ÜBER KÜHL."
Instead, I've decided to cover a topic of even greater annoyance, namely the fact sometimes, when you're shopping for a new car and you want, for example, a backup camera, you must have approximately the same overall budget as the United States Department of Agriculture.
The reason for this great annoyance is something called option packaging, which is what happens when several well-meaning automotive industry employees get together in a well-meaning brainstorming session entitled: "How can we screw our customers out of even more money?" These meetings have led to many profitable ideas such as, for example, the check engine light. ("Let's make it turn on when people haven't screwed in their GAS CAP… and then charge them EIGHTY BUCKS to figure it out! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!")
If you're not familiar with option packaging, here's how it works. Let's say you really badly want one item, such as, for example, heated seats. Well, the automaker knows you want heated seats. In fact, they know you want heated seats so badly that you can't live without them. You'll do anything for heated seats. You'll pay thousands of dollars just to have your butt warmed.
So what they do is, they add heated seats to an option package that includes a bunch of other stuff, stuff you'll never use in a million years, stuff like a chilled glovebox, or that "speed limiter" function that beeps when you hit a certain speed, or – if we're talking about a BMW – turn signals. (Ba-dum tshhh!)
The result is they've now got you paying maybe $2,800 for an option package, when all you really wanted was heated seats, which cost something like $300. Unfortunately, this strategy – which seems like it was devised solely to screw customers out of their hard-earned money – is employed by several of today's automakers. I'm not going to name names because I don't want to embarrass anybody, but one of them is Infiniti.
Now, before I go into a long rant about Infiniti option packaging – which I think we all know is coming – I'd like to stop and take a moment to thank Infiniti. Yes, that's right. You see, I've been doing this for about a year now, and I can safely say that no automaker has provided me with more joke fodder than Infiniti. I mean, seriously: these people took the G37, split it into two models, renamed them both, redesigned only one of them, gave the smaller one the larger number, and then, after all that, they resurrected they old model. Oh, and they renamed that too. It's almost like they want to be teased, presumably because it's the only way they can get any press.
So anyway, I really appreciate Infiniti. But what I don't appreciate is their options packages.
To illustrate my point, I turn to the depressing case of Amy, a 36-year-old stay-at-home mom who I just made up. Amy has three children, named Hayden, Aiden, and Braden – names that are so modern and politically correct that even she has trouble remembering if they're boys or girls.
Now, because Amy has to cart around her kids to all their activities, she chooses the Infiniti QX60, a three-row crossover that's named "QX60" even though it's larger than both the QX50 and the QX70. But Amy doesn't care about the QX60's name. She wants the QX60 because a) it comes highly recommended by Consumer Reports, and it has an excellent drivetrain, and a roomy interior, and an intuitive infotainment system, and tons of modern safety features, and it's very highly regarded, and b) her friend Jessica likes the color.
The QX60 is also highly affordable for a luxury SUV, given its starting price of just over $43,000. But there's a problem: Amy needs a lane departure warning system. Amy is constantly departing her lane, given her complex daily routine that involves balancing both a Starbucks drink and a cell phone. So Amy checks the "lane departure warning" system on the options box.
And that's when all hell breaks loose.
You see, adding "lane departure warning" to your Infiniti QX60 means that you have to spring for the rest of the Technology Package, which costs $2,800. That wouldn't be so bad, except that you also have to add the Premium Package for $1,550. And the Premium Plus Package, for $3,000. And the Deluxe Touring Package, for $3,550. The next thing you know, your $43,000 QX60 turns into a fifty-four thousand dollar SUV – all with the addition of one single option. Plus, you're stuck with all sorts of stuff you don't want, including something Infiniti calls a "Plasmacluster air purifier," which – I swear this is true – "senses and suppresses unpleasant interior odors."
Of course, all of these add-ons and requirements make Amy very flustered, and she brings Braden to hockey practice even though it turns out that Braden is a girl. The mistakes continue when she brings Aidan, who is a boy, to ballet practice. Finally, she sits down with Hayden, and they both do a line of coke.
The lesson here is simple: option packages are annoying. They're expensive. They're anti-consumer. And, more importantly, they will turn you to drugs. Fortunately, the doctors say Amy will make a full recovery, but they note that she currently spends most of her days in a padded room mumbling something about how it makes no sense to call it the QX60 when both the QX50 and the QX70 have more horsepower.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.