In the automotive world it is the norm that car designs are given a refresh around half-way through its life cycle, well in fact some makers make changes much more regularly in the form of everything from updated wheel designs and trim levels, through to complete styling overhauls inside and out. In the UK we tend to call these updates ‘facelifts’ because of their tendancy to provide cars with a bit more youthful appeal as they enter the latter stages of their life cycle, but the thoroughness of recent changes on certain cars can cause confusion amongst many buyers, and can contribute to reduced residuals in older cars.
Historically few changes were made throughout a models time on sale, but since the 80’s mainstream car manufacturers have tried to inject some excitement into staid products with styling changes. Back when it was not uncommon for designs to remain on sale for 10 years this made good sense for all parties involved; development costs were able to be recouped my manufacturers and buyers got a more modern driving experience. As a young child one of the first substantial facelifts I noticed was in the Mk 3 Vauxhall Cavalier, which with a few subtle changes ended up looking alot more modern (although this backfired as its successor the Vectra was criticised for looking too similar). Another notable facelift from my childhood was that of the Escort, the poorly recieved Mk 5 got a rushed new face and interior to satisfy the car’s critics…it didn’t work.
Recently the US Honda Civic received similar updates after just a year on sale, but this time the changes meant that the car jumped back on the ‘recommended’ lists of many websites. These subtle (if sometimes rushed) updates are in the traditional vein, providing consumers with a more complete and attractive car, whilst still making the previous generation saleable to used customers. Problems can come however, when a hacksaw is taken to the original car and a very different looking successor is produced. Sometimes this can work wonders for a car’s visual appeal, as with the second generation Ford Focus which went from dull-repmobile to relatively sleek family hatch in one turn. Changes like this often come when a new design language is ushered in across a line up and so the rush not to look updated can lead to a mish mash of design elements. Arguably one of the worst facelifts was that of the Hyundai Coupe; originally an attractive budget coupe, the Integra-esque update left the car looking like an extra from Arachnophobia and as such its replacement changed its look massively.
Then there is the Fiesta, which has had a number of interesting updates since the model’s introduction back in the 1976. I have already been over the car’s history in previous posts, but effectively the first generation was updated and became the MK 2 (arguably just a heavy facelift). In turn, the MK 2 got a new body and interior and became the MK 3, which was thoroughly overhauled (under the skin) to become the MK 4-even though the cars looked incredibly similar. The MK 5 was so similar to the MK 4 that many term is as another moderate facelift, and it took the MK 6 for the last traces of the first gen model to disappear. Although that car underwent a minor facelift in 2005, another entirely brand new model was launched in 2008 and that car has just recieved a big change in its front grill…although unlike other previous changes, this Fiesta is still known as the MK 7. It is this sort of update that can really confuse buyers…for example the current VW Passat (the European version) has been heavily facelifted, yet is known as the MK 7. Similarly the changes between MK 5/6 VW Golf were pretty minimal yet a considerable distinction made by manufacturer and customer.
With product life cycles becoming ever shorter and customers constantly clamouring for the latest in terms of design and technology, it will be interesting to see where manufacturers go with the availability of updates for existing owners. Software updates are already creeping into cars over WiFi connections, eliminating the need for expensive dealer visits, and some buyers have taken to using updated grilles and lighting clusters on older models. Whilst this may not be mainstream at the moment, in these money-tight times many people looking to impress the Joneses might start looking elsewhere.