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I think that the auto industry as a whole lost its one greatest tactic: the element of surprise. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, the cars changed every year. You can argue the merits of the "planned obsolesence" era, but one thing can't be disputed: people got excited about the new models. People would go down to the dealerships for unveilings. The new styles would be the topic of conversation among friends.

For the most part, car companies would release the diserable models at the same time as the work-a-day sedans. A customer enamoured with the new look can walk out that day with a flashy convertible or hardtop coupe. If that style wasn't going to be available for a half-year, the customer will either lose the excitement by the time the car is released and not buy it, buy the cheaper sedan style, or look to what the competition is offering--none of which is good for that automaker.

The problem today is that by the time the coupe/convertible/high-performance version of the new model comes out, the car is already old news--people don't get as excited over the car-line.

When people are shocked or delightfully surprised by a car, then sales will follow.

Of course, as the popularity of test-mule spy-shots can attest, we are living in an "on-demand," "I don't want to wait for it" world: people are too impatient to wait until mid-fall for the new automotive offerings. And the automakers, hungry for sales, pander to the public's impatience. They release 2005 models in January of 2004--far before the line is ready. Engines, body styles, possibly quality levels, and production capacity aren't ready in time for such early introductions--frustrating potential buyers.

To help offset deminshed production ablitity and lack of body style choices, some automakers are forced to keep the old body styles in production. And by the time the new car's more desireable models/engines are available, it's too late. Consumers have already moved on to the competition's newest models, starting the cycle all over again.

Some may argue that releasing new styles throughout a model's market run would help keep up interest. That's what Chrysler and VW were hoping on when releasing convertible versions of the PT Cruiser and New Beetle. However, what it comes down to is that it's a new body-style on a 1,2,3, or 4+ year old design. It's technically and asthetically dated.

Losing the ability to excite and surprise people makes an automaker miss out on the opportunity to capitalize on that initial visceral rush.
 
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