There’s one very good reason to feel upbeat about motoring today: the amount of metal we get for our money.
In real terms, the cost of cars has stayed relatively static, yet what we’re buying has improved immeasurably. On price alone think of the Ford Fiesta. At its launch in 1976 the basic model cost £1856. In today’s money the Bank of England reckons that’s £11,313. Prices for today’s Fiesta start at £9995. Or there’s the Jaguar MkII. It was considered uniquely cheap at £1534 in 1959. That’s £30,225 today. Today’s equivalent, the XF, starts at £29,945.
Thirty years ago, SEAT launched its first car developed as an independent company. The Ibiza had a 1.5-litre engine that produced 85bhp. It cost from £3939. In today’s money that’s £10,721. It had a carburettor, wind-up windows, a radio and errr, that’s about it.
For £689 more, the current Ibiza has air-conditioning, electric front windows, remote central locking, an alarm, electronic stability control plus front airbags, power steering and an MP3 compatible sound system all as standard. It’s got a 1.2-litre 12-valve engine with 70bhp that’s good for 52.5mpg. The original was capable of just 36.2mpg.
Go back just two decades and Britain’s best-seller, the Ford Escort in basic Encore form had no electric windows, power steering was only available with the diesel, there was no central locking and no ABS, although a driver’s airbag was standard.
This lack of kit would be fine if it had been correspondingly cheap. But it wasn’t. The price for the cheapest three-door 1.3 Escort Encore was £9495 or £15,458 today. For £13,995, the equivalent Focus Studio has as standard ABS, alloy wheels, electric front windows, central locking, air-conditioning, steering wheel controls for the audio system, a Tyre Pressure Monitoring System, and like every other mainstream car, power steering.
Chairman and managing director of Ford in Britain Mark Ovenden explained why we’re getting so much more for our money: “Vehicles are engineered to global standards which dramatically reduces complexity and duplication, and delivers far greater economies of scale. We have also worked hard to drive out cost and eliminate waste in manufacturing and distribution.” The result is that in terms of the cars we drive, we’ve never had it so good.