The Truth about Limited Edition and Special Edition Cars: 3 Reasons It’s all Marketing nonsense

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Yesterday, Toyota, as of the time of writing, announced a special edition of their perennially popular 4Runner off-road SUV. With retro, 1980s inspired graphics, bronze-colored wheels, and 3 new color choices, this run of 40th Anniversary special edition cars for the 2023 model year is being made to celebrate 40 years since the introduction of the 4Runner for back in 1983.

Special Edition Cars: 2023 Toyota 4Runner 40th Anniversary Edition
Nice looking appearance package, but will it be worth the extra money just for some simple stripes on a black Toyota 4runner? Probably not.

How is it different from other 4Runners, how is it truly special? Well, aside from aforementioned cosmetic options and much of the optional equipment on lower-trim models becoming standard, it is largely the same car that Toyota has been churning out in this form since 2009. All that hype about this 40th anniversary edition? Marketing nonsense, and I can guarantee they will charge more than the same car without this appearance package

BMW too, did the exact same thing less than 24 hours before Toyota with their announcement of a special edition of the BMW M3 performance sedan. This special edition has 3 new color choices not seen for over 20 years, the stitching of M-stripes in the seats, an exclusive grey finish on the wheels, and special placards on the door sill and in the interior, and, SURPRISE, like Toyota, it is an anniversary edition, but GERMAN.

Special Edition Cars: 2023 BMW M3 50-Jahre Edition
Nice Colors, but worth the extra $8,000 USD price? Not for me it isn’t

How is this trim, known as the 50-Jahre edition, different from a standard M3. Aside from the $8,000 USD premium, it is otherwise identical to the AWD BMW M3 Competition xDrive with one exception: included in the price is a 50-Jahre Edition branded SUITCASE! Oh the joy!

And as I was writing this piece about how BMW and Toyota both did special editions, Volkswagen too announced a special, 20 year edition of the Volkswagen Golf R. Like the BMW and the Toyota, this special edition of the Golf R is distinguished mostly with cosmetic changes, like unique exterior trim pieces and small interior changes. However, Volkswagen were smart, as they also retuned the ECU to generate more power, 328 horsepower to be exact. With that done, Volkswagen marketers can (and already have) loudly proclaim that “This it the most powerful production Golf ever made, and they will be stating a true fact.

History of Special Edition Cars

Special Edition Cars: 1978 Chevy Corvette Pace Car
The 1978 Corvette Pace Car was a limited run that, other than the different paint job, was identical to any other 1978 Corvette

Think your “special edition” is special? Think again. Automakers started doing this for the U.S. market back in the late 1970s, but GM immediately comes to mind as a notable offender. In 1978, they released not one, but TWO special edition C3 Corvettes that year. They were an “Indianapolis 500 Pace Car” edition and a “25th Anniversary Edition.” Were they any different from a standard 1978 Corvette with the 350 Small Block in any meaningful way? NO! They was still a flimsily built American cruiser from the malaise era with more stickers than velocity running on a decade old-platform.

Special Edition Cars: 1978 Chevy Corvette 25th Anniversary Edition.
GM did MORE special edition cars in 1978. Not just the pace car edition, but the 25th anniversary edition too! Same deal, different paint job, but identical otherwise.

Why did they do this in the 1970s? Tightening emissions regulations meant selling a car on performance was impossible. Most cars were NOT fast at this time. U.S. automakers prior to this sold their cars on straight line performance for cheap, but at the cost of primitive suspension and poor driving dynamics.

The start of tightening emissions standards meant even cars with 7 liter V8s and bigger were only churning out 200 horsepower, and automakers couldn’t sell actual performance, so what did they do instead? They sold the IMAGE of performance to the public using appearance packages that were marketed as SPECIAL EDITIONS of the standard car, which, outside of the cosmetic changes, was identical to the car it was based off of.

Special Edition Cars in more recent years

Nissan GTR Naomi Osaka Edition | Rational Motoring
The 2018 Nissan GT-R Naomi Osaka Edition. Yeah, because I totally think of tennis when I think Nissan GT-R 🥶🥶

And this is the exact playbook that automakers now are using extensively. Nissan used it heavily with the now-discontinued R35 GT-R, which had not one, but THIRTEEN special editions over its 14 year production run. The previous generation BMW M4 had SIX over its 6 year production run.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on Jeep, whose last generation JK had TWENTY-FOUR Special edition models over its 11 years of production. Having “special edition” models every year? Not so special.

2012 Jeep MW3 Edition | Rational Motoring
A tie-in with the Call of Duty Video Game Franchise was great marketing for Jeep with the 2012 Jeep Wrangler Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 Edition due to Jeep’s positive military connotations in the U.S. Too bad that it was lost in the sea of the dozens of other “special edition” Jeeps.

So why are Automakers doing it now? Once again, ever more expensive government regulations have shrunken profit margins, and now that making a car go stupid fast is something ANYONE can do, automakers, just like the late 1970s, have to sell something other than performance.

And that something? Special editions and appearance packages. Charge a few thousand dollars extra for a “special edition” or “limited edition” package that has barely any additional cost to produce, and that price difference equates to pure profit for automakers.

The Biggest problem of special edition cars? Economics for the end user.

bmw m3 m4 individual stage teaser 022 | Rational Motoring
Why bother paying $8k for additional paint choices when the BMW individual program lets you paint your car in any color you want for $5k? If you are going to spend $85-90k a car that looks like a confused beaver anyway, might as well save the $3k!

The biggest issue I see with these “special edition cars” is that they ultimately don’t make sense in terms of your value for money. For example, to get an otherwise identical BMW M3 Competition xDrive repainted PROFESSIONALLY in the exact color you want (with stupid good quality) will cost about $5,000. So already, that’s at least $3,000 more you have in your pocket compared to the 50-Jahre Edition BMW is trying to sell. And who is doing that custom paint? Why, BMW when your car is being made of course?

And while there has been no announcement for the price of neither the Volkswagen Golf R 20 Year Edition nor the Toyota 4Runner 40th Anniversary Edition, count on it being a few thousand dollars more expensive than the otherwise identical model it is based off of. And this is already in a time when new cars are short in supply and, in my view, too expensive to be financially worth it for anyone that has even the smallest amount of intelligence and desire to do better with money.


VW Golf R 20 Years | Rational Motoring
The power bump of the Mk8 Golf R 20 Year Edition, in my opinion, will likely be added to the standard Golf R a few years down the line when they give the model a mid-cycle refresh.

Limited or Special Edition Cars may have Special or Limited in the name, but at the end of the day, it is just more marketing to increase margins and hype up the brand. Would you buy a special edition or limited edition of a car that was only an appearance package? Let me know down in the comments below.

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