Serves the Commercial Small Fleet Market of 10 – 50 Vehicles

How Do Trim Levels Affect Lifecycle Costs?

September 2013, by - Also by this author

The first step in any lifecycle analysis is to come up with values for the models you’re considering in your fleet and then compare them.

This can be a daunting task, however, because these days new models have seemingly countless permutations of trim levels and options to choose from, and each package returns a different cents-per-mile and total cost of ownership.

For this analysis, we decided to take a look at trim levels on compact, midsize and large sedan models popular with fleets to determine the variance in ownership costs within a model. Then we compared those costs to their compact, midsize and large brothers.

We took the base trim level and top trim level for each model. We eliminated outlying trims that don’t see much action in commercial fleets, such as those used in rental fleets, luxury trims and those with sport engines and sport appearance packages. All models have automatic transmissions.

We used values from Vincentric, our lifecycle analysis provider. The Vincentric data measures eight cost elements for more than 2,000 vehicle configurations, including depreciation, financing, fees and taxes, fuel, insurance, maintenance, opportunity cost and repairs. Vincentric Fleet Price is calculated as invoice plus destination minus published fleet incentives.

Vincentric assumed 20,000 miles per year over three years for 2013 model-year vehicles. At the time of analysis (Aug. 14) complete data for 2014 models was not obtainable.


First, a note about “base” models: The lowest trim levels of today are not destined to languish on a car rental lot with rollup windows, manual locks and no air conditioning.

While some models are more sparsely equipped, today these lower trims might include full power, keyless entry, six-speaker sound, CD/MP3 players, USB ports and even Bluetooth connectivity — so don’t think your drivers will suffer if you choose this route.

Looking at the higher trim levels, expect amenities such as larger alloy wheels, leather, power and heated seats, a premium sound system, heated mirrors, heated seats, a larger touchscreen interface, a rear-view camera and often a larger engine.

Check the specs closely, as options found in each trim level vary widely by model and manufacturer.


The difference in acquisition cost between the low and high trim levels within the analyzed models range from $699 to $7,794, a wide gap.

Yet the gap shrinks when looking at the total cost of ownership at end of term. In almost every case, the higher trim levels held their values better than the lower trims of that model.

For example, while the initial fleet cost for a Chevrolet Cruze LTZ will run about $23,300 — or $4,903 more than the Chevrolet Cruze LS — the spread in total ownership cost is only $2,850 in favor of the LS model.

If you’re considering the Toyota Corolla, the LE presents a greater case over the base version. While the initial cost of the LE is $699 more than the base model, the LE’s total cost of ownership comes out to $28 less than the base model.

Rewarding your drivers with a higher trim level will cost more initially, but you’ll make up some of the cost by the time you de-fleet. Of course, if you’re leasing, this is factored into your monthly payment.

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