Buy a European car such as Jaguar, Mercedes, Saab or Volvo and you’ll find something different on the dash — a switch to turn on rear fog lights. In Europe, cars are required to include special lights on the back that can be clicked on in foggy weather — as a bright warning to cars coming up fast behind you not to hit you. It’s a rather simple, brilliant idea.
Of course, in the U.S., most cars have fog lights as an optional accessory on the front of the vehicle, low-down on the bumper, where they do little good. Really. Drive in the fog here, turn on those low beacons, and you get a little extra wattage illuminating the ground 10 feet in front of your tires. Most U.S. fog lights are not yellow either (a color that can cut through haze better than white light).
Why does the U.S. have fog lamps that are just cosmetic, jazzing up the front of the car or SUV, while Europe has truly functional lights on the back that might save your life? Marketing. Fog lamps are an extremely noticeable add-on to a vehicle, and when you’re considering whether to drop $29,000 or $36,000 for exactly the same car, little accessories such as front fog-lamps, fatter tires, and leather seats add thousands of dollars to automaker profits. You would never spend $7,000 for a leather couch and new lamp — such a price would be a rip-off! — but you’ll gladly consider spending $7,000 more for exactly the same car with a “package” of fog lights and leather seats.
Marketers know that a car without fancy lights on the front looks less inviting than the vehicle with a touch of glamour, and we’ll irrationally pay far more for that. In marketing psychology, they are using a bland car bumper as a reference point to upsell you to a non-bland car bumper, at a higher price point that really makes little sense. The package bundle includes parts that are not as great as the perceived whole; the price obscurity sucks us in, and marketers win fatter margins.
So if you get rear-ended in the fog next week, don’t blame the driver behind you. Blame yourself for spending money on front-facing lights that make your car look cooler.