Dell Computers believes that people are willing to pay more for something if it’s personalized, or customized to their needs — and it’s completely revamped the way it does business in North America.

While customization in electronics might be a new venture, vehicle personalization goes back to the automobile’s very beginnings. In the 1950s and ’60s, there used to be arm-long option lists and dozens of factory paint colour combinations to choose from.

That changed radically in the ’80s and ’90s, with automakers believing that having two or three groups of popular options was key to keeping costs down. That’s why most new vehicles only offer a handful of colours and trim levels. Sure, if you’re buying a Porsche 911 and want leather-wrapped sun visors, the company would happily do that, but the costs involved are too high for the average consumer to bear.

Two new offerings at the Canadian International Auto Show are trying to bring personalization and that sense of ownership to a much more approachable price level. The Kia Soul and Nissan Cube are similar in concept, seeing as both are entry-level five-door squared-off hatchbacks. But it takes more than just funky designs to attract new buyers today.

While the Cube will be available with all of the usual comfort and safety features as standard, a full range of accessories will allow buyers to “expand their Cube world,” as Nissan puts it, with items such as an illumination kit with 20 selectable colours, illuminated kick plates, rear cargo organizer, pet blankets, wheels and aero kits.

“We know that self-expression is important to many potential Cube buyers, so we’ve provided the room and accessories to help with personalization,” said Ian Forsyth, director of product and corporate planning at Nissan Canada. “However, Cube is far from a blank or empty canvas that buyers must equip on their own. The Cube (has) an abundance of personality right off the assembly line.”

The Soul offers a similar level of self expression, offering everything from houndstooth seat coverings to glow-in-the-dark logos. And customers are free to customize their new vehicle with everything from different wheels, graphics packages, running boards, and sound systems with LED lights that flash to the beat.

“The Soul is for those who love individuality but don’t like to be categorized by finding the next best thing,” said Michael Sprague, vice-president of marketing at Kia.

“Soul is an attractive and customizable vehicle for those looking for something with a little more personality than other vehicles on the market today.”