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Auto Manufacturers and Dealers — Will They Ever Learn?

by David Brock on March 28th, 2008
Every few years, I subject myself to one of the most frustrating experiences a consumer can ever go through, I buy a new car. I’ve been buying cars for too many years, and the experience is always terrible. After every dealer visit, I feel like I have to take a shower to clean the slime away.

As a side note, before I get into my rant, a number of years ago, I wrote an article on the same topic. it was called “The Ultimate Buying Experience,” a tongue in cheek take off on the advertising theme of a large German car manufacturer and my experience in buying one of their cars. I actually wrote that 10 years and about 6 cars ago (sorry, I’ll admit to a vice about nice cars.). Each time I buy a car, I hope the experience has changed. Each time, I an inevitably disappointed.

The Internet has provided consumers a huge amount of data about purchasing cars, dealer invoices, promotions, etc. The car manufacturers’ sites also give interesting insight. I try to be as informed as possible as a consumer.

Yet the moment, I walk into a dealership, virtually any dealership, I am treated like an idiot. Sales people present pricing that is way off the mark. When I start to challenge them, they come up with the most ludicrous responses. When I indicate I have done my homework, they start to waffle a little, then they resort to lies. Today, I asked someone about a dealer rebate program and when it terminated, he told me the end of the month (this being the 28th, it served his purpose). When I showed him a print out from the manufacturer’s website saying it the end date was much later than the dealer stated, he said the website was wrong. I suggested we revisit the website to confirm this, or that we call the manufacturer. Then he started his dance, trying to come up with illogical reasons to support his claims.

Another dealer gave me two prices in two visits. The first visit, I dealt with the first salesperson that greeted me. He gave me the “best possible price,” after a lot of back and forth. A couple days later, I visited the dealership again. The salesperson wasn’t in, so I asked for the fleet manager (I had been coached to do so.). I explained what I was looking for, he gave me the fleet price which was several $1000 below the “best price” I had been quoted by their sales people a couple days earlier. When I challenged him about the difference. all he could say was fleet pricing was different. (As a side note to the readers, if you don’t know, it seems that everyone qualifies for fleet pricing, you just have to ask for it. Does it make sense? No, it’s just another demonstration of the low esteem that car dealers and the manufacturers hold their customers.)

The automotive industry is in serious trouble. Everyday, we read of layoffs, reductions, challenges that manufacturers and dealers face. Yet they persist with this ridiculous behavior and demeaning treatment of its customers. Consumer surveys constantly cite dissatisfaction with the “buying experience.”

Dealer and manufacturers apparently have no desire to learn. In years of buying cars, many very high end luxury and performance cars, I rarely see a dealer that respects the knowledge of their customers and treats them with genuine respect.

I believe car dealers and manufacturers deserve to get a fair profit on their products. I don’t want to screw the dealer, but I don’t want to be screwed either. It seems to be part of the business — manufacturers set policy and train dealers. Dealers execute these practices. All of it is based on taking as much advantage of the consumer as possible.

I wish they would learn, imagine, looking forward to buying a new car and going through a buying process that is satisfying and fair. It’s a win for consumers, dealers, and manufacturers.
As a final note, with a lot of diligence, you occasionally do find a good salesperson. I find a fair deal and will buy a new car. This sales person’s first quote was fair—based on my research and what a good target price would be. I suppose I could haggle and get a few dollars off, but I won’t. I’m happy with the deal, I think it is a fair price, it is not worth my time to try and extract the last cent from the deal.

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