Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Car dealer theatre

It's the timeless, apparently "must-see" show of all time... for those buying a car.

It's the show put on by your local car salesman as you make the step towards buying a new car.

It's part pantomime and part comedy, but has sad and depressing undertones.

It's a show my friend and I have unwittingly and unwillingly received front row seats for as we separately look at replacing our Hyundai Excels.   Mine is 15 years old and hers is 17 years old.

Sadly, not our actual cars

To be fair, both cars are still going strongly.  They may not have had the easiest or most pampered of lives, but to their credit the mechanical bits still move in the right direction (even if some of the bits of plastic fell off shortly after the Sydney Olympics).

While I'm sure they're are trustworthy and reputable car salespeople out there (contact me!), unfortunately we've both encountered a series of people who seem to be D-grade actors performing a tired and cliched play.

Getting to your dream car is harder than you think

Here's 10 scenes of the play you're most likely to encounter when you find yourself in car dealer theatre.

Scene 1:  The vague phone calls
Car dealers seem desperate to get you physically into the dealership rather than discuss anything on the phone beforehand.  Their websites are also unhelpfully vague about little things like price, forcing you to make direct contact.  They must feel like they Svengali-like powers are more effective in the flesh. Simple questions like "do you have this colour in stock?" or "what's the price?" are met with a verbal dance that makes you wonder if you've accidentally rung an old person's home rather than the car dealership.  By the end of the phone call, they've been sufficiently unknowledgeable that you doubt they could spell car let along sell you one.

You could pull your hair out dealing with car salesmen

Scene 2:  "This is the last of this colour / last of this model"
I was boldly told that the car that I wanted was no longer made and certainly not available in that colour "ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD" (so I had better take the one they had conveniently located their show room).   I didn't buy that car, but strangely this car maker continues to advertise the model and colour I was after on national television.  Could it be that the salesman lied?

Scene 3:  A focus on useless features you'll never use
My recent favourite was a small three-door car which had air conditioning in the glove box "to keep your sandwiches cool", three modes of steering (this isn't a race car) and two cigarette lighters so you can "run your laptop and mobile phone at the same time" (hell, why not my dryer as well).   This reminded me of the salesman who sold me my current Hyundai Excel in 1998 who assured me the boot was big enough for me to fit "a set of golf clubs and my girlfriend at the same time".  To be fair, I've never had either of these so have never been able to put this claim to the test.
If it rained more I would buy a canoe instead

Scene 4:  The magic jotting pad 
This masterpiece of physical drama is played out after the test drive when he sits you down at a table and starts talking figures.   On the jotting pad he writes a ridiculously high figure, usually $6,000 to $10,000 more than the advertised price.  He then works his way down the page crossing out numbers and writing new ones because of "this month's special", "you look like a nice person", "to be honest sales have been slow this month" and various other real or mythical factors.   This is doubt aimed at making you feel like your getting your getting a great deal when really they're just "discounting" to the advertised price.

Scene 5:  "I just have to check the computer" / "I just have to check with my manager"
Again designed to make you feel that you might be getting some special, out-of-the ordinary deal requiring "divine intervention" from the dealership manager or the computer.  I imagine the "heated" discussion going on in the manager's office is about the office footy-tipping competition, while a game of Solitaire is underway on the computer he's concentrating so hard on.

Maybe buying a bike would be easier

Scene 6:  "What price would make you happy?"
When the conversation has dragged on for a little longer than the salesman would like, he might ask this direct question.  It's quite bold and also unfair given your question "what's your best deal?" usually goes unanswered.  What price would make me happy?  A new car for $5, but I'm guessing that's not going to happen.  So the dance continues.  One salesman assured me "every man has his price".  I wasn't sure if he was offering me a car or sex in return for money at this stage.

Scene 7:  Everything has to happen TODAY 
As the agent tries to apply more pressure he starts making references to how this "deal" he is proposing is only on the table today for various dubious reasons like "someone else is also looking at that car" and "the price goes up soon".  I appreciate their adoption of the "seize the day" mantra, but I'm not buying a bottle of milk for $4.  I'm buying a car worth several thousands of dollars that I'm expecting to last several years.  I'd like to take more than 30 minutes to ponder the decision.  Surely if your car is that good my decision to buy will be the same this time tomorrow?

It's enough to do your head in

Scene 8:  The upsell
I get the distinct impression that these days you are buying the shell of the car and that everything else is an "additional extra".  Even things that you thought would probably be standard, like mud flaps, seems to be an extra for an extra fee.  It makes you wonder if I also have to pay extra for an engine or steering wheel.

Scene 9:  Appeal to manhood / bamboozaling "the ladies" / sale of the century
This is the part where you wonder if the show room is actually a portal back to the 1950s.   For men, the salesman implies that your manhood would be in question if you didn't take a particular model or feature.  For the ladies, they get the sexist remarks akin to "don't worry your pretty head about that, but it's called a windscreen".  Both sexes get to enjoy the salesman's look of sheer disbelief and comments like "you would be certifiably crazy if you walked away from this deal today" should you be giving any indication that you didn't think this was the sale of the century.
For guys, just remember your manhood is in question

Scene 10:  Introductions to everyone in the office
When I walked into one dealership to test drive a particular model, apart from the salesman himself, I was introduced to the finance manager, dealership manager, the customer care manager, the workshop manager and a whole host of characters.   I wondered if I was going to get invited to the office Christmas party (I wasn't).  It seems the single act of buying a car has been divided among many to give the sense that each is so important that it requires special attention.  So once you've decided on the car, you're passed to another "discuss extras", before being passed to another to "discuss finance" and on it goes.  I'm a bit sad I didn't get to meet the cleaner, probably someone who has had the most interaction with the car I'm interested in buying.

I'm afraid I've only discussed a few of the many key scenes from car dealer theatre.  I'm sure there's many more.

Do you have any to add from the song and dance productions you've seen?

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