The 1995 Explorer gave me a real taste of what it must be like to be an “order-taker” at a Honda or Toyota dealership. Customers drove up, took whatever we had on the lot, and paid sticker without complaining. We were perennially short on inventory, which of course didn’t keep my flamboyant General Manager from reserving one for his personal use.
Glenn, the GM in question, liked to have things just so. Once every two or three months, he ordered a white Explorer XLT 945A with a few extra options. As soon as his new one showed up, we had to sell his old one. It was a system that worked very well; since Glenn’s demo was the only Explorer on which we offered any real discount, it was a quick sale.
Several Explorers back, Glenn’s personal whip had been involved in a mild fender-bender and had been shuttled off to the body shop. It was placed on the back burner because it was an “in-house” deal, but when it returned, we all marveled at how perfectly it had been repaired. It looked like a brand-new 1994 Explorer.
Which it was.
And it returned to us in January of 1995, in the middle of a monster snowstorm.
Did I mention it was two-wheel-drive?
Droopy, our dealership principal, was angry. He was the proud owner of a $29,200 1994 Explorer XLT RWD in the middle of the 1995 winter. The ’95 Explorer was incomparably superior to the ’94. It had independent front suspension, a completely revamped interior, more room, a better stereo, NVH refinements, you name it. It was also totally restyled and made the old one look like a brick.
We didn’t have a single RWD 1995 model on the lot, because two-wheel-drive SUVs are lot filler during a tough Ohio winter. Glenn’s demo was a triple threat: last year’s model, tricky in the snow, and it had crash damage which would have to be reported to the lucky new owner. The law’s quite clear on that. In the early Eighties, BMW was infamous for delivering damaged cars to dealers. Those dealers would then silently repair the cars at the lowest possible cost. Cue the early rust, the indignant yuppies, the class-action suit.
At first, we thought the truck might move at invoice price, so we advertised it at $25,999. No takers. Every week the price dropped. Droopy finally made us put it in the showroom with “$21,999″ on the windshield. Seven grand discount. And it still didn’t sell. Buyers would come in, see the price, and get interested. Then they’d find out it was RWD, and that they couldn’t lease it, and they would drive away in a new ’95 instead.
On a do-nothing Friday afternoon, a blond woman in her late thirties pulled in behind the wheel of a Tempo. She was my “up”. Naturally, she wanted an Explorer. She still owed money on her Tempo; Tim the used-car guy quoted it at $2500 below her payoff. It occurred to me that we could bury the negative equity in Glenn’s ’94.
Of course, she wanted to drive it, and I had to go along. I’d learned to be fearful of winter test drives with women, particularly in RWD trucks. No need to worry this time. Karen, the customer, handled the Explorer like a Finnish rally driver. I was honestly impressed, and she was perfectly comfortable with the truck.
If shopping for cars is like dating, the credit application is like getting naked for the first time. There’s a little frisson on both sides of the table… and when Karen got naked for me, we had some problems. She had recently divorced her doctor husband and was working part-time as a nurse. $35K annual income, $18K of support payments from the hubby, two kids, big house. This was going to be a problem.
While our unsuspecting customer played with her hair and read brochures at my desk, the F&I guy, Glenn, and I put our heads together and started calling banks. Nobody wanted to touch this. Finally, our guy at Ford Motor Credit laid down the law: They would finance the truck over 60 months and bury the negative equity… with $10,000 down. This was equivalent to saying “F off,” since divorced women with low income rarely have a spare $10K just lying around.
The three of us sat there shellshocked. We were going to have this 1994 Explorer until we all lost our jobs, which had to be an imminent occurrence. It’s hard to put across just how antiquated the ’94 looked in the showroom. The interior was straight out of the 1984 Ranger; shiny, hard-edged. It had the old single-DIN Ford radio when everything else in the showroom had a double-DIN. Worst of all, it didn’t have a freaking driver-side airbag, so it had the old-style Ford truck steering wheel. Just looking at that was enough to make customers think twice.
“Get out there,” Glenn said, “and ask that bitch for ten grand.” I walked back to my desk with the shuffling gait of the condemned man. Karen looked up, and that was when I realized that I wanted to see her naked in the non-financial sense, too. She was good-looking, a bit zaftig for my twenty-three-year-old taste, but as I sat down I knew that I would now have the extra annoyance of delivering bad news to somebody to whom I was rather attracted. I prepared to deliver my usual line, which was “We’ve got some good news.”
“Karen, we have some… bad news, I guess. You know, we have, ah, some negative equity here, and with, ah, the cost of the Explorer, um, well, it turns out the banks would want, like, um, ah, something in the neighborhood of the, um, ten thousand dollar range to, you know, make this happen…”
“Did you say TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS?”
“Um, well, yes, the approximate range of the down payment, which…”
“Okay.” What did she just say?
“What did you just say?”
“Will you take a check?”
“Um, hold on…” She had the money! The court had actually given her a little more than that upon the successful completion of her divorce. Make it a lot more. She stroked the check out of her personal account and the bank verified that, yes, she could cover that one and plenty more just like it. Ten minutes later I was moving the approximately two hundred pounds of shopping bags, clothing, and random items from her Tempo to her new Explorer. On the way out, she reached up, hugged me close, and kissed me on my cheek.
“I’m so happy,” she whispered hotly into my ear. Me too, Karen. Me, too.