Having just seen the new Explorer, but being under some kind of embargo, I’ve decided to write about old Explorers this week – jb
My parents raised me to never inquire about another person’s salary, but they didn’t have the chance to deliver this message to everyone else in America. As a result, I’ve seen this question asked of many people, including myself, during my lifetime. There are two ways this question can be answered. The first one is the way that everyone in the universe except paid-on-commission salespeople answer it. The pseudo-math equation is this:
(Reported annual income) = (actual annual income)
Salespeople answer the question differently. In fact, I’ve never met one who failed to give the following answer, expressed in the same style:
(Reported annual income) = ((Best Month Ever) * 12)
With that in mind, what follows is how I earned $108,000 a year selling Ford Explorers in 1995.
I want to explain the magic of the Ford Explorer to you in a way that everyone can understand. During 1995, Ford sold well over 400,000 units of both the Taurus sedan and the Explorer SUV. The average ticket for the Taurus at my dealership was about $17,500. Of that, about $16,000 went to Ford after rebates and holdback. That sixteen grand had to pay for a complex unibody vehicle with expensive components, relatively expensive trim, and a CAFE burden that needed to be addressed by subsidizing Ford Escort sales.
By contrast, the average ticket for an Explorer at my dealership was $29,675, which was what an XLT 4WD with sunroof cost. $26K of that went to Ford. A V-6 Ranger with identical mechanicals could be had for $18K. Get the picture? Ford made big bank on the Explorer. Maybe as much as $10K per unit profit, times 400,000 or more, for nearly a decade.
I arrived in the Ford business during the winter of 1994-5. One of my first sales was a previous-gen 1994 Explorer, and that’s a story I will tell tomorrow, but in general I was there to sell 1995 Explorers. We sold as many Explorers as we did other Ford vehicles combined. This was critical, because Explorers were the only Ford vehicles which sold at sticker that year. It was easy to make $400 commision on Explorer deals, compared to the $50 “minideals” to be had on a Taurus or Contour. Selling five Explorers meant you could eat that month and keep the lights on at home.
The vast majority of Explorer sales were the 945A XLT package. That was leather, sound system, tilt and cruise, 15″ aluminum wheels, tinted glass, and roof rack. It was the cheapest Explorer to lease, because it had the highest residual. Cheapskates and cash buyers were shown the $26,000 941A XLT with flat cloth seats. There was an Explorer XL four-door, but we never sold one.
The Eddie Bauer Explorer was a piece of shit, so we never stocked more than one at a time, compared to the 10-15 945A XLTs we had on hand constantly. The 16″ wheels and big tires made it miserable on the road and the price was well above the critical $30,000 mark. The Limited, at $35,000, was even worse and we wouldn’t even take them on dealer trades. I could lease you a 945A XLT for $450 a month. A Bauer was $650 on the same profit margin; a Limited was $800. Hell no.
There was one engine choice — a 4.0 V6 — and just two drivetrains — RWD and an “Auto 4WD”. We didn’t have a V8, and we didn’t have full-time AWD. It didn’t matter. The Explorer rode well in XLT form, it had all the goodies, it was reasonably spacious, and it looked prosperous. The line formed to the left.
My wedding was planned for August of 1995, and as of July I still had no money for a honeymoon. We didn’t even have any real credit cards to debt-float such a trip, so I figured we would just come home after the blessed event. I was earning an average of $2500 a month at the dealership, and there was no honeymoon money hiding in that figure. Oh well.
Around July 15, a young African-American man came into the dealership to look at Explorers. As is always the case at new-car dealerships, the arrival of a black man caused every salesman in the joint to mysteriously fade away, leaving me alone on the showroom floor. The guy’s name was, I think, Vince. Nice enough, and I took him out for a drive in the 945A XLT demo.
He was sold, at full sticker. The bank came back with an emphatic “HELL NO.” Vince wasn’t fazed; he would take a 941A. No chance. Okay, he’d take a two-door Sport, for $23,995. The bank said he was approved for a maximum of $22,000. Not a penny more. Vince said he had a thousand bucks in his savings account, give or take a few. My boss told me to take him across the street to the used-car shop.
In the converted Burger King which housed our used-car sales offices, I was greeted by Tim, the outrageously greasy and unethical used-car manager. “We have a $23K Explorer, no problem.” I took Vince out for a demo drive in it. It was a ’93 four-door XLT, plenty of equipment, 45,000 miles. I couldn’t believe Tim had the nerve to ask that kind of money for the truck, but Vince liked it. He was “sold and rolled” an hour later. I was called into the sales office to do my commission paperwork.
“Here’s the deal,” Tim said, grinning from ear to ear. “We had that on the lot at $16,995. I pulled the numbers off while you were stalling the mark. We paid $12,500 for it. He signed at $22,995. Pack (the part of the dealer profit on which a salesman is not paid) is $500, net is $9,995. You take 30% of that, $3332.50.”
I felt sick to my stomach. We’d cheated that man, and I said as much to Tim. He was a big Irish guy, and he rose to his feet with violence in his eyes. For the sake of some of the readers who complained about the language in my Aspire review, I will redact this one. “That (African-American) (individual who performs oral sex on men) was fucking stupid enough to pay the ticket. Nobody cheated nobody. Take your money and shut the fuck up before I kick the shit out of you.” Faced with the choice between collecting more than three thousand dollars and losing my job yet again for office fistfighting, I took the money.
Forty days later, my wife and I were in Disneyworld, enjoying a room in the “Contemporary” hotel and eating cost-no-object dinners every night. Energized by my agitation on that deal, I’d managed to earn almost nine thousand dollars that month, selling ten new cars and three used ones. I even bought myself a wedding present — a new HK P7M8 pistol that sold at the time for eleven hundred bucks. Good times.
I returned after a six-day absence to find a message on my desk. Vince had recommended me to a friend who was dealing with credit issues. Could I sell him a great Explorer like I’d sold Vince? On my way out the door that night, I turned, faded back in the jump-shot motion I’d learned playing Catholic-school basketball, and shot the crumpled message into the showroom wastebasket. There are limits.