By on September 18, 2017

Dealer Showroom

Car dealerships are an American institution. Often controlled by a patriarch with an unusual amount of sway in the local community (and their sometimes cosseted children), dealer franchises dot the country’s landscape like moles on a back. Isolated near exit ramps, they serve as gleaming beacons of civilization as you traverse through long expanses of wilderness on a road trip.

North America wouldn’t be the same without them but, according to one automotive regent, irreparable change is coming to the dealer networks we’ve become begrudgingly accustomed to. Bill McDaniels, president of McDaniels Automotive Group, runs a half-dozen stores selling selling Acura, Audi, Porsche, Subaru, and Volkswagen-branded vehicles in South Carolina. He’s one of those automotive viceroys mentioned earlier, right down to having his son as the chief operating officer for his business, and he’s convinced the era of family-owned dealerships is almost over.

Is this one man’s paranoid delusion or an astute observation of industrywide trends?  (Read More…)

By on September 12, 2017

irmatireiron

We live in polarized times, when acknowledging the existence of one group of evil people is considered to be a defense of a second group of evil people that the first group of bad actors consider their enemies. Some folks have trouble holding the concept that it is possible to despise both sides of a controversy, without having to identify with this or that tribe. I dislike having to use caveats in my writing but let me say at the outset that I think that people and businesses should not unduly take advantage of situations during natural disasters and other catastrophes.

We’ve seen a lot of inspirational stories out of Texas and Florida in the literal wake of two mammoth storms. We’ve also seen some price gouging and looting. Catastrophes bring out the worst and best in both those that are directly affected, and in those who observe from afar.

A couple of Florida car dealers, in Hollywood and further north in Tallahassee, decided to shelter their inventories from Hurricane Irma in public parking structures made available to residents trying to keep their personal vehicles above flood waters (and somewhat protected from flying debris). The dealers may have protected their vehicles from Irma, but that didn’t protect them from a storm of bad publicity. Every car those dealers parked in those structures meant someone’s daily driver couldn’t be saved from the maelstrom. (Read More…)

By on August 23, 2017

2017 Acura CDX - Image: Acura ChinaThe long-established U.S. auto industry is essentially impossible to turn on its head. An automaker can’t simply show up with a new brand or a new philosophy or new design tactics and instantly upset the apple cart.

Just as you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, it’s difficult to teach an old automobile market to adopt new buying habits. Market share swings are incremental. Progress is slow. At Acura, for example, facelifts of the TLX and RLX sedans and improved availability of the MDX (after moving some production to Ohio) will likely not combine to increase the brand’s market share by even one-tenth of one percent.

Given the difficulties faced by Acura in America — sales have fallen by more than a quarter since 2005 — Honda’s premium brand is turning its gaze to a larger, fresher, less established market. A market where buying habits are not cemented, where market share is still up for grabs, where market-specific vehicles are the norm.

And if Acura can soon succeed in China, where the brand has high hopes for the near-term, then Acura stands a much better chance of succeeding in America. (Read More…)

By on August 18, 2017

Karen Radley Acura screenshot - Image: Karen Radley Acura websiteIt made perfect sense. In 2009, when Hyundai wanted customers to view its new Genesis luxury sedan as a premium bit of kit, Hyundai did not compare the Genesis to the Sonata. In an early marketing campaign, Hyundai’s voiceover said the Genesis is “as spacious as a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, yet priced like a C-Class.”

When the time came to market the Genesis R-Spec, Hyundai reached way upmarket to compare 0-60 mph times with the Porsche Panamera. Hyundai wasn’t under the mistaken impression that the Genesis would steal thousands of sales from $100,000 Benzes and Porsches. But Hyundai was crafting an image. Hyundai didn’t require you to believe that the Genesis was a viable S-Class alternative — the company just wanted you to understand that this is premium-oriented S-Class-sized sedan at a C-Class-like price.

Long before the Hyundai Genesis tried to cultivate a premium persona, Acura was failing to keep up with Lexus in the quest to be viewed as a true luxury rival for the German establishment. It’s still a problem. So Acura dealers are now just trying to make sure you understand that the Acura TLX is better than the Audi A4 Lexus ES Infiniti Q50 2018 Honda Accord. (Read More…)

By on July 14, 2017

screen-shot-2017-07-13-at-10-48-12-am-610x588

“You know, that might be the answer – to act boastfully about something we ought to be ashamed of. That’s a trick that never seems to fail.”

— Col. Korn, Catch-22

It never fails. I’ve visited dozens of Ford dealers this year in the course of my day gig, and they almost always have a Focus RS sitting prominently on the showroom floor. Sometimes, they have two. This week, I visited a dealer that had four.

“Hey, I’ve got one of those,” I said to him, pointing at a 2016 Nitrous Blue RS2 model.

“Would you like another one?” he pleaded. “I’m selling it below invoice.” A quick check of his inventory revealed that it had been sitting on his lot for 217 days, with the others eclipsing the 150 day mark — a lifetime at a Ford dealership.

Of course, we know that Ford has already decided to pull the plug on the RS, and they’re gonna send it off with a limited-edition run of 1500 cars with the RS2 package and a Quaife LSD (something the car has always desperately needed). But why? Why did a car that American hot hatch enthusiasts have been craving for decades see such a short existence in the States?

Ford dealers. Duh.

(Read More…)

By on May 23, 2017

JM Lexus Margate Florida - Image: Lexus.com

Half an hour from Fort Lauderdale, in Margate, Florida, sits JM Lexus, the highest-volume Lexus dealership in the United States.

Even by Lexus standards, where throughput is the best of any premium automaker operating in America, JM Lexus’ 8,000-unit new vehicle sales tally in 2016 was striking. That’s more than 150 new luxury cars, crossovers, and SUVs sold each week. That’s roughly six times the volume achieved by the typical Lexus dealer.

And JM Lexus, perennially the top Lexus dealer in America, does so as part of the Lexus Plus strategy: no negotiating, a single representative per customer, fixed prices for new and used cars as well as service fees and accessories.

Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned by Lexus’ other dealers. For the time being, according to Automotive News, only 5 percent of Toyota’s premium brand stores operate under the Lexus Plus model. (Read More…)

By on May 22, 2017

image: Michael Sheehan AutoNation 2014

At least twenty upper-echelon executives have left AutoNation since the start of 2014, with the vast majority bailing within two years. Short stints with an employer and lackluster job stability may be the norm for bottom-rung millennials but senior managers with years of experience have a tendency to stick around a while.

That doesn’t necessarily mean there is something sinisterly “up” with the largest automotive retailer in the United States, but it does leave you wondering about its future. This concern was heightened after AutoNation’s chief operating officer, Bill Berman, suddenly resigned last week, not even four months after being named president.  (Read More…)

By on May 10, 2017

Sales situation in a car dealership, the dealer is handing auto keys to a young couple, they are excited, cars standing in the background, Image: Kzenon/Bigstock.com

You’re all too familiar with that image, aren’t you? She’s laughing hysterically or having some sort of crisis.  Her male friend, hand outstretched to receive his car key, looks on in amazement at her awkward and overblown reaction within this sales situation. They are The Couple, and they are stock image gold.

Want more of them? You got it.

(Read More…)

By on January 23, 2017

Walmart

With the exception of funeral services and stylish clothing, practically anything can be purchased at your local Walmart. Well, that list now includes automobiles. North America’s largest retailer is edging is way into automotive sales with the help of the nation’s largest new-car dealership franchise, AutoNation.

Launching in April, Walmart’s CarSaver program will make it the perfect middleman for impulse car buyers and local dealerships. CarSaver is designed to allow shoppers to browse, select, finance, and insure a vehicle through its website or at kiosks positioned in outside of the nail salons and vision centers of twenty-five Walmart Supercenters. (Read More…)

By on October 24, 2016

fusion-hybrid-window-sticker

It was called The Automobile Information Disclosure Act of 1958 and it was sponsored by Almer Stillwell Monroney, the Senator from Oklahoma who preferred the colloquial nickname “Mike” and whose other legislative priority in 1958 was to create the FAA.

We owe Mike Monroney a lot. He was from that long-discredited and long-forgotten breed of old privileged men who believed there was such a thing as the public interest and that they had a genuine duty to act in that public interest. As with Rudolf Diesel, history has paid him the supreme compliment of omitting capitalization — it’s common for “monroney” to be used in correspondence or business as a mere noun denoting the window sticker in a new car.

We take the monroney for granted nowadays. There are few of us left alive who can remember the days when a car did not have its price and equipment fully and forthrightly glued to the inside of its rear passenger window. In fact, very few of us take the window sticker at all seriously. Everybody knows that in the modern car market the dealer invoice is the “real” sticker, unless you’re talking about a Ferrari or something where the MSRP is just a starting point for further discussions based on one’s history with the marque, the dealership, and/or Goldman Sachs. But the protection and information offered by that label in the window is real, it is meaningful, and it is absolutely critical to any remotely ethical business transaction between the dealer and the consumer. (Read More…)

By on September 2, 2016

Honda CPO Civic

If you were to listen to the Experts Of The Internet, you might become convinced that Certified Pre-Owned is the only way to go when buying your next whip (I like to say “whip” because I know it annoys many of you). In this case, the experts aren’t entirely wrong — after all, there’s a lot to like about CPO. Late-model cars in like-new condition at a cost that’s considerably less than new, extended warranties, 1,857-point inspections — it’s all good stuff, right? If you play your hand correctly, you can get an outstanding deal and a car that will inspire confidence.

But CPO is a giant pain-in-the-ass for many dealers. Knowing what we know about the dealership world, is it any wonder that a good number of them game the system? If you’re looking to go CPO, you’ll want to know the tricks they pull, and how they affect you, the consumer.

(Read More…)

By on July 22, 2016

2016 Chevrolet Malibu

Driving off the dealer lot in a longed-for new vehicle is one of life’s richest pleasures, but there’s no joy if a buyer can’t find the chariot of their dreams.

Now, imagine that your dream ride is a gray Chevrolet Malibu — a 1LT model with two common options. Doesn’t that seem like an attainable goal? Shouldn’t be too hard to find, you’d think, right? Well, one would-be buyer says otherwise. (Read More…)

By on July 21, 2016

Cadillac Man, Robin Williams

Imagine that you owned a successful business. For many of you reading this today (including me), you don’t have to imagine, because you’ve done it. If you owned anything from a lemonade stand to a global airline, you’d have a pretty good idea of your costs and profits. You’d know which advertising sources worked best for your business. You’d strive to know where your customers came from. You’d have a system for hiring and training employees.

You’d do all of this and more, because you must have all of your ducks lined up in pretty little rows to be successful.

Well, that is unless you’re a car dealer. In that case, you may have no idea about any part of how your business works and still make money hand over fist.

Don’t believe me? Over the next several weeks, I’ll prove it to you. Today we’ll start with a simple concept that befuddles most dealers: online merchandising.

(Read More…)

By on July 6, 2016

Suckers at the Stock Photo Dealership with a Credit Card

A record 31 percent of all new vehicles sold this year in the U.S. are leased. I spent a good part of my career studying why some people refuse to lease. Much of their resistance stems from bad buzz. Some say it’s because of the stories they heard about ’80s-era open-end leases where owners were responsible for paying the car’s residual value at lease end. (These are the same customers who will not buy a Hyundai today because they produced crappy cars in the ’80s.) Others oppose leasing because they heard about a guy whose cousin’s neighbor had to pay $5,000 in wear and tear or excess mileage charges at lease end. And there are those of you who will brag comment below about how you always pay cash for your cars and don’t understand why other people won’t follow your lead.

This article is not designed to convert such non-believers to leasing. This advice, drawn from my years in the auto finance business, is for buyers who know the basics and benefits of leasing, want some timely tips on how to get the lowest possible payments, and want to pay less money on lease-end charges.

(Read More…)

By on June 2, 2016

2016 Toyota RAV4

If you want the best chances of being treated right as a new car buyer, head over to a Toyota or Mercedes-Benz dealer, a new report says.

Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm, ranked 294 companies, including 20 auto dealers, based on satisfaction surveys from 10,000 Americans. While Toyota took the top spot with a 66 percent rating, the report holds bad news for many automakers, and the industry as a whole. (Read More…)

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