The Truth About Cars » dealership The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Jul 2014 13:26:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » dealership Cadillac Reports 43% Of Dealers Will Not Sell ELR Thu, 20 Feb 2014 12:00:35 +0000 2014_cadillac_elr_f34_ns_21314_600
A niche vehicle is one that serves a very specific set of buyers with a vehicle that’s defined by a specialized and uncommon or unique role; and is often knowingly sold in low numbers to satisfy that dedicated group. Sometimes it’s to test a market: The Miata created its own niche in the 1990′s, and became a role model for modern product, like the S2000 and BRZ/FRS. Other are more esoteric niches, like the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet. Sometimes, niche cars bring buyers to a brand that they would not have thought about before.

Currently, one of our most popular niches is the hybrid segment, dominated by the Toyota Prius. Chevrolet threw their hat into the ring, inadvertently, with the Volt. Though primarily an electric car, it does run the gas engine as a series hybrid with engine lockup if needed for maximum efficiency. The sales have been mediocre, pushing just over 23,000 units in 2013. The Prius? It sold over 145,000 units in the same time period..

Is it any wonder, then, why 43% of Cadillac’s dealers aren’t willing to take the up-market, $75,000 (before $7,500 Federal tax credit) Cadillac ELR? It’s a niche of a niche. And it’s an expensive one for dealers to take a risk on. 


Edmunds reports that 410 out of Calliac’s 940 dealers will not take delivery of the new ELR, an fairly astonishing 43%. With fuel prices relatively low and a high sticker price, there appears to be little demand for the ELR, and dealers are keen on it. Jim Vurpillat, Cadillac’s global marketing director, told Edmunds in an interview that dealers “might look at (ELR) and say, ‘Ok, if I sell one of these, I got to have service charging stations, special training, a sales area. I have to buy special tools… If they don’t think they will sell more than one or two units a year, they would do the numbers, and it is probably not worth it.”

The cost for the training, additional tools, and other EV equipment can total $15,000 according to Edmunds. It’s just too costly of a chance for many Cadillac dealers to take. Most sales are expected to be in California, Dallas, Miami, and New York City, says Vurpillat. In Austin, Texas, our single Cadillac dealership has had one in stock.

But, at which point do we look at this as no longer chasing a niche, but falling into failure? Is it nearly half of your dealer network saying “no, thank you”?

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Dealership Wheel Thefts Spotlight Security Risks Tue, 11 Feb 2014 05:10:53 +0000  



In an era where even mundane family cars are shod with 18-inch-plus rims direct from the factory, dealers are prime targets for mass thefts. One Texas Chevy dealer took a big hit on Sunday, when 22 new cars were shorn of their wheels and tires by a gang of thieves.

Houston CBS affiliate KHOU reports that DeMontrond Chevrolet in Texas City suffered the loss sometime late Saturday or early Sunday. 88 tires and wheels went missing, as thieves pulled all the rims off the vehicles they hit. Photos from the scene show cars held up by bricks, jack stands, and other assorted junk. Unfortunately for the dealer, some of these cars fell off their precarious foundations. The resulting frame and body damage will add tens of thousands of dollars to the already steep replacement cost of the wheels. Insurance will probably pick up the tab for the direct financial losses, but the indirect costs of time and storage are likely to be significant.

From the pictures, it appears that new Camaros, Impalas, and a few trucks were targeted by the thieves. It’s easy to see why: a brand new set of Camaro takeoff wheels sells for around two grand  online. Neither the Camaro nor the Impala have wheel locks as standard equipment. GM does offer a set of locking lug nuts for both models as a $90 accessory. Such locks won’t foil the most determined thieves, who can pick or drill out the nuts. Even so, they may deter the street-level thief looking for an easy opportunity, if not the sophisticated dealership bandit.

This wasn’t the first time a Texas dealership targeted for a mass wheel theft. Back in May of last year, Mac Haik Ford in Georgetown lost nearly 200 wheels off of 48 vehicles in another overnight theft. Row after row of shiny new cars and trucks with wheels worth several hundred dollars apiece are an irresistible plum to thieves. Given the trend towards larger, more expensive rims on mass-market vehicles, OEMs owe it to their dealers and their customers to start taking wheel thefts seriously. Standard locking lug nuts will help, but it may be time to start exploring alternative technologies.

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Sunday Story: The Reluctant Baller Sun, 05 Jan 2014 16:21:50 +0000  


“Coach says I’m not allowed to leave you alone until you’ve bought a new car.” The game was up, apparently.

Charlie the defensive end leaned against the edge of his locker, weary now after an especially brutal practice. His whole body ached from countless hits on the tackling sled in the scorching heat. All he wanted was a quick shower before heading back to his condo to rest. He didn’t like talking about his car, period. Especially not right now, after what had happened this morning.

Mike the punter stood there, a solemn look on his face. A serious countenance betrayed the sincerity with which he regarded his new assignment. Charlie knew there was no point in arguing. It was one thing when his old Lumina, the butt of so many locker-room jokes, quit on him when he was on the way to the grocery store or the gym. It was another thing entirely when a long-suffering coolant hose finally gave out on the freeway, leading to a huge white cloud of sorrow and a two-hour delay in his attendance at practice. Unacceptable, especially in the NFL. Now Coach had roped in his closest friend on the team to make sure the incident was never repeated.

“We can go to the dealerships this weekend. You know, that big row by the beach: Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Infiniti, Lex-“

“I don’t want a fancy car.”

“You deserve it. You have the money.”

“I don’t care.”

“Charlie, you gotta live some, man. There are guys in the AFL with nicer cars than you.” Mike leaned in closer and told him in a tense whisper: “Stepping up the car game is the first part of stepping up the lady game. You know what I’m sayin’?” Charlie waved his hand dismissively, then turned back to gathering his things into his duffel bag.

“Sometimes, I think you shoulda gone to preacher school rather than pro football.” They both laughed at that one. But Mike turned serious again, intent on completing his mission.

“9 AM, Saturday. I’ll come get you. I better drive anyway because you’d never get the time of day if you rolled up in that P.O.S.”

“All right.” There was no point in fighting it now. The writing was on the wall. Satisfied with Charlie’s commitment, the punter turned to leave. But Charlie called after him. “Mike, wait! Can you give me a ride home?” Mike laughed as they headed out to the parking lot together, two friends swimming in a sea of expensive automobiles.


At home that evening, Charlie gazed out the window towards the ocean, lost in thought. His car was well and truly dead now. A quick phone call to the towing company meant he had washed his hands of the matter. They’d probably sell parts of it on Ebay to the rabid souvenir hunters that always sought his autograph. Oh well, not his problem now. Even so, he felt pangs of guilt.

He remembered the first day he’d got it, cruising around campus with that nervous athletic trainer in the passenger seat. It was a surprise gift from a booster; not exactly NCAA kosher, he figured, but he was always told not to worry about such things. A casual mention that he’d like to be able to go home and visit family more often was all it took for a set of keys to magically appear. He’d never driven before, but the feeling was incredible. For the first time, he was in control of a machine that was bigger, faster, and stronger than his own body. Around town, he drove cautiously, but on the freeway, he hammered it. That earned him a very friendly traffic stop from a local deputy, who gently admonished the local university’s star defensive player that he shouldn’t be driving quite so fast. Some might have seen this as evidence of invincibility, but afterwards he was more cautious. Keep the speed runs confined to late at night, and there wouldn’t be any trouble.

The sentimental value of the car came from what it enabled him to do. Go anywhere, especially to faraway places where nobody could bother him. Blend in with the crowd, and avoid the unwanted attention that had been heaped on him since the start of his college career. He knew full well that the car itself was junk. By the time the Lumina filtered down to his ownership (or “extended borrowing,” as the booster had so elegantly phrased it) it was already a decade and a half old. The paint was coming off in large chunks, a trend that only worsened with time. The radio worked occasionally; the A/C was long since dead and gone. The velour interior was shredded and stained, and the dash curled and cracked from years spent baking in the sun. As he slowly pushed it past a quarter million miles, more important things went wrong. First it was a radiator. Then an alternator. Then a new intake manifold, followed by a head gasket. The latest had been a transmission rebuild, to the tune of several thousand dollars. His teammates castigated him for pouring money into the car, laughing as they jingled the keys to their S-Classes and Range Rovers. At that point, the car went from being a mere tool to a form of silent protest. He kept it as he watched rookies and scrubs with far less talent trade in yearly for the latest in automotive jewelry. He knew half of them would be out of the league in two years, flat broke in three. The madness had to stop somewhere.

He had never been comfortable with wealth. There was one car in the immediate family growing up, and Mom and her sister used that for going to work. That was it. It was their lifeline; it was too valuable to risk on long trips or pleasure drives. They didn’t have the money for gas anyway: not to put in the tank, nor to heat the house in the winter. He’d never have gotten into football, had it not been for the eagle-eyed high school coach who saw what a rare opportunity he had in front of him. He was more than willing to pay Charlie’s fees, to give him rides to practice, to do whatever it took for the privilege of watching that gigantic teenager ruin the state’s top offenses on Friday nights. The number three most recruited prospect in the country still needed a lift to campus four years later; somebody stepped in and bought a bus ticket.

The glitz and glamour of a major D-1 program was bedazzling, but he tried to keep his wits about him. Go to class, go to practice, go out and play as hard as possible on Saturday. He was a god as they cruised to multiple national titles, but he used his privileges sparingly. A groupie here and there, a few late-night food deliveries, a new suit for when Grandma died and he didn’t have anything to wear to the funeral. There was always a fear in the back of his mind that the gravy train might be cut off at any moment, and then he’d be right back where he started. He waved aside the talking heads and the other know-nothings as he stayed out of the draft and finished his degree. He never asked for their attention in the first place.


The weekend came. After sidling his immense frame into Mike’s nearly-new A8, they headed towards the beach. In the most expensive part of town (far from Charlie’s discrete condo), a row of luxury dealerships stood on the main boulevard, a few blocks from the ocean. The glimmer of paint and chrome in the morning sun oozed money.

“Well, where do you want to start?”

“I don’t want to start,” Charlie responded cheekily. Mike sighed. “Oh fine, Mike. Just pullin’ your leg. Let’s check the Audi dealer first, since you seem to be keeping them in business anyway.”

“Yeah man! You’ll love it.” Thus began an eight-hour adventure into the world of luxury motoring. They formed quite the odd couple, wandering up and down the strip: a thin and dapper ex-soccer player in a thousand-dollar tailored shirt and Italian leather shoes, alongside an enormous wall of a man in a team logo sweatsuit, ballcap, and worn crosstrainers large enough to fit an elephant. Of course Charlie was instantly recognizable, and they had no problem getting attention at any dealer they entered. Too much attention, at times. Many overeager salespeople rushed to what they assumed was an easy mark, not knowing the hesitation of their reluctant customer. Perfunctory autographs and Instagram photos were followed by ecstatic sales pitches, with Mike chiming in as an echo. Although Charlie tried to maintain an air of bemused indifference, he found himself getting drawn in more than he would have liked to admit. He was no stranger to seeing the chariots of his teammates, who were forever champing at the bit to show off their latest acquisitions. He usually paid them as little attention as possible. But these cars… they really were something else.

Steering wheels with ten different heating and cooling levels. Twenty different settings for interior ambient lights. Radar adaptable cruise control. Infrared night vision. Monogrammed umbrellas that shot out of hidden pockets. Refrigerated compartments. And this was all on the “low end” cars; they hadn’t even touched the exotics. Mike begged him to go in the Lamborghini, Ferrari, Bentley and Rolls Royce place across the street, but Charlie put his foot down. He might wind up with a Lexus or BMW after all, but he was not going to go crazy. “Besides,” he told Mike, “God didn’t build me to fit into Italian convertibles.” Even though he was beginning to awaken to the pleasures of high-priced cars after years spent in his velour-lined hooptie, Charlie still couldn’t bring himself to sign on the dotted line. Even the plainest cars on offer seemed ridiculously flashy. He had settled in comfortably to the front seat of a Lexus LS, and thought to himself that maybe this was the one. But when he stepped out and looked at that front grill… Ugh. Maybe he could get them to put a new bumper on it or something.

It was getting late. They were nearing the end of the strip, and they were both tired. Mike refused to drive him to the more pedestrian dealerships on the other side of town, which would be closing soon anyway. Charlie steeled himself to buy a car he didn’t really like, just to get it over with. As they argued over the relative merits of an S-Class or a 7-Series, they came up on the last dealer in the row. It was a small place, with a tiny showroom. It clearly played second fiddle to the rest of the luxury crowd. Charlie looked up bemusedly, wondering if he might yet find something he could tolerate. Suddenly, he froze. As he looked at a car parked in the front row, festooned with balloons and big “FACTORY REBATES” signs, memories came flooding back. He remembered riding along with his assistant coach in one of those, along with four other poor kids. Coach rocketed around town in that thing, yammering a mile a minute about everything under the sun and forever puffing a fresh Marlboro. All as his cargo of awkward, overgrown highschoolers did their best to be polite and not gag on his cigarette smoke. Those were days he’d never forget. He rushed over to the car, leaving an incredulous Mike standing on the sidewalk.

Finding the door unlocked, he climbed inside. They might have the same name, but this one was infinitely more luxurious than what Coach drove. Leather seats ensconced Charlie as he marveled at the dash. The best part, though, was the interior room. No rubbing knees or banging heads. He checked the window sticker. Not an inexpensive car by any means, but only a fraction of the price of most of the other machinery he had examined that day. The exterior was to his liking. A few chrome accents here and there, and wheels that gleamed, but nothing over the top. As an added bonus, the trunk promised to be far more useable than anything else they’d looked at. He noticed a gaggle of salespeople headed his way, but he didn’t need a pitch. This was perfect. He waved to Mike, still standing where he had left him. “Found it!” he shouted. Mike broke out laughing, but he was happy. That car had Charlie written all over it.

Charlie turned back to face the five breathless salespeople, fresh from their sprint to the edge of the lot. One of them broke into a wide smile and held out his hand, which Charlie grasped with enthusiasm. “Sir,” he asked, “Can I answer any questions about the new Chrysler Town and Country for you today?”


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Vellum Venom Vignette: Auto Dealership Design? Tue, 04 Jun 2013 11:00:29 +0000

I enjoy highlighting automotive design, yet cars aren’t everything: architecture happens. So let’s combine ‘em for the world of automotive retailing.

Witness a perfect moment in A.D.D. (Auto Dealer Design): the Mid Century Modern design of Duffield’s Lincoln-Mercury paired with a suicide door Continental. Photographer Julius Schulman did a solid to both man-made, Mad Men worthy items: taking advantage of the facility’s rectilinear-ness, the Continental’s unique doors, a perfect shadow and a pretty girl for scale and perspective.

This is one reason why you love(d) certain car dealerships. Then again, step back, remove the artsy-fartsy elements and let the local marketing change it all.

Apparently Mid-Century design is NOT mass-market retail friendly. Maybe you want the lifestyle of Mr. Schulman’s photograph, but we all know you’re leaving with ‘dat $2168.00 Mercury Comet.


Perhaps it’s time to examine modern dealerships…sporting all that manufacturer-demanded style!

No surprise: BMW does a fantastic job.  If the dealer has the real estate, they sport a rotunda that emulates the “four cylinders” of the corporate office.  Far from a facade re-skin, this is arguably the best designed dealership plan by the automakers. To wit:


Mercedes’ blue pillars with vanilla-steampunk metal elements in front of the requisite luxury car glass walls doesn’t work. I see it speaking to Local Motors’ quirky mechanical wonders on wheels. While far from offensive, does this work with a somewhat conservative, hood-ornament bedazzled luxury car brand?

Since the Volkswagen Auto Group is far from stuffy and conservative, both the Audi and Porsche boyz make some interesting spaces that emulate their vehicle’s Teutonic designs.  Porsche dealers emulate the newer buildings in Porsche’s home in Zuffenhausen quite well.  It’s an appealing grouping.


Lexus’ modern, minimalist mushroom-topped buildings had a charm that grew on you…just like the 1990 LS 400. While the textures changed from ribbed pillars and roofs to modern, BMW-like, square paneling, you know a Lexus dealer when you see one.

Unless you visit Escondido California.  Wow: a stunning wedge of (mixed use) office building with the Lexus Mushroom in the entryway.  This is why America rocks…right?

Infiniti is another story.  Their original buildings had a cubist theme rivaling the hipness of the grille-less, belt-buckle face on the original Q45. The new design puts a glass wave of modest elegance to any current building.  Not bad, but forgettable compared to other brands.  Then again…if the cars are this forgettable…

…but it could be worse…

Photo Courtesy: Performance Ford-Lincoln

Oh my damn. Admittedly, the standalone Lincoln dealerships (all 17 of them?) are far better.  But the not-expensive, supremely cosmetic facade-upgrades of their blocky entryway do not scream luxury. The black marble is cool, but that’s only one element looking for more. This isn’t a rotund BMW dealership: much like their product, Lincoln buildings are needs a more unique platform.

I was going to say something slightly similar–but less negative–about Cadillac.  Until this: cheaper Cadillac buildings have the same tall entryway on a mundane box of a facility, but there’s something refreshing about their lightly colored stone, all that lightly-tinted glass and the supremely traditional Cadillac script logo on top.  And when lucky enough to add it to a dealership this round, tall and impressive…well, it’s a done deal. The mix of color and glass seems more inviting and more upscale than the starkness of Lincoln dealers.

So what do you think about A.D.D.? Well, I hope you have a lovely day.

(If the comments section warrants it, I’ll dig into non-luxury brands next time ’round. Come on Son, you know you want it!)

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Turbo Love At First Sight Thu, 28 Feb 2013 08:20:26 +0000 Photo By T Kreutzer

My 1988 Shadow on trip up Stevens Pass a few months after I purchased it.

I was young, stupid and hopelessly in love. The girl, as has so often been the case in my life, hardly knew I existed but, regardless, I was determined to win her. The problem was in those pre-internet days, real advice for young men was in short supply, especially if you were too embarrassed to ask about such things, so when someone told me women were attracted to power, I listened. If power is what women wanted, power I could get. Fortunately, it happened to be on sale at my local Dodge dealership.

The little car was take-your-breath-away gorgeous as it sat on its raised turntable in the dealership window. In the growing dusk of the February evening, the bright lights of the downtown Dodge dealer drew me and my 15 year old Nova away from the curb and towards the glass. I stood there, nose pressed against the window, like a child in an old movie taking in the Christmas display at a department store. The showroom’s lights shone down from above and struck jewel-like fire from every crease and corner of the car’s sheet metal.

Inside, the dealership smelled like stale coffee and fresh rubber, ambrosia for my lovelorn heart. The building itself was a brick, post World War II structure, and despite a fresh coat of paint and a bright red neon sign, it looked its age. Still, inside it was neat and clean and, unlike the newer flashier showrooms on the edge of town, the old building had the aura of history about it. Challengers, Chargers, Darts, Coronets, and dozens of other famous Chrysler products had graced this space and their spirits lingered. The current generation of cars were products of a newer, leaner time, but their link to that impressive history was, thanks to a clever advertisement, a tangible thing to me.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The 2.2 Shadow Turbo looked even better from inside the showroom and the sales person ushered me adeptly over, unplugged the turntable and bade me to sit in it. The little car’s charcoal gray high-backed bucket seats sat me up straight and tall and its upright cabin gave me good all around visibility. Out the windshield, with the exception of a small raised power bulge immediately in front of the driver, the hood sloped away into nothingness, its edge lost below my line of sight. The experience was new to me, and made the car seem surprisingly modern.

Inside, my overall impression was one of squareness, angles and straight edges. The gauges were set in a small pod. I found them simple and easy to read. Under my right arm a storage box rose up tall enough to use as an armrest. This was connected to a short console that held the 5 speed stick in a square rubber shift boot. Before that was another small storage compartment that opened to reveal two smallish cup holders. Above that, a black plastic center stack held the ash tray and cigarette lighter, the cassette deck, heater controls, a few idiot lights and a special gauge that measured turbo boost. It was an efficient cockpit and if not luxurious, at least it was pleasant.

Photo courtesy of

The cover and an image from a copy of same brochure I gripped with sweaty palms way back in 1988.

The 1988 Dodge Shadow came in several two and four door versions, 2.2, 2.5 and 2.2 turbo, automatic and 5 speed. There were a couple of trim levels with the top of the line being the 2.2 Turbo Shadow ES which got, among other things, a color matched grill, a small rear spoiler, and its own distinct wheels. The car I was sitting in was just what I had imagined at home when I had poured over the sales brochure. A two door coupe with all the performance goodies, the 2.2 turbo with manual 5 speed, the high-end 4 speaker AM/FM cassette and a nice looking set of aluminum wheels, nothing else. I wanted to go fast, so who needed anything more? This was a factory hot rod in the flesh and I knew then that I must own it.

A day or two later I came back to the dealership with my father and together we completed an unremarkable test drive of the non-turbo 4 door demo. When the car was deemed satisfactory, I watched in rapt silence while my dad negotiated the details that left my bank account $256.05 poorer each month but my spirit immeasurably richer. Under my watchful eye, the salesman and a couple of mechanics then rolled the bright red coupe off the turntable and took it into the shop where they conducted their final pre-delivery inspection. After what seemed like hours, the car emerged, the salesman presented me with two sets of keys and I roared off into the sunset.

Photo courtesy of

Coming and going, another shot from the brochure.

That night on the not so mean streets of Everett the little car and I went looking for trouble. The first victim was a kid in a Pontiac Fiero. His passenger made the mistake of laughing when I pulled up at a stoplight, revved the engine at him and, after an impressive front wheel drive burnout across the entire intersection, their laughter was replaced by shock as my tail lights receded into the distance. An hour or so later, a mid ’80s Camaro fell in similar fashion. The car was all I dreamed it would be. Many more adventures, many of which will eventually be written about here, followed.

In the six years I owned the little car, I racked up 140K miles. I made an epic road trip from Seattle to New York, on to DC and then home again – with the transcontinental return leg taking just three days. I also took two trips from Seattle to LA and back without stopping for anything more than gas and fast food. On those long drives the little car stormed over mountains, followed the courses of winding rivers and shot across the great plains of America, each time carrying me home in surprising comfort and without a problem.

I must confess that my Shadow was not always trouble-free. Early on I broke the core support beneath the front motor mount by doing burn offs and generally acting like a hooligan – something the car seemed to encourage. At 80K miles, I also replaced the head gasket, on my own with simple hand tools, but who thinks of things like that when you are in love? The car and I fully bonded, and together we made quite a couple.

Today I am older, a little wiser and every once in a while I even get asked for advice. Unfortunately, I still can’t tell you much about women, but I can tell you about power. If you ever need some, try the Dodge dealership. You might find the love of your young life there, I did.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Gray Lady Down: A Tale of Rescue and Redemption Sat, 23 Feb 2013 09:44:50 +0000

2003 Ford Freestar

To be frank, the 2003 Ford Freestar is a dowdy looking vehicle of ponderous proportions. Its short, squat body is purely utilitarian. The bulging fender flairs, which look like they were added as a stylistic afterthought, make the van look like a chubby woman in stretchy pants when viewed from behind. As a lover of cars, I should hate everything about it.

But I can’t hate it. The short squat body makes getting in and out easy for my wife and kids, and “utilitarian” means “good” when you are talking about a people mover. From the front, the van’s large headlights, sweeping windshield and square grill give it an honest, open face that is pleasant to look at and, the truth is, I am a sucker for a pretty face.

The 1978 Action Thriller starring Charlton Heston as your brave Captain

Inside, the Freestar’s seats are wide and comfortable and the amenities are on par with most other mini vans of the era. The middle seats are removable, while the rearmost bench folds into the floor at the pull of just a couple of straps. Auto reviewers might decry the interior surfaces, most of which are molded in textured hard plastic that looks and feels cheap, but every parent who has suffered a car sick child absolutely approves of hard plastic, and so do I.

In general, the Freestar is a nice place to be, so nice that I have taken to calling ours “The Gray Lady.” It is comfortable and quiet on the move, and the low dash and enormous windshield put the driver right out front. On the road, the van feels substantial and solid, like a 70s luxury barge, and it floats over the roughest of Buffalo roads with surprising smoothness. The steering is slightly on the heavy side, but it feels appropriate for the vehicle. The brakes are generally decent, but you do feel the weight of the vehicle when you use them. Short stops are best avoided in non emergency situations. My only complaint was that the power train felt unsophisticated. The engine strained more than it should, and the transmission did hunt around for gears or up-shifted into overdrive at times when the engine speed was too low to support it. For an otherwise well sorted vehicle, that seemed odd to me, so I decided to investigate.

A little research told me that the Freestar suffers from transmission troubles. Fortunately, Ford was aware of the problem and had offered a recall. Although the Gray Lady hadn’t suffered a problem yet, it was acting strangely enough that I decided to ask my local Ford dealer about it. Sure enough, a quick VIN check revealed that my van was subject to the recall, so I took it in. A week later I had it back in the at home as good as new, or so I thought.

Three months after the recall work was done, I was out with the family when the trouble started. If the van had been fitted with a manual transmission, I would have thought it had a slipping clutch. The engine revved willingly but the power wasn’t getting to the wheels and, as we drove along, the car began to gradually slow. Once I realized there was no correlation between my tach and speedometer, I began working my way across the lanes towards the shoulder and not 30 seconds later all forward travel had ceased. We were quite literally left to be Found On Roadside Dead.

2003 Ford Freestar Interior

With the engine still running, we had heat and power so we were all warm and safe. To the great delight of my children, the police soon came and sat behind us with all their lights ablaze while shocked passers-by pressed their noses up against the windows as they went by and stared at what they surely assumed to be the Corleone family finally getting their comeuppance. Thanks to AAA, a tow truck and then a taxi arrived a few minutes after the police and my reputation was saved. We separated there, the wife and kids heading home by taxi while I stayed with the van while it was loaded. I rode with the tow truck driver to the closest Ford dealership.

This is the point where I confess that I have a problem with car dealerships and that I come from a long line of Ford haters. The Freestar is the first Ford product I have ever owned, and I told myself that this would be a real litmus test for the Ford Motor Company. If I was treated poorly, I decided that I would never again purchase another of their products. Also, I told myself, that if Ford failed to make the grade in any way that I would voice my disdain for them long and loud to everyone who would listen and, thanks to the Internet, that number is considerable these days.

Fortunately for Ford, this isn‘t an angry screed, it’s a love letter. My local Ford shop was amazing. They were open and honest with me throughout the whole experience and, although the factory ended up rejecting the claim (the recall it turned out was for the torque converter while the failed part was a pump) my local dealer presented me with several easy to understand options. The bad news is that I ended up paying $3765 for a new transmission with a four-year warranty, but the good news for Ford is that my dealer also worked with me to keep the costs down as much as possible and, as a result of their effort, I don’t feel like I was taken advantage of. The van is, after all, 10 years old with almost 125K miles on the clock. Things like this happen with older vehicles, I know, so the fact that the dealer actually waived some of the labor was unexpected but much appreciated.

2003 Ford Freestar sans stretchypants

The main reason I chose to repair the Freestar is that we will be moving overseas again in a couple of years and it doesn’t make sense for me to go out and drop tens of thousands of dollars on a new van while our ultimate destination is still up in the air. Also, the Freestar is our family vehicle and, despite having two other cars in the driveway, the van is the one we use to carry our kids around and it is the vehicle my wife drives most often. I figured it was worth the extra cost of a new transmission to ensure my wife and kids’ safety. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time, and I still think so.

Today, six months later, the Gray Lady is still a nice place to be. The view out the front is as panoramic as ever, and the ride is still stately and smooth. Even better, my prior complaint about the unsophisticated power train has fallen by the wayside. The engine is quieter, smoother and seems to strain less. The transmission is wonderfully smooth and shifts decisively at just the right RPMs. It is a genuine pleasure to drive.

Like so many work-a-day vehicles, the Freestar does exactly what it is supposed to do: haul my family around in the most unremarkable way possible. Moreover, as detailed above, the one bit of drama I did have was resolved quickly and efficiently thanks to my friendly dealer and, although I walked away from the experience with a smaller bank account, I did not walk away angry. Ford passed the test, and as a result not only will I shop them again in the future, I will sing their praises for all who want to listen. Ford, you did a great job.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Piston Slap: The Young Lady and the Key Thu, 10 Jan 2013 19:12:54 +0000

Hi Steve and Sajeev:

My daughter has been driving the Saturn Astra recommended by Steve for a few months now and we can all say that it is a nice car — screwed together well, efficient and kinda sporty.  I consider it to be a win. Except for a minor key issue.

The original owner had a remote start installed (nice).  I have one in my Chrysler T&C and that vehicle does not require a key to be hidden in the car; the Saturn does (a GM thing, I hear). So, they buried the other ignition key inside the steering column box.

Thing is, though, is that they never got another key, so there is only one.  Not smart, IMO.  So, rather than drive 20 miles to the nearest GM dealer to buy an overpriced key, I ordered an OEM one from Fob Keyless, and they even cut it.  The key arrived and it unlocked to door and turned in the ignition fine, but it did not start the car — it needed to be programmed.

Here is the rub.  This car does not follow the typical GM procedure for key programming than most of their other cars.  I am told I have to bring it to the dealer and that I will have to present all of the keys — so that means I have to fish out the key that is buried in the dash. My question for you is this:  is that correct?  Is there a workaround that you know of? Thanks again, and keep up the good work.

Sajeev Says:

A workaround for German car electrics? Surely you jest, my good man!

This website gives a quick yet comprehensive explanation of why that’ll never work. Bite the bullet, get it programmed properly either by a respected locksmith or the dealership. But either way, a trip to a GM dealership is in order.  Perhaps a phone call to make sure they can do it…might need to make multiple calls. Maybe start with a Cadillac dealer, you know, for the best customer service and knowledge of German-ish General Motors Iron.

And since you emailed Steve on a Piston Slap related topic, let’s see what insights The Man has to offer.
Steve Says:

Let me tell you a little story about an old friend and his Mercedes.

Once upon a time I knew a fellow who would buy and sell cars on the side while managing an auto repair shop. Well, one evening he decides to buy a late-80′s Mercedes E-Class at a public auction for a decent price. He gets one key for it.

Only one key. The next day he goes to pick up the vehicle. Dead battery. As soon as they put a jumper on the car the alarm blares, “BWAH!!! BWAH!!!” He tries to start it up with the key. Nothing. Not even a click. Meanwhile the alarm system is blaring like Andy Kaufman at a professional wrestling match. After 20 minutes of fiddling around he has it towed to his shop and directs one of his techs to circumvent the alarm system.

A few too many wires were cut. So for the next three months, the vehicle becomes a statue at the front of his place. Eventually it is brought back to the auction where my friend receives an expensive lesson in cutting corners.

When it comes to the Saturn, your friend is 100% right. You can go to any GM dealer. But they will need all the keys to make it work. I would do that and perhaps get a second duplicate made so you never have to do it again.

Sometimes the cheap way out is a dead end. Just pay “the man”, and let your daughter enjoy one less stress in her ownership experience.

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Tesla Factory Stores Under Fire From Dealer Groups Mon, 08 Oct 2012 18:31:41 +0000

Tesla’s sales model, with factory-run outlets selling directly to customers, is coming under fire while dealer groups such as NADA are citing the apparent illegality of factory-owned sales outlets.

Dealers are worried that Tesla’s method, which allows for online reservations of vehicles in addition to the shopping mall showrooms, will marginalize their way of selling vehicles. This fear was articulated by Bob O’Koniweski, executive VP of the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association, who told Automotive News

“If a manufacturer sees that Tesla is successful with this kind of business model, who’s to say they don’t break out their own EV product lines and create a separate system that bypasses dealers?…It’s extremely problematic.”

Tesla has apparently bypassed existing dealer franchise laws by offering online reservations if sales cannot be conducted on site. Dealers have asked four states to conduct investigations into the legality of Tesla’s sales model. Meanwhile, the chairman of NADA issued this rather ominous statement

“Tesla may not yet recognize the value of the independent, franchised dealer system, but as its sales increase, NADA is confident it will re-examine its business model…Other companies such as Daewoo did. All companies should be complying with existing laws in the same way dealers are required to.”

Tesla has denied that it is trying to reboot the existing sales model, with George Blankenship, their VP of Sales, telling AN “That’s the last thing on our agenda.”

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Dementia-Stricken Man Buys Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet, Sale Voided After Complaints From Wife Thu, 15 Mar 2012 17:28:54 +0000

Ed Dowdall, a 70-year-old San Jose area resident with a rare form of dementia that causes wildly unstable cognitive functioning and hallucinations, walked into a dealer and traded in his 2008 Nissan Altima Hybrid for a Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet, which retailed for $62,000. A series of protests and complaints from Dowdall’s wife led to the dealer taking back the car and voiding the sale.

Greg Dexter, owner of the Nissan dealership where Dowdall purchased the car, said that Dowdall had come into the showroom in December to look at the Murano. Dowdall had previously purchased an Altima Hybrid from his store, North Bay Nissan, and had it serviced there. Dexter said he had no indication of Dowdall’s condition at the time of purchase.

Dowdall’s estranged wife, Amy Appleton Dowdall, told the San Jose Mercury that Dowdall had been living with his brother at the time. The previous evening, he had threatened to kill her. Dowdall’s brother accompanied her to a local police station to report the incident the next morning – around the same time when Ed Dowdall went to the dealer to purchase the car.

That afternoon, Ed Dowdall and Dexter drove to Amy Appleton Dowdall’s home, with Dexter coming along at Ed’s request. Ed had mentioned during the transaction that she would be unhappy over the purchase – Amy claims that in hindsight, she should have demanded that the car be returned that day, but she did not want to upset Ed.

A battle involving the dealership, attorneys and Ed Dowdall’s doctor (who certified that Dowdall suffered from the condition) led to Dexter taking back the car without conditions and refunding the money. Dexter claims that negative publicity and even death threats have resulted from the ordeal.

Given Dowdall’s behavior, there’s little doubt that he suffers from a horrible debilitating condition – and the erratic nature of his cognitive functions means that unlike Alzheimer’s disease, Dowdall can swing from cogent, lucid functioning to the opposite extreme, including violent or irrational behavior. In light of this (and having seen first hand how these diseases can ravage a loved one) it’s tough to make a joke out of the whole situation, even when the vehicle in question is a Murano CrossCabriolet.

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Toyota 86 To Get Exclusive Dealer Space In Japan Thu, 15 Mar 2012 17:07:43 +0000

With the Toyota 86 set to go on sale in a couple of weeks (the first production models are set to leave the line on Friday), Toyota’s Japanese sales outlets will have separate spaces to sell the new sports car - and in some cases, stand alone sales facilities, similar to the Chrysler/Fiat arrangement in America.

The new sales areas will be called “Area 86″, and be staffed by knowledgeable employees who can answer questions about the vehicle, as well as aftermarket products and test drives. Most of the “Area 86″ outlets will be situated within larger dealerships, but one in Toyota City will operate a larger, stand-alone space measuring 1722 square feet, that is intended to be a place for car enthusiasts to congregate. Toyota has received 7,000 pre-orders for the 86 so far.

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New or Used: Wagon + Stick = Trouble? Fri, 13 Jan 2012 13:32:43 +0000  

Aaron writes:

Hi! I’ll try to be concise.

I have a 2003 A4 manual sedan with 78K. I wanted a wagon but couldn’t find one and was in a hurry for wheels. Well, now I found one: 2003, manual, 107K. It’s at a dealer lot. Plus it’s got some desirable performance modifications, including exhaust.

The question: what will the dealer think of a trade? If my mechanic likes it i wouldn’t object to a straight trade, maybe even a (very) little cash from me if the timing belt is new. But are wagons with sticks and rumbly exhaust desirable? What’s it worth relative to mine? It seems like the similarity of the cars (same drivetrain, options, etc) should make this comparison location- and current market- independent.

I’m going to take the car for an inspection tomorrow, and offers may be made thereafter.

Steve Answers:

It depends on the condition and the history.

On the surface you would assume that a wagon with a stick would be a less desirable vehicle. But when it comes to a sporty oriented vehicle, there are plenty of buyers willing to row their own gears and go for the ‘unpopular’ body style.

Unfortunately for you Audi wagons aren’t popular. Just expensive.

When it comes to premium brands like Audi, I always look at condition first. Why? Because when it comes to picky buyers the condition is what sells it. I can convince a buyer to move from a station wagon to a sedan if that vehicle comes with something that most others do not.

Dealer records. A clean car with a perfect history. You may chuckle at all these dealer derived cliches, but the ease of sale and extra cash these models bring is very real in the retail marketplace.

Which brings me to the prior owner for this wagon. Do you know him yet? Do you plan on getting to know him? A thorough inspection will always uncover a few things. But the most important question to consider is, “Why did the guy get rid of his vehicle?”

I would strongly suggest that you try to get in touch with the prior owner and weigh it all in. Many dealers will tell you what you want to hear. But the prior owner can tell you what you need to know.

Good luck!

Sajeev answers:

Steve covered all the dealer angles of this, except for one: modified cars are death for resale and a nightmare on floorplan costs on a normal dealership.  This car is excellent fodder for a specialty tuner/hot rod shop, because they have an appreciation and the patience to wait for the right buyer. I am sure this car is awesome, it sounds like it’d certainly ring my bell. But I will play devil’s advocate for one reason: personal experience.

Even a Hot-Rod Lincoln fanatic like myself was a little put off when a supposedly “mint, granny driven” Lincoln Mark VIII at a local Hyundai lot actually had Flowmaster mufflers upon closer inspection.  Very few grannies want to hear the rumble of “flowbastards” in their ride, no matter how sweet it may sound on a 4-cam Ford V8. It seemed like a proper granny car that was bastardized by a second owner. My gut suggested I didn’t want to be the third owner of such a machine.  Which isn’t totally relevant to your situation, but there’s more.

The mufflers made the other minor flaws (interior trim abuse) a little more worrisome. The Mark VIII I wound up owning was truly stock, had a bona-fide service history (with recent repairs on typical fail points) but had cosmetic issues the flowmaster-Mark did not have…even then, I bought it. I modded it to my tastes and was much happier. And almost 10 years later, I have no regrets. Zero.

So when you combine these things:

  • Station Wagon
  • Old Audi, no warranty (i.e. this isn’t a cash cow like a CamCord, Tacoma, etc)
  • Stick shift
  • Modifications, including a “louder than stock” exhaust

You wind up with a vehicle that’s very hard to shift off a car lot. Odds are you are one of the few people interested in this vehicle.  But, if the car is as cool as you make it sound, the dealer might have you by the short hairs. That is, if you showed any interest in the modifications.

For your sake, I hope you frowned upon those modifications. I also hope the mods don’t imply that the car was abused: many a modified Audi is driven hard, making for a powertrain that’s frightfully expensive proposition to keep running. Clutches, axle shafts, transaxles, you name it! If you haven’t already, be a regular on the forums and get good with tools and service manuals.

My advice? Unless you are totally amazed by how it sits, get a stock one and modify it later.


Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.
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New or Used: An Old-Modern European, in America… Tue, 10 Jan 2012 13:18:13 +0000

Steven writes:

Sajeev and Steve,

Ok guys need some advice, I am the owner of an 2001 Volvo XC wagon with 166,000 on it, I have owned it about 2 years and drive about 40k a year all over the North East for work. It is paid off but in the last 6 months I have put about 4 K in it, new tires, new brakes all around water pump, T belt, new moon roof (do not ask), the previous owner replaced the tranny at 110k and put a new cat convertor at 100k.

I get about 23 MPG on the highway and the car has great seats, all work done at my indie, my questions, based on how much I drive do I keep it and drive it into the ground or get out now and put my dollars into something else. If so what? This is what i would like, safe, better on gas, four doors decent backseat, no SUV, no CUV, must be at least FWD, nothing from the big three excites me at all, would prefer auto and relaible. I have thought about a VW TDI but have heard horror stories about VW. I like Saabs and would get another if the deal was great, prefer used,depreciation is my friend. I prefer a auto that I want to drive to one that gives no joy to drive. I also take some clients out from time to time so it needs to look good as well. In the past I have had Saabs, Infinity, Accords, Audis, Budget is 20 k max. Thanks for the help!

Sajeev Answers:

You didn’t say you liked/disliked your ride, which is a problem.  Maybe you love it, and want our approval for keeping it until the body rusts away to nothingness.  Or maybe you have passive aggressive hatred, as you are a SAAB fan and actually loathe every moment in a Volvo.

Hard to tell, as the smart money is usually in keeping the rolling set of problems you currently own, even if old-modern Volvo problems are far more terrifying than old-modern Honda problems . Then again, you mentioned wanting an automatic car that gives no joy to drive. Put your money where your mouth is: dump the Swede and move to a nicely depreciated Lexus, Infiniti, Cadillac, Lincoln, etc.  The depreciation/value king of the bunch is probably the Lincoln MKZ/Zephyr, and their Fusion based parts are stupid cheap to keep running till the end of the world. A Lexus ES or IS would give you much more style, snob appeal, etc…but you don’t seem like that kinda guy.

Here’s the big problem: you already spent a ton on this hooptie! Dumping it now isn’t exactly the brightest idea, unless the right buyer willing to pay top dollar shows up.  Odds are they shall not, so you need to keep it for 6-12 months to get some bang for the buck.  Hope you don’t need too many other wear items replaced, or that no more surprises creep up in the meantime. It is, after all, a modern car from Europe…in America!

Steve Answers:

Volvo XC70′s have a lot of issues. The transmissions usually conk out between 90k and 120k due in great part to Volvo’s marketing of their transmission fluid as a ‘lifetime fluid’. The Camry and Altima from this time period were also given similar fluids and transmissions. Those manufacturers recommend replacement every 70k for a unit that usually hauled about 700 fewer pounds than the XC’s.

As a result, Volvo XC70 transmissions are hideously expensive at the junkyards. This ‘prestige pricing’ also goes for any software upgrades to the electronic throttle module which is now just outside of it’s extended warranty period for your car (10 years or 200k). The upgrades usually cost over a thousand dollars and can only be done at the dealer.

Add into this money sucking mix a bad record of glitch ridden electronics. Mediocre gas consumption. Expensive AWD systems. Expensive parts in general. Anything good for these XC’s? Well, a small plus are the seats and with 166k, it may just bring around 4k to 5k due to the uniqueness and all wheel drive.

I would sell it right now and move on to better things.

Since you do a lot of driving, I would opt for a car that has plenty of space and excellent seats. Does a newer Saab 9-5 work for you? Would an older Infiniti be a better bet? I wouldn’t rule out a Lexus GS. But then again I don’t have your tastes or your posterior.

So just find what you like and leave it at that. The B&B will offer plenty of input on the ‘buy’ side. Good luck!

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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Piston Slap: Peace of Mind or Shameless Shill? Mon, 12 Dec 2011 14:46:01 +0000

Eric writes:

I have a 2000 Maxima with about 155k on the clock.  I purchased this car in Los Angeles and since 2005, it’s lived in Ohio and Pennsylvania.  The main issue is that I can tell the transmission is starting to get a bit soft on the 1-2 upshift, specifically once it starts getting cold out.  I presume the primary reason for this is the abuse it’s suffered at my hands.  As it was a California car, it has no traction control and though I love it nine months of the year, it is utterly helpless in the snow—snow tires didn’t seem to help tremendously.  I’ve had to rock myself out a number of times and I presume the trans has gotten overheated at least once.  I’ve been good about changing the fluid (drain and fill 3x, filter too) about once a year but I think I’m near the end on this trans.

So the question is should I seek out a used AT and have it swapped, send out for a quality rebuild or just replace the Max outright?  It’s been quite good to me with only minor repairs such as a cat, MAF and coils.  I can happily say that it’s a car that I’ve enjoyed quite a lot and wouldn’t mind keeping—the 3.0 VQ is still strong despite the miles.  The main complicating factor is that my wife’s car is not yet paid off and I don’t think I’ll be able to take on a 2nd auto loan; we still have about 3 years left on the current loan.

I’ve toyed with the notion of adding an older Miata to the stable for summer fun and occasional project; though affordable enough to buy outright and I wouldn’t mind it as a daily driver, I’m sure that it wouldn’t be much fun in the winter.  If I dump the Maxima, what would you think might be a suitable replacement?

Sajeev Answers:

Keep it, because you can’t afford a second loan. And why would you? This is far from a death sentence to your automotive needs, its just giving an old friend a helping hand when they need it the most.

You mentioned regular fluid changes. Good for you!  There’s a slim chance that adding a transmission additive (some recommend Lucas, I will not go that far) will fix the problem and this will be the end of the story for months…or maybe longer.  If so…perfection!

But if not, buying a remanufactured transmission is your best bet.  The moment someone cracks open your autobox for a visual inspection is the time when your hard earned dollars are wasted, misused. At this age and mileage, and transmission should be rebuilt/replaced, not somewhat disassembled, inspected, and a couple of parts fixed.

Who rebuilds a Nissan transaxle decently?  Not entirely sure. I’ve been bitten by local shops that never knew the specifics of a certain manufacturer’s design, so I tend to err on the cautious side: either get one from Nissan with a factory warranty or ring up the folks at Jasper.  As their website says, the 3 year warranty and quality control procedures gives “Peace of Mind” that isn’t available by a local shop.  And they usually drop ship to your trusty mechanic, for a quick install.  I am usually hesitant to outright recommend a particular vendor, but Jasper seems to give people on many forums just what their website promises, no matter the make and model.

Best and Brightest: approve or disapprove of this particular shameless shill?


Send your queries to . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Piston Slap: The Two-Sided Ethical Dilemma Mon, 17 Oct 2011 15:10:53 +0000

Bill writes:

Hello TTAC crew!

My Mom is in need of a new car. The problem is her trade in: It is a 2002 PT Cruiser with a serious overheating problem ($1700+ quote at two reputable repair places) Now here is the problem. Do I keep my dang mouth shut when we go to the dealership and do the deal? I have a spare car that she is driving until it cools off and the overheating problem will not be noticeable at trade in.

I would never sell the car to a guy off the street without disclosing a major problem. Even to a car dealership I think I feel guilty in not disclosing it. We are not going to be financing, and will be paying cash for the car. So it is not like they can unwind the deal if they discover the problem.
Having ethical dilemma about screwing over a car dealership who exist solely to try and take as much money as they can from you in every conceivable way is weird.

Bonus question. These are the three cars we are considering Hyundai Elantra Touring, VW Jetta Wagon and Ford Focus Wagon. Any recommendations of the three or reasons to avoid them?

Thanks in advance for any help!

Sajeev Answers:

Fair disclosure: my full-time job is in the automotive retail business, so I have my own ethical dilemma. And don’t ask what an autojourno makes, it’s precisely why I work there. With the Jeff Glucker incident fresh on my mind, I’ve decided to publish this query and throw myself at the mercy of the B&B.

I hope I made the right choice. Well…here goes:

Ahem, not all car dealerships are alike. Sure, they all wanna make a buck, but if the mainline dealers inspect a vehicle and deem it not worthy to sell, it heads straight to the auction…so some other chump can deal with the problems. This is one reason why the Buy-Here-Pay-Here lots have the reputation that they often (not always) deserve. You could easily trade in your ride to the big name dealerships, they will see the problem and dump it.

What I’m trying to say is, the dealer may be a little pissed that you traded in a lemon, but they won’t pass their karma on to their used car customers. That’s just bad business, in the long-term. Odds are their trade-in value is about what they’ll get at the auctions anyway, so even if your PT isn’t as promised, the loss will be minimal. Maybe even in the hundreds, as a PT Cruiser isn’t a late-model AMG Benz that’s been abused and almost ready for a $20,000 repair bill once the “extra life” additives wear out and its new owner gets a shocking surprise.

Then again, the converse is that you should be ashamed for not disclosing a problem you know. That’s just basic karma, and it’s something I usually believe in.

Honestly, I’ve stressed over your question for weeks, and I still don’t know what the heck to tell you. I’m sorry.

Off to you, Best and Brightest.

Send your queries to . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Piston Slap: RTFM FTW Tue, 06 Sep 2011 19:38:24 +0000

It actually comes with a little book too!

Patrick writes:

Hi Sajeev,

Avid daily reader of the site but infrequent commenter… Pony Cars and old Volvos sometimes drag me out of my shell but I have a couple questions about my wife’s car and I wanted to see what you and others might think.

We’ve got a 2007 3.5L Impala with 60,000 miles on it and it is due for an oil change and checkup:

1. Am I crazy for trusting the car’s computer to tell me when to change the oil? The car monitors oil life and reports a % of oil life remaining and nags me when it’s time for an oil change. The owners manual doesn’t specify a mileage interval instead advising to change it when the car’s info center says it’s time. It typically runs from 8K to 11K miles between changes so far.
The dealer would rather us get it changed at every 3K and are so desperate to get their fix of oil change traffic that they offer a “free tires for life” deal if you stay on the 3K schedule with them. Factoring in the cheap tires they get at cost that they’d slap on there, they’re most certainly coming out ahead (which is why they do it, of course); factoring in the extra services and the mounting and balancing fees for those free tires, it’s probably a wash for me so I’ve declined and followed the car’s schedule instead of there’s as
I’d rather save up for that next set of tires than have to go in to the dealer 3 or 4 times as often.

Now, I know I don’t have to take it to the dealer and while I do almost all of my own service, repairs and upgrades on my car, wrenching on our utilitarian transportation-mobile isn’t nearly as rewarding and I don’t mind throwing the Chevy place a bone every once-in-a-while, especially since their service isn’t much more than the quicky oil change places and, theoretically at least, they should be intimately familiar with this generation of Impalas – plus if and when it comes time to trade it in or sell it, I’ll have nice official looking dealer records to go with it.
I figure GM did their homework with the oil monitoring system and I’m comfortable with longer oil change intervals – I do 6K ~ 7.5K on my Mustang (’96 GT) which has 130K+ on it and oil still comes out clean and when I had the valve covers off last year, the top of the heads were clean as a whistle. With the Impala PCM monitoring temps and driving usage and whatever other variables it factors in, I’m willing to let it ride a little longer if GM says it’s OK. Have you heard anything that would give me reason to believe otherwise?

2. When I realized 60K was coming up, I rushed to the owners manual to see what expensive work the dealer was going to want to do – then I remembered this wasn’t a European car and there was nothing other than greasing door hinges and locks and inspecting a few wear items that needed to be done. I did notice that the book calls for a fluid replacement at 150K miles for the 4T65-E transmission (or at 75K for severe duty). After reading some of auto transmission horror stories here but not being aware of any endemic problems with GM’s transverse V6 transes is 150K too long to go, should I plan on doing that sooner? 100K, 125K, if we still have the car that long or is GM pretty close to the mark on that?

Sajeev answers:

I never thought that answering a GM W-body question would be a breath of fresh air in my Piston Slap queue, but well, here we are. Patrick has valid and relevant questions to  anyone with a less than desirable ride that does the job and keeps you mobile. You know, cars for the vast majority of us!

So let’s do this thing:

Question 1:
by all means, ignore the dealer when they pull the “free tires for life” and 3k oil changes. Like you said, I wouldn’t leave them entirely, as their pricing should be comparable to the quickie oil change places, but you need to get the playing field level: remind the service writer that you’re familiar with the phrase RTFM. And you expect them to treat you accordingly. The “do this to be more proactive” tactic you mentioned works on some people, and that’s fine. But that’s obviously not you or anyone else here. It’s all about treating the customer with respect.

I trust that oil life meter after years of questioning it via dipstick eyeballing. Now that I run synthetic oil (in cars that never officially required it), I change the oil after about 180% of its life: that is, resetting it once and then changing it when its 80% used. It seems like the smartest way to not waste good oil, and my driving conditions merit it: lotsa traffic, heavy engine loads (aftermarket stereo, A/C) and brutal Gulf Coast summers. The 180% mark turns into 6000-8000 miles of my commute. Which is fair for synthetic oil.

It works for me, maybe I should take my used oil examined to a lab to prove it to everyone…but I don’t really care since it’s been working for well over 175,000 miles on my very, very healthy Lincoln Mark VIII motor. Healthy enough to let me (cautiously at first) trust the life meter on other cars too. More to the point, your driving conditions can and will vary.

Question 2:
there are no endemic problems with this GM transaxle that I know of, but I would still change the fluid before it hits 100k out of principle alone. Again, this depends on your driving/climate conditions, but my gut tells me you should change the fluid according to the severe duty schedule in your owner’s manual. Transaxles in general deserve the “severe” fluid service schedule, and this Impala sounds worth it. Be it a flushing machine or the conventional drain and filter replacement, just make sure all the fluid is changed…don’t let old fluid rest in the torque converter and mix in with the new stuff.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Super Piston Slap: <3 for Nissan Canada? Fri, 26 Aug 2011 19:41:20 +0000  


TTAC commentator SpeedJebus writes:

Hi Sajeev,

You may remember that I wrote in before about my 2007 Honda Civic, and it’s haunted DBW system. That ordeal is over, but apparently I’m a sucker for automobile drama. Here’s the tale of my Juke: an ordeal that has been going on for over three months now. I’d like to share this cautionary tale. Here we go!

In February 2011, I decided to get a 2011 Nissan Juke as a replacement for my Civic. I did the test drive, decided it was pretty cool, and ordered one. I understood at the time that it was going to be at least 4 months, since there was only one factory turning out LHD Juke’s for the world. A month went by (bringing us to March). Then Godzilla attacked Japan, which the media covered up as a earthquake and tsunami.

With all of the factories idled, and everything up in the air, I entertained the idea of looking at different autos. Well, I have family ties with Chrysler, and started looking at Jeeps. It was love at first sight, and a much sooner delivery date. I contacted the dealer to terminate my order, since (A) it hadn’t even been built yet, and (B) we’d be looking at a MUCH delayed delivery. The sales manager (total twat) told me that I’d have to sign a form, and they’d have their legal department decide if I would get any of my deposit back, etc.

This *right* pissed me off, since we had verbally agreed that I’d have final say on accepting the ordered vehicle, since my previous vehicle had DBW issues. Unfortunately for me, I never got that in writing. (My bad.) Anyway, I had no choice but to sign the request to rescind the lease, and await word back. That was March 22, 2011. I confirmed that the dealership received my fax, and I waiting patiently for word. In the meantime, I ordered my Jeep. On April 14, 2011, I *STILL* had not received any word back. I sent a registered letter again requesting the termination of the lease contract, and refund of my deposit. I sent the same copy of the registered letter to OMVIC as well. (I should point out that I talked to them already, and they said that the dealership so far is in the right, blah blah blah…more on that after.)

After even more time without any response from the dealer at all, I authorized OMVIC to begin making inquiries on my behalf, and to attempt to get results for me. The dealership basically ignored OMVIC for a few weeks. Then I finally received an email from OMVIC stating that it was the dealerships intent to obtain the vehicle, sell it, and go after me financially for any losses incurred in them having to sell this vehicle. This pushed me over the edge.

I called Nissan Canada as a last ditch effort, and laid it all out for them, and they say they’ll look into it. I had no expectations of any results, but it was worth a shot. Long story short, the dealership emails me to say that they will agree to terminate my lease contract, and they will hold my deposit if I should choose to get another vehicle from them in the next year. At this point, I’ve already got my new Jeep, and I’m so sick of dealing with this shit, I just want it done. So I email them back and agree to this. It may cost me my deposit, but it’s over and done with. I have other things going on that I need to get a handle on. This was yesterday. HERE’S THE SURPRISE.

I got a phone call today from Nissan Canada. It turns out that they are incredibly sorry for how everything unfolded. They deeply apologized for the delays, for the mistreatment, and for the entire situation from day one. They are sending me a cheque for my deposit in full.

I was speechless. Still am.

GREAT customer service from Nissan Canada. Unnamed out-of-town dealership, and their stupid ape of a Sales Manager can kiss the fattest part of my white ass. Thanks to the actions of the Nissan Canada Customer Service team, I can say that I would honestly consider buying a Nissan in the future. Just not from that dealership. I can say that I never anticipated these things that can happen during the course of a new vehicle purchase. Huge lesson learned, that’s for sure.

Sajeev adds:

What else can I possibly add to this one?  Sometimes the squeaky wheel does indeed get the grease.  Perhaps not every bad deal needs to pursue legal action.  My hats off to you, good sir, for remaining composed in your actions and most importantly…being patient!  You’ve come a long way from that misbehaving Civic, baby!

And without researching the finer points of Canadian Dealership/Consumer Laws, kudos are certainly in order for Nissan Canada.  You folks obviously did the right thing for a potential customer, which is always a great long term strategy.  If you don’t get ‘em now, you probably will later. This is the first time I’ve been able to use Piston Slap for a positive manufacturer experience, quite a happy moment for me, personally.  If I had a set of Motor Trend’s tarnished Golden Calipers (or one of them 1980′s almost-a-clock desk ornaments given out by JD Powers) here at TTAC central, I’d surely give them to you all.  Respect.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna dream about sippin’ a Tim Horton’s coffee and munching on an Aero chocolate bar while doing wicked burnouts around the CN Tower in a 1990 Pontiac Tempest with an LS4-FTW swap.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.


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Piston Slap: Do We Have ALL The DATA? Mon, 01 Aug 2011 15:58:54 +0000 mazda6interior


TTAC Commentator Supaman writes:

Hey Sajeev, remember that Mazda 6 that had the headliner problem? The dash storage problem? Got another one for ya.

From what I understand, the 2006 Mazda 6 V6 manual is fitted with 3 engine mounts: left, right and (dog bone) lower. The lower mount was replaced last year (on my birthday coincidentally) and less than a year later, I noticed it had gone bad again after feeling the engine rocking a bit in the bay. I carried my beloved back to my mechanic who replaced the lower mount (under parts warranty) and asked him to check all the mounts. According to him, all were ok. But just last week while I was doing my oil change, I noticed the lower mount (which is right behind the oil pan) was already going bad.

This baffled me and also caused the mechanic to again scratch their heads. One of them noticed, believe it or not, a FOURTH mount located directly above the lower unit. They took the car off the lift before I could look at it but a quick internet search doesn’t turn up anything regarding this mystery FOURTH mount. Any ideas?

Sajeev asks:

While this isn’t an easy question to answer for yours truly, I don’t have access to something like an ALLDATA account. But I am (and never proclaimed to be) a real mechanic. Then again, I wouldn’t say no if the kind people at ALLDATA or their competition decided to hook a brother up. It seems like a better shill than being in the pocket of the automakers with free press cars and pointless/lavish vacations.

But seriously, does your mechanic use an online repair manual like ALLDATA or Mitchell? This information is stupid easy to get from any mechanic with a $500 (or less) computer and a monthly subscription to this service. Get back to me, I think this is a good for a common sense automotive analysis in the Information Age.

Supaman answers:

Well…you wouldn’t believe the conversation I just had with my mechanic.

After a week of leaving him to search for this 4th mount and hearing no answer I called him just now. Apparently because my car is so rare (V6/manual…points?) the mounts are different than they would be in an automatic version and the parts aren’t usually stocked.

So I asked him about that online database you mentioned where I’d imagine the car’s specs would pop up and he didn’t have an answer to that.

He eventually found the part through a Mazda dealership and has to special order it. I’m still haggling him on giving it to me for free since I really consider the previous repairs to be incomplete and negligent on their part. He’s treated me well over the last 8 years (and 3 cars) but this latest stunt has me questioning the garage’s integrity (the store manager in particular). May need to start shopping around for another mechanic or ratcheting up my auto repair skills. I’d love to hear what the B&B have to say about this.

Sajeev concludes:


Honestly, I feel that access to these databases is absolutely necessary for any automotive wrench that hangs out a shingle and wants to earn your business. Computers are cheap. The monthly subscription will pay for itself after a few hours of farting around “the old fashioned way” to get information. Best and Brightest, is this a fair conclusion?

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Chrysler’s California Dealer Battle: Wider War Already In Progress? Mon, 30 May 2011 15:28:19 +0000

It took a bit of research to fully parse the California New Car Dealer Association’s complaint against Chrysler and its partially company-owned store in Los Angeles, and our finding is that the CNCDA is actually gunning for Chrysler with gusto. But, argued some of the B&B, surely Chrysler doesn’t want to be kicked out of California? Surely Chrysler’s California dealers don’t want to see their manufacturer banned from selling vehicles in the state? Well, it turns out we were missing a little context that seems to indicate why Chrysler’s California dealers are willing to go to war over a single dealership: Chrysler is overhauling its California retail presence with the help of Wall Street hedge funds. Having used the bailout to wipe out 789 dealerships across the country, Chrysler appears to be working around franchise law to exert more control over its retail network in the Golden State. No wonder then that California’s dealers are standing together to attack Motor Village, the most egregious example of Chrysler’s new retail model. And there’s no knowing where the conflict could end…

Automotive News [sub] reports

California Superstores, a new dealership group owned largely by a New York hedge fund, is buying up former Chrysler Group dealerships and at least one existing store in California.

And Chrysler is buying the real estate for the group as a way to beat California’s high cost of real estate and to rebuild Chrysler’s weak market share in the state.

Here’s how it works: Chrysler Realty has been buying the expensive California real estate for California Superstores, a dealer group backed by York Capital Management, and renting it to the outfit for below-market rates.  Both sides fully admit to the situation, with Chrysler’s VP for Network and Fleet, Peter Grady telling AN [sub]

“We’re buying the real estate and York Capital is funding the dealership operations with working capital,” Grady told Automotive News. “We expect each one to sell 100 cars a month. That’s significant volume we’re missing. We’ve still got a long way to go in California.”

The plan will help ensure that Chrysler gets “the right guy to operate the store the way we want.”

Grady said Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is a “huge, huge proponent of the plan.”

Note that getting “the right guy” is the key to this program… even though that money spent buying new real estate could just as well be used to renovated an improve the existing dealerships that Chrysler says are suffering from underinvestment. Meanwhile, on the other side of the deal, California Superstores managing partner Hoz de Vila admits

Chrysler Realty will give California Superstores a break on rent for the first couple of years. The rent amount will gradually increase to market rates, he said.

“It’s not really a rent subsidy. We’re still responsible for our leases. At the end of the day, [Chrysler Reality's] going to get their money back.”

This is essentially the same deal Chrysler has with the Motor Village dealership, with Chrysler Realty giving the new store six months free rent, and then increasing rates steadily until they reach $90,000 per month in 2015, for a retail location with a market rent level of $200,000. The major difference is that Motor Village is, in fact, owned by Chrysler. By contrast, the California Superstore locations are owned independently and backed by York Capital, with the founder of California’s largest Dodge dealer acting as CEO. On the other hand Chrysler’s funding of real-estate acquisitions is key to Superstores’ involvement, just as Chrysler’s desire to see “the right guy operate the store the way we want” is motivating this not inconsiderable outlay. In short, it’s one cozy little arrangement which appears to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of state franchise law.

Clearly, California’s Chrysler dealers want to use the most egregious example, Motor Village, to draw the line on Chrysler’s attempt to gain control over its California retail network. After all, the CNCDA’s complaint cites a number of improper filings with the state board, full Chrysler ownership under non-qualifying terms, and misrepresentation by Chrysler of the dealership’s status. But if the DMV throws the book at Motor Village, the California Superstores network could be the next target, as its relationship with Chrysler is clearly different than the typical franchised dealer. One California Chrysler dealer, speaking to AN under the condition of anonymity, argued

When they [Chrysler] have so much investment in it, our biggest concern is they’re not going to allow it to fail. They will do whatever, at the expense of other dealers, to allow them to survive.

CNCDA president Peter Welch adds:

I’ve heard concern from our members about Chrysler providing below-market rent subsidies to dealers and that it’s causing dissension among Chrysler dealers because they’re not all being offered the same types of incentives.

John Tangeman, Chrysler’s national dealership placement manager, insists that Chrysler has shared its lists of open points with its California dealers, arguing

We have opportunities in the market and we have offered and discussed these opportunities with a lot of dealers.

And, of course, Chrysler’s California dealers are not blameless in the sense that their statewide market share is a mere 5.9%, compared to a 9.5% nationwide average. And, argues California Superstore’s Hoz De Villa

A lot of operators were not reinvesting in the brand because of the financial conditions

So, Chrysler may just be doing what it has to after demoralizing its dealer network with subpar products and a painful, arbitrary, divisive dealer cull. On the other hand, given how blatantly it appears to be violating franchise law with Motor Village, it’s likely that Chrysler’s California situation could get a lot messier before it gets better. And, after all, a 5.9% market share and underinvesting dealers is still better than getting tossed from the country’s largest market for cars. Which, as this battle widens, is looking more and more possible.

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Could Chrysler Be Kicked Out Of California? Fri, 27 May 2011 22:03:41 +0000

About two months ago, we heard that Chrysler’s “prototype” Motor Village dealership in the Los Angeles area had been hit with a complaint [PDF] from the California New Car Dealer’s association, arguing that it violated state laws against manufacturer-owned dealerships. The store, a test bed for what Chrysler terms “new retail concepts,” is in fact a partnership between Chrysler and LaBrea ChryslerJeep, making it appear to fit a legal loophole allowing OEM partnerships in retail ventures. But the CNCDA argues that Chrysler is undercharging for rent on the dealership building which it owns, and according to Automotive News [sub], the California Department of Motor Vehicle’s New Motor Vehicle Board just voted unanimously to open a formal investigation into the situation. And the stakes couldn’t be much higher, as AN reports:

If the DMV finds that Chrysler violated state law, the automaker could have its business license in California suspended or revoked.


While suspension or revocation of Chrysler’s California business license would be a huge blow, it’s not clear how likely it is to happen. After all, the dealers who are suing Chrysler say they don’t want to put themselves out of business, and have obvious reasons for not doing so. Says Peter Welch, president of the CNDA:

From our perspective, there’s been a clear violation, and what I heard today underscored it. We obviously don’t want the department to close them down because that would adversely affect our 103 Chrysler dealers, but we can’t have rogue manufacturers not following the law and intentionally trying to circumvent it through sham devices to meet whatever the flavor-of-the-month new marketing strategy is.

But if you dig into the complaint, it’s not at all clear what the CNCDA wants, precisely. Here’s what the complaint requests:

Petitioner is not a licensee of DMV and does not request the Board to refer this matter to a gearing officer or attempt to mediate, arbitrate or otherwise resolve the matter because this Petition does not involve a dispute between Petitioner and Respondent. Rather, Petitioner requests the board itself, both public and dealer members, to exercise its statutory oversight responsibility by considering the herein described acts and practices of Respondent as they relate to the Legislature’s statutory scheme to ensure fair competition and protect the public. After careful consideration, Petitioner respectfully requests:

1. That the Board provide relief available under subdivisions (c)(1) and (c)(3) of Vehicle Code Section 3050 by directing DMV to conduct an investigation of the matters described herein and/or order the DMV to exercise its authority and power to initiate disciplinary proceedings against the motor manufacturer license of Chrysler Group LLC; and

2. For such further relief as the Board deems appropriate.

Turning to the California Vehicle Code, we find that the CNCDA invoked clauses one and three of the following “powers and duties” of the NMVB:

(1) Direct the department to conduct investigation of matters that the board deems reasonable, and make a written report on the results of the investigation to the board within the time specified by the board.

(2) Undertake to mediate, arbitrate, or otherwise resolve any honest difference of opinion or viewpoint existing between any member of the public and any new motor vehicle dealer, manufacturer, manufacturer branch, distributor branch, or representative.

(3) Order the department to exercise any and all authority or power that the department may have with respect to the issuance, renewal, refusal to renew, suspension, or revocation of the license of any new motor vehicle dealer, manufacturer, manufacturer branch, distributor, distributor branch, or representative as that license is required under Chapter 4 (commencing with Section 11700) of Division 5.

What does this tell us? Despite the CNCDA’s insistence that it doesn’t want Chrysler booted from the Golden State, it specifically chose not to invoke the clause intended to “resolve any honest difference of opinion or viewpoint.” Which, if this were a remotely amicable dispute, they would have, as Chrysler’s defense hinges on the exemptions for partnership and dealer training. And, reading through the CNCDA’s conclusions, it’s clear there’s something going on here besides one Chrysler-owned store. This conflict has historical context.

The past three years have been extremely challenging for California Chrysler dealers – more than 30 of them were forced to close their doors due to the collapse of Chrysler Financial and the recession. During that time, and additional 32 California Chrysler dealers were rejected and terminated by Chrysler LLC during its bankruptcy — but not Chrysler-owned LaBrea Avenue Motor Inc! … California’s remaining independently-owned and operated Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep dealers are fierce competitors but they cannot fairly compete against a Chrysler-owned dealership in their own backyard — especially a $30 million plus behemoth operating with little or no rent charge. The Legislature crafted a well thought out regulatory scheme to deal with unfair auto manufacturer competition and Respondent is apparently thumbing its nose at it.

So, this is part complaint, part payback. And remember, Chrysler dealer members of the CNCDA may want to prevent a suspension or revocation of Chrysler’s California business license, but there’s more to the CNCDA than just Chrysler dealers. Meanwhile, the matter is in the hands of the DMV board now… and we’ll be keeping an eye out for their investigation’s findings.

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FoMoCo, Lincoln Dealers Face Off Over Buyouts And Upgrades Mon, 25 Oct 2010 13:37:16 +0000
With Mercury going the way of Olds and Pontiac, Ford has made much of its intentions to turn its struggling Lincoln brand around. Ford has promised a $2b investment in Lincoln’s product line, and is pushing for the closure of 200 or so Lincoln dealers in order to concentrate the brand’s weak sales at its most successful dealers. But that’s not all. Ford is requiring the surviving Lincoln dealerships to invest heavily, as much as $2m per store, to stay on board the Lincoln Revival Express. But, according to Automotive News [sub], the Lincoln dealers are starting to wonder if they’re being asked for too much. One dealer tells the industry paper

They told us there would be no new products for about 24 months. I don’t know how the stand-alone Lincoln dealers are going to make it, especially those dealers who have to spend $2 million on their upgrades.
Ford has offered several Lincoln stores between $300k and $1.5m to give up ideally-located franchises that they refused to upgrade, but it seems that few dealers are simply rolling over. In fact, the dealer who was offered $1.5m rejected Ford’s offer, calling it “very low” for his profitable franchise. And that’s the polite response. A dealer who was offered less tells AN
“Insulted” isn’t a harmful enough word to describe it. It’s asinine. I’m getting my numbers together and going back. I’m not going to accept this.
Ford, for its part, says the “status quo is not an option,” a position that puts the factory and dealers in place for a nice round of brutal negotiations. And since Ford lacks to the tools to force its entire network to update, it will either have to pay up or live with at least a few remnants of the status quo. And as long as Lincoln’s products remain largely status quo, that’s probably the way it should be.
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Quote Of The Day: Doing Without Dealers Edition Tue, 27 Jul 2010 19:19:45 +0000

Have we scrutinized all the issues behind what they’re doing? Not really. My feeling is that a manufacturer-owned store as a business model violates the spirit of the state law here. But not a single person is complaining about it, and it’s kind of a back-burner thing for us. I imagine that if we start getting complaints from our membership, we would move it up to a front-burner thing

Tim Jackson, President of the Colorado Automobile Dealer Association tells Automotive News [sub] that Tesla’s non-franchise dealership in Colorado is not a long-term strategy, despite the company’s avowed desire to do without dealers. Well, franchised dealers, anyway (state law allows one OEM-owned dealership, and lots of EV tax breaks). Tesla admits (in its prospectus, no less) that wanting to own its own dealers will cause problems in Texas, but in the unlikely event that Tesla becomes a viable automaker, it’s easy to imagine a number of states putting up barriers to the franchise-free strategy. Especially since what we do know about Tesla’s dealer model plan is… highly irregular.

Having hired George “the brains behind the Apple Store” Blankenship, Tesla’s dealer expansion plan is still under review. Regardless, another Automotive News [sub] piece has the rough outlines.

Tesla’s approach probably will involve a small real estate footprint, with pedestrian access wherever possible, the company says. Stores will carry only a few display cars in inventory — three or four, in some cases, with no sales lot. And the company intends to continue selling cars directly over the Internet.

Sales employees are compensated with a combination of salary and sales commissions.

Tesla envisions that its EVs will create less service-related income than cars powered by internal combustion engines because oil filters, mufflers, radiators and air hoses needn’t be replaced. Initially, stores will not have a service department.

Instead, service technicians travel from Tesla headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., to customers who have vehicle problems.

And though Tesla estimates its car’s running cost as two cents per mile, the company charges $1 per round-trip mile for a service technician to come to your recalcitrant Roadster from Palo Alto, California. And you wonder why the cars are so rare… well, anywhere outside of California. But hey, software diagnostics can be done over the internet, and remember, electric cars don’t really break. Right?

In perfect fairness, this is not the worst-ever service program for a $100k sportscar that’s sold just over 1,000 units. But what about when the Model S comes to market, and 20,000 annual units must be sold and serviced? Tesla’s new Regional Sales Manager figures

It’s working for now. If we need to change in the future, I’m sure we will…. We recognize that there are some challenges out there in some states, and we plan to work around those land mines

No biggie. It’s not like car dealers are an insanely well-connected political bloc, able to achieve such feats of political manipulation as exempting themselves from financial reform regulations… right?

Like all good revolutionaries, Tesla believes that the only barrier to a new, better business model is a lack of imagination. But by trying to explode the franchise-dealer model, Tesla is picking at a scab that covers one of the deepest fault lines in the business of automobile. As long as it only sells the Roadster, Tesla can fly under the radar as it has in Colorado, but as soon as the Model S hits projected production volumes, the game will change. Tesla will have to fight state-by-state against well-connected dealers, and faces an insane ramp-up on the service front by pursuing its “gallery” model. The franchise-dealer model is hardly perfect, and this is in no way a defense of it as the best way of organizing the business. But the fact is that the system will defend itself, and Tesla’s crusade will earn it few friends in the industry it’s trying to conquer.

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Canadian Judge: Forget Arbitration, Culled Dealers Can Sue GM Fri, 23 Apr 2010 22:24:41 +0000

Automotive News [sub] reports that 19 rejected Canadian GM dealers have been given the green light to sue GM as a class, rather than go through the arbitration process that is being used to resolve dealer cull disputes in the US. The dealers are suing GM for breach of their dealer agreements, and for failing to provide compensation beyond wind-down costs. They argue that the arbitration process would be expensive for dealers, non-transparent to the taxpayers who funded GM’s reorganization, and would put GM at an unfair advantage.

One dealer explains:

For GM it would have been divide and conquer and control the flow of information.

Superior Court Judge Sarah Pepall agreed, ruling that the dealers have a common cause against GM and should be able to pursue their claims jointly in public court. Another lawsuit by Canadian GM dealers, naming both General Motors and its Canadian counsel, and alleging misconduct in the execution of the Canadian dealer cull is still pending. The very public drama between GM and its dealers that began with its bankruptcy-era cull of 1,573 dealerships may be nearly a year old now, but it’s showing few signs of stopping any time soon.

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GM Dealer Reinstatement Puts Pressure On Chrysler Wed, 10 Mar 2010 17:44:40 +0000

GM’s recent reinstatement of 661 culled dealers has put pressure back on Chrysler to come to arrangement with the dealers it shed during last year’s bankruptcy and bailout. Rep. Chris VanHollen, the sixth ranking Democrat in the House or Representatives, tells Automotive News [sub] that with GM buckling to dealer pressure, the time has come for Chrysler to follow suit. “There’s no quicker or easier way to build this network than to reinstate its terminated car dealerships,” says VanHollen, who drafted much of congress’s dealer arbitration legislation. The Committee to Restore Dealer Rights contacted Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne “to discuss the reinstatement of the rejected dealers who had their franchises so abruptly taken and were unfairly terminated.” The response?

We believe that all communications concerning the subject matter of the arbitration should be between counsel and request that your clients follow this procedure in the future. Please ask them not to send such communications to Mr. Marchionne or any other Chrysler personnel.

Oh snap! Chrysler isn’t going down without a fight… even if that means taking on the representatives who have oversight of the government’s eight percent stake in the automaker.

GM’s justification for reinstating dealers was that Chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre wanted more sales volume at all costs, a goal that should probably resonate with Chrysler, considering the firm’s terminally moribund sales. But apparently Chrysler would rather pick a political fight to axe its old dealers.

Chrysler’s argument: unlike GM, which gave its dealers time to wind down their operations, Chrysler made its dealer cull effective upon exiting bankruptcy. As a result, the New, New Chrysler is able to make the argument that technically these dealers have never had a franchise agreement with the company in its current form. You can’t legally reinstate something you never had a contract with,” anonymous Chrysler sources tell Automotive News [sub]. “Dealer appointments will be a function of the arbitrations.”

Culled dealers aren’t buying it though. “Chrysler’s looking for technicalities to hide behind,” says Alan Spitzer of the CtRDR. “The law allows them to negotiate outside arbitration.” Interestingly, both GM and Chrysler have dropped their campaigns against a Colorado dealer reinstatement bill.

Meanwhile, Chrysler Canada dealers are eying Chrysler’s reborn Five Star incentives with envy [via The Windsor Star], as apparently the mothership has seen fit to not include Canadian dealers in the program.With dealer-related challenges at every turn, Chrysler’s “transition year” is going to be even more fraught with difficulties than we had initially thought.

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GM Dealer Activists Left Out Of Reinstatement Tue, 09 Mar 2010 18:34:10 +0000

We reported yesterday that GM’s recent dealer cull flip-flop was motivated by Chariman/CEO Ed Whitacre’s desire for increased sales volume. Though that may have been the main reason GM took over 600 dealers back into the fold, there was clearly another, more sinister reason for the move: making an example of dissident, activist dealers. Automotive News [sub] reports that GM has contacted all 661 reinstated dealers, and believe it or not, none of the 7 dealer members of the Committee to Restore Dealer Rights have been contacted. Founding member Tammy Darvish tells AN [sub],

The only thing I’m confident of is that I’m sure it’s not a coincidence

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GM Fighting Colorado Culled-Dealer Bill Sun, 21 Feb 2010 17:13:55 +0000

The Colorado House’s passage of HB-1049 [PDF here], a bill requiring restitution for dealers culled during the Chrysler and GM bankruptcies, has drawn a $60,000 “no” campaign from General Motors. The Denver Post reports that GM’s ad campaign, which features lines like “we must keep driving forward to repay our government loans,” and “don’t let special interests stick taxpayers in reverse,” has riled up local lawmakers more than ever, drawing such timeless put-downs as: “they must be spending tax dollars on Botox to say that with a straight face.” The bill would require OEMs compensate culled dealers for signs, parts, dealer upgrades and more, as well as offer them the right of first refusal for any new area dealerships.

Arbitration between culled dealers and GM and Chrysler is ongoing, having been mandated by congress, and it’s already creating friction, particularly for Chrysler. But federally-mandated arbitration will only accomplish so much, if states like Colorado continue to push back for local culled dealers. Dealers are protected on the state level by franchise laws that vary significantly from state to state, and if local legislators (who are much more easily persuaded by the pleas and donations of local dealers) dig in and fight, GM and Chrysler’s dealer culls could become hopelessly mired in the kind of compensation negotiations that collectively earned Oldsmobile dealers about $1b when that brand and its dealers were wound down.

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