Car Buying Tips: Sales Prevention Officers and "Demand Pricing"
My father is a car guy in his late fifties, One day, he decided to buy a sports car. Anyone who’s clocked the age of the men in the Viagra ads should realize this isn’t an unusual phenomenon. Men fifty-and-over are the heart and soul of the U.S. sports car market. And the Chevrolet Corvette occupies the bulls-eye center of that prime demographic. The ‘Vette is also one of GM’s few bright spots: the only world-class car in Chevrolet’s showroom of mediocrity. Anyway, my father tried to buy a Corvette– and failed.
My Dad’s shopping list included several German cars, a couple of Japanese roadsters and the C6 Corvette. There was only one problem with his domestic selection: he couldn't get a test drive. A little wheel time in a box-fresh Porsche Cayman? No problem. To Infiniti and beyond? Right this way. A quick cut and thrust in GM's halo car? Forgeddaboutit. Not one of the Chevy dealers in our suburban New York county would give my Dad five minutes of Corvette wheel time– unless he bought the car first.
Dealers had three explanations for this “no test pilots need apply” rule. First, “it’s not our policy to allow people to test drive a sixty thousand dollar car.” Second, “people who buy these cars don’t want any miles on them.” Third; hey, you gotta understand: we get a lot of joy riders.
Obviously, Chevy dealers have been scraping the bottom of the barrel so long they can't distinguish between "time wasters" and serious customers. Or perhaps they simply don't want to distract their highly professional sales force from far more important jobs like flogging Aveos, Cobalts and other marginally profitable machinery.
Or maybe they're just lazy, short-sighted, arrogant, amoral opportunists. Why work hard to sell a car you don't need to, or you ain't got?
How much effort would it take for Chevy dealers to create a proper 'Vetting procedure, so potential customers like my father could get behind the wheel, realize the dream of a lifetime and buy a damn Corvette? My Dad's experience– or lack thereof– highlights Chevy dealers' complete insensitivity to the over-arching importance of long-term customer relationships.
Of course, VIP ropes around hot new models are one thing. Price gouging is the next.
When the Solstice and Sky fell to Earth, Pontiac and Saturn dealers had a field day. “Market adjustments” and “demand pricing” were deployed to gouge both regular customers AND those who hadn't darkened a Pontiac or Saturn dealership in decades. Many dealers slapped a new price sheet next to the official window sticker, adding markups of three to five thousand dollars.
You’d think Pontiac dealers would have learned their lesson when the Aussie-built, suppository-shaped GTO went from hero to zero in less than year. (There are still untitled 2006 and 2005 GTO's sitting on Pontiac dealer lots.) In a sense they did: grab the cash while the grabbing's good, 'cause it'll be back to [no] business as usual in no time.
I don’t mean to pick on GM. Chrysler dealers jacked-up the prices on the first highly-horsed SRT8 variants (Charger, 300C, Magnum, and Grand Cherokee). Ford dealers added extra profit on the new Thunderbird, Mustang GT, Shelby ‘Stang and Ford GT.
And American manufacturers aren’t the only car companies hoarding hay when the sun shines. For almost a full year after production, the Mercedes SL55 AMG couldn't be had less than $60k over sticker. The short-lived BMW Z8 also commanded premiums so high you had to be high to pay them.
And yet there are some important differences between the domestics’ price gouging and that of their Euro-counterparts.
For one thing, Mercedes and BMW already have plenty of footfall for their entry level and mid-market products. For another, they tacked a premium onto premium products. Someone who can afford a $120k Benz can probably swing $160k. Try applying that logic to the Pontiac Solstice. A customer shopping for a $24k car can afford $29k? Maybe, maybe not.
In fact, it's highly likely that a dwindling number of fifty-something Ameribrand die-hards are the only customers willing to pay premiums on sexy low-end domestic models. Do they care that the extra money's destined to disappear at trade-in time? Who knows? Can the domestics afford to risk punishing their most enthusiastic customers? I think not.
From a buyer''s point-of-view, there's only one way to beat a dealer's narrow-minded "you can't touch this" refrain and price gouging. Tell them to piss off, and then send a few tell-all emails to the corporate mothership AND the dealer group HQ. Keep calling until you find a dealer willing to play ball, shop used, buy something else or just wait for reality to return to the marketplace (as it always does).
As for my old man, he couldn't do it. He simply couldn't drop 60 large on a new sports car without a test drive. And GM wonders why it’s losing market share.
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