Car Buying Tips: Sales Prevention Officers and "Demand Pricing"

Justin Berkowitz
by Justin Berkowitz

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.

Justin Berkowitz
Justin Berkowitz

Immensely bored law student. I've also got 3 dogs.

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  • Ian Jordan Ian Jordan on May 23, 2007

    The exact same thing happened to me 18 months ago when I went to buy a new car. I was looking at RX-8's, STi's, and Evos. Every Mazda dealer tossed me the keys and told me to have fun. The Subaru and Mitsu guys literally never let me drive or ride in the cars. I pulled up to the Subaru dealer in a brand new BMW and the mitsu dealer in a 1G Eclipse, the father to the Evo. The dealers just told me I had to buy it to drive it. The subie dealer even had a used STi that he wouldn't let me drive. I'm not a young punk either- I'm 30. I ended up with the RX-8. I love it, but I still wonder what I would have bought if I actually had a choice.

  • Pb35 Pb35 on May 23, 2007

    So, Cadillac finally got back to me! Hooray GM! Check out the body of the email, sales prevention at it's finest! Thank you for your interest in a 2007 SRX. At this time, we do not have any 2007 V8 SRX's in stock, however we do have a 2005 V8 SRX in stock, in case you were interested in test driving this particular vehicle. Would you be interested in test driving this vehicle? I look forward to hearing from you. You can't make this stuff up!

  • The Oracle Looks like a nice reincarnation.
  • TheEndlessEnigma In '98 a guy I worked with came into work pissed, so pissed he was beside himself, so pissed he was beside himself and they were both pissed. He had bought a Seville the year before for his wife, a very buxom empty headed drink of water that was roughly 20 years his junior (she *LIKED* older men and he wasn't about to complain). He had gotten a call the afternoon before, she was broken down in the less than 1 year old Seville on the side of the NY Turnpike at the Galleria Mall in Cheektowaga. The car quite on her in traffic and it wouldn't start. They got it towed to a nearby Caddy dealer and they started checking out the problem immediately. As he told it, the car already had a little over 20k miles on it so the service manager was pretty concerned about a warranty engine failure, "These Northstar engines are bulletproof!". After about an hour at the shop the service manager comes to talk with them, "Uh, ma'am, when was the last time you had the oil changed"? "Oil change, don't they come with oil when you buy these cars?". Seems the engine seized up, right around 1 qt of oil, with a tar like consistency and full of sparkles, was found in the oil pan. The late '90s, a NorthStar engine, one year and 20k miles......never saw an oil change. Powertrain warranty claim? Refused. Engine replacement? You bet, $9900 in 1998 dollars.
  • VoGhost Quality review. Thanks!
  • VoGhost Love this collective clutching of pearls over a vehicle name not a single commenter will ever see, drive or buy.
  • 28-Cars-Later "Here's why" edition_cnn_com/2018/06/13/health/falling-iq-scores-study-intl/index.html