May I Please Buy A Camaro Now?

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

Vijay Ravindran at the WaPo’s Achenblog details his own descent into Camaro buying hell:

“I wanted a Chevy Camaro.

I’d never really liked American sports cars before. But the 2010 Camaro — a revival Chevrolet has been talking up since 2006 — is so much more sleek than your typical muscle car. And since my BMW 330 started showing its age (nine) around the same time that the death of the U.S. auto industry hit the headlines, I thought: Why not do a little something to help?”

“So, after seeing a newspaper ad promoting Camaros at a local Chevy dealer, I called and left a voicemail saying I was interested in a test drive.

I never heard back.

I was shocked. Here I was, ready to buy, while GM was in financial straits. I thought they’d be all over me. Turns out it’s not so easy to obtain a piece of the American dream.”

Needless to say, the story doesn’t end here. Ravindran tries several dealerships and gets treated like, well, crap. Which begs the question: if a halo car brings people into the dealerships only to be disappointed, what’s the point?

Edward Niedermeyer
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  • Frankenbike Frankenbike on Jul 22, 2009

    I'm sorry, but anyone who says they were in sales and would never let a call go is full of crap. In sales, we had a little term called "qualification". You don't waste time on any customer who couldn't make a near term purchase, unless you were selling something unbelievably profitable, and you needed to groom them. There's no percentage in grooming a customer when your product availability is indeterminate. Particularly in retail, when the odds are very good that when the product is available, the sale will go to another salesman. One huge bit of the fault does lie with the automakers: allocation systems. For a car where the manufacturer is the source of the product's excitement, any dealer should be able to take an order for any car, and be put in the delivery queue, first come, first served. And the software to estimate delivery is easy enough without actually placing the order. So if a dealer has used their allocation, the sales people are completely de-incentivized to even discuss the vehicle in question. Unavailability of product is something that will result in a display of rude self interest after a very short period of time, because commissioned sales people are treated like absolute crap by everyone from their management to the president of the manufacturer. They are the bottom of the hierarchy in every company, and their only value lies in a "closed sale", which is reflected on their pay check. If it isn't even remotely possible to close a sale, even over a period of months (which the allocation system ensures at this time, even for "ordered" vehicles), please explain why someone would not give up on trying to be nice after the 100th person calls on the phone, not even walking into the dealership, looking for something that you can't help them with? To be sure, there are salesmen/women with the kind of people skills which allow them to ignore their own self interest and frustrations...but they tend to have the better, business to business sales jobs, not the retail kind in which car sales are a part. My experiences as a salesman in my younger years have left me with a self conscious avoidance of wasting the time of salesmen when they really can't help me. The Camaro is so good at what it is, that there is simply no place for a salesman to turn a Camaro sale into something else. If they have it in, they don't even have to try to sell it, it'll sell itself in a matter of hours unless the dealer is taking an added markup. I have never experienced some of the situations being relayed here. If I've gone into a car dealership, I look around the lot and see what I want, and I show an interest, the sales folk have been more than eager to help me close the sale. I only had problems when I wanted something they didn't have and couldn't get easily.

  • BuzzDog BuzzDog on Jul 22, 2009
    @Geotpf: But being a new car dealer makes it easier to sell used cars and repair work. If you are an independent mechanic, you don’t get to file warranty claims, and a lot of people take their newish cars to the dealer they bought the car at automatically. My apologies...I just realized that I didn't do a good job of explaining the business model I had in mind: I see new car sales directly from the manufacturer's website, either to custom order (two weeks to delivery) or from a pool maintained by the manufacturer (less than a week to delivery). Delivery would be to a storefront similar to what we currently refer to as the dealer, to whom the manufacturer would pay the destination fee (to perform delivery prep) and the "holdback." This storefront would also have an internet kiosk to handle customers who are not tech-savvy. This storefront would fly the company banner, and be factory-authorized to handle warranty claims(and compensated by the manufacturer for this). This storefront could carry a small inventory if they so desired, particularly for customers who needed a new vehicle immediately (such as for accident replacement) and were willing to settle for what's on hand. Just as it is today, a buyer may or may not choose to trade in their old vehicle at the storefront, depending on what the storefront was willing to pay for the trade. The website would allow for cash payment (from a bank account), proceeds from a pre-arranged bank or credit union loan or online application for financing from either the manufacturer's financing arm or a variety of lenders. TT&L handled by the storefront, with associated costs built into the destination fee. Just as it is today, the buyer may or may not choose to use the factory-authorized service center within the storefront for non-warranty work. ADVANTAGES No new vehicle inventory costs for dealers, guaranteed income on each unit and an incentive to treat the customer right - if you don't, they won't use you as a delivery point. The manufacturer is better able to respond to demand, and has control over the customer's buying experience; a dealer's practices cannot tarnish the purchase transaction. The customer gets what is wanted (instead of what is available) and has the advantage of working with a dealer that doesn't have to waste time on tire kickers and trying to predict what buyers will want to see on the lot. DISADVANTAGES The major fight needed to change state laws and squash dealer lobbyists who feel the current system is working. The need for factory output would be driven by mouse clicks, and thus less predictable...but factories cannot be started and stopped that easily. Dealers lose out on impulse buys for the hot, new models, and face a steep learning curve as they re-educate buyers to the new business model. There is still some room for less-than-ethical dealings on the trade-in side of the transaction, but no more than today. The customer would have limited opportunities to see and test drive before buying, and would usually not be able to test drive the actual vehicle that was being purchased. So, not a perfect solution, but in my mind, better than what we currently have.
  • PeteMoran PeteMoran on Jul 22, 2009

    @ BuzzDog Good list. One query; Dealers lose out on impulse buys for the hot, new models ..... Is this real? Maybe there's a tiny % of impulse buyers, and I think that's the point; the whole dealership experience with their huge stocking costs seem setup precisely for a non-existent impulse buyer when in reality that just doesn't happen. I would think the vast majority of people research a purchase as significant as a car, or are buying on a well deserved dealer/manufacturer loyality. To add/expand on your list; ADVANTAGES: Manufacturers get to extend JIT to the end-user, resulting in an improvement in profitability. Unsold inventory is the single largest cost killer in manufacturing. Sustainable profit IS employment. DISADVANTAGES: There is an existential school of economic thought that says that you have to people in jobs to create exchanges of money to keep other people in jobs. So while it's possible for a productivity or economic efficiency zealot to argue nearly all retail jobs could be eliminated, what does that create??? Anyone who is a fan of the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to The Galaxy will know that the Earth is actually the planet where the useless third of another planet's population landed. Hairdressers, shoe salesman, management consultants, marketeers, telephone sanitizers etc. Funny stuff, but a bit to close to the bone....

  • Dwford Dwford on Jul 22, 2009

    @ Frankenbike: Thank you.