The Truth About Caroline: Does Anybody Want To Sell Me A Car?

Caroline Ellis
by Caroline Ellis

When our dear EIC pro-tem took a friend BRZ/FR-S shopping, a lot of readers defended the extremely poor selling skills of the salespeople by remarking that they were looking at low-volume models that the salespeople probably didn’t need to know much about—and that might be accurate. According to, Toyota only sells about 1200 FR-S a month on average and Subaru sells a little more than 700 per month. In comparison to the Camry, which sells over 30,000 units a month, or even the Forester, which comes in around 12-13k, those numbers are pretty insignificant to your average Toyobaru dealer.

But what about a bread and butter car, like, say…a Ford Fiesta or Focus? Or maybe a Chevrolet Sonic or Spark? You might remember my article a few months back talking about how young women aren’t that interested in the small cars currently offered by American carmakers (even if they ARE made in Mexico or Korea). Since I’m in the market for a new car, I thought that maybe I would buck the trend and visit my neighborhood Chevy and Ford stores. My budget is pretty small, so my plan was to start with the Spark and the Fiesta and go from there.

The Chevrolet dealer was my first stop. They certainly looked like they wanted to sell Sparks, as they had three of them in the most prime real estate on the lot. The Spark’s color palette is pretty striking. This particular lot had two different colors in LT trim; Denim (blue), Grape Ice (purple), and one LS Salsa (red). The LTs stickered at around 15K, and the LS was about 14K.

I’m pretty sure that if GM had a picture of the ideal Spark customer, it would probably look a lot like me— Mid-twenties, female, looking for her first new car. As such, when I got of my car to look at the assorted Sparks, it took less than thirty seconds for a salesperson to appear out of nowhere.

“Hi, there. Interested in a Spark? The doors are unlocked.” He was a very short man in his fifties with a bit of a northeastener vibe, dressed in an entirely khaki colored ensemble that gave the impression that he had just finished filming a safari TV special with Jack Hanna.

“Yes, I am.” I particularly liked the Grape Ice color, which is new for 2014. I opened the door of the Spark and sat inside. I really loved the youthful design of the interior, which seemed much nicer than the interior of nearly any other GM car I’d ever sat in. Although the car was definitely small, it felt bigger inside.

“Would you buy a pair of shoes without trying them on?” asked my salesman. Oh, boy. It was a little early in the day for misogynistic, sexist sales tactics.

“No, I wouldn’t,” I replied, waiting to hear the completion of his test drive analogy.

“Well, then, you shouldn’t buy a car without test driving it!” Bingo. There it was.

“Do people really do that?” I queried wondrously.

“Oh, yeah. They buy a car and then come back in and trade it in months later and lose thousands of dollars.”

“Well, I definitely wouldn’t want to do THAT. Let’s go for a drive.” I hopped in the driver’s seat and started to buckle in when he interrupted.

“Ma’am, I have to drive the car off the lot.”

“Why is that? Insurance reasons?”

“Well, it’s just a tricky exit onto the main road here. We’ve had accidents before.” That must be why we were watching a customer drive a new C7 Stingray off the lot for a test drive as we spoke.

“Okay, then.” We switched seats and he drove us to the adjoining strip mall parking lot where we switched seats. As I buckled in, he started to tell me all about his decades of experience selling cars.

“Yeah, I just came over from the Buick GMC store. Sold cars there for a long time.” Ahh. It was starting to make sense. The Nineties sales tactics and the sexist sales pitches were clearly deeply ingrained. However, the minute he pulled “Feel, Felt, Found” on me, I was outta there.

I told him that I had about $12k in cash for whatever car I would be buying, and likely financing the rest over a short term. He assured me that I wouldn’t need a co-signer, but that my interest rate would likely be high because “you’re so young. Are you a college student?”

“No, I graduated four years ago.” I wasn’t sure if this was an attempt at flattery or if he really just couldn’t tell my age. “So do you guys ever get the $12k Sparks?” I asked as I started to drive the little Daewoo.

“Oh, honey, you wouldn’t want one of those. Those are manual transmissions. What if you’re wearing heels to work?” Ok, now I was fuming a bit. “You want an automatic.”

“Oh, yeah? Guess I don’t want this car then.”

“Why not? What’s wrong with it?”

“You said I wanted an automatic. This car has a CVT.”

“Really? I didn’t know these cars had turbos. Like I said, I just came over from the Buick GMC store.”

I kid you not. That exchange actually happened.

The Spark was really speaking to me, in spite of all of this. Yes, it’s slow. Like, really, really slow. But I’m not planning to enter it in any autocrosses or drag races anytime soon. I liked the fact that it came with satellite radio, Bluetooth, and a USB port. The visibility inside the main cabin was fantastic. I normally dislike CVTs, with most of my experience with them being driving Nissan rental cars, but this one didn’t bother me. It was definitely a car I could see myself driving every day…especially in Grape Ice.

When we drove back to the lot, again, he insisted on parking the car, you know, because I might hit something. “I’m sorry, I really don’t think you’re a retard,” he attempted to apologize. “It’s our policy.”

Retard? Really?

I tried not to let the salesman dampen my enthusiasm for the car, however. “Is there any cash on the hood?” I asked as I watched him exit the car after skillfully parking it.

“What?” He seemed confused.

“Is there any cash on the hood?”


This really could have gone on all day, so I changed tactics.

“Are there any rebates or discounts?”

“Just for suppliers. We’re really focused on suppliers this month.” I could understand that if I lived in a big automotive town. I don’t.

“Well, I don’t have a supplier discount. Is there anything else?”

“Nope, not right now. We’re really focused on suppliers.” Okay then. I pulled out my phone and started checking inventories at other dealerships as he spoke. “What are you doing there?”

“Looking to see who else has Sparks in stock.” Turned out that there WAS a Grape Ice manual transmission car about 8 miles away. “Thanks for your time.” He didn’t even offer me a business card as I shook his hand and walked back to my car.

I somehow managed to navigate the tricky exit of the dealership and went across the street to the Ford store to check out Fiesta hatches. Sure enough, as I exited my Mazda, I was greeted by a salesman. He was a Wesley Snipes lookalike, sharply attired in a blue check dress shirt and cuff links. I told him I was there to check out Fiesta S hatchbacks.

Unfortunately, they didn’t have any of those—just some SEs and STs. They did have one Fiesta S sedan, though. It looked really sad in poverty trim, with its wheelcovers (I seriously did not know that anybody still sold new cars with plastic wheelcovers) and dull silver paint. The blue SE we picked for a test drive was well outside my price range, with a sticker well over 18 grand.

This salesman was definitely the strong and silent type. He didn’t have much to say as we went on the test drive, although at least he did let me drive the car off the lot. He mainly seemed to be focused on whether or not I would pass a credit check. I assured him that I had about $12K in cash to put down and no negative credit history, which seemed to ease his mind a bit.

The Fiesta really is, literally and figuratively, in a different class from the Spark. It drives more smoothly, with considerably more power, and it’s noticeably larger in every way. I’d be curious to see how the 3-cyl, 1 .0 liter version would compare. However, the Spark just seemed more… Caroline-ish to me. Cute, Spunky, and Fun. The Fiesta seemed like a grown-up car—nothing wrong with that, just not for me.

I asked when they would be getting a 3-cyl version. “There isn’t a 3-cyl version. This is the only engine option.” Good lord.

However, I knew that there were about $1000 in incentives to be had on the Fiesta, so I returned to my salesman’s office with him and sat as he went to work numbers with his manager. That was where I saw this wonderfully inspiring quote, taped with care behind his desk.

One just has to wonder how long that piece of paper has been affixed to that wall, spelling errors and all. Does he really look at it every day? How has NOBODY in the entire dealership noticed it? He came back in with the invoice sheet, which showed only about 300 dollars of difference between the invoice and the MSRP. “As you can see, there’s not a lot of room in these cars. We could probably get you down to the invoice price.”

“What about the rebates?” I innocently asked. “Were you planning on keeping them?”

“Uhh…not sure if there are any rebates.”

“There are. Thanks for your time.” I exited stage left and drove off the lot. So, in short, it seems as though car salesmen are the same everywhere. No product knowledge, no actual sales techniques, no attempt to close business. If they aren’t willing to try to sell a girl with 66-80% of the sticker price in her pocket in cash, who ARE they willing to sell a car to?

It’s true that there’s little to no margin to be had in A and B segment cars, but I’m certain that GM and Ford have given the dealership OEM targets to hit. Isn’t a $150 mini commission worth their effort? With $50,000 Silverados and F-150s on the lot in the South, it sure didn’t seem like it.

Caroline Ellis
Caroline Ellis

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  • MaxHedrm MaxHedrm on Mar 28, 2014

    They make a LOT on financing, so having a huge down payment doesn't necessarily help you. You might actually be better off financing most of the car & paying it off early. You're probably way more likely to get discounts that way.

  • -Nate -Nate on Mar 30, 2014

    Wow ~ I've been busy but wanted to see how the comments shook out , they're all over the map but very informative and entertaining too ! . -Nate

  • Frank Drove past there last week, plant has a huge poster of a bronco on the outside. I was thinking "Is that where they build the new broncos?" I know they use to make the Edge and that other mundane SUV there but I believe both have been canned.
  • CanadaCraig Toyota saw this coming. So good for them for being courageous enough to say, "Wait a minute. Let's not rush into anything."
  • Rna65689660 As the previous owner of a Triumph, and current owner of a MINI, I say, LOL!
  • Yuda 1) EVs are garbage and a complete waste of time and money 2) Ford IS a business after all, cars and trucks ain't free, they take a lot of time and money to Actually make, manufacture, and build 3) SD trucks are actually useful and practical
  • Tane94 If there is market demand, build the vehicle. That's what Ford is doing. Kudos