Question Of The Day: Would It Be Better To Test Drive A New Car… Without The Dealership?

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang

Imagine over 500 cars at your disposal, and you pick the exact ones you want to test on the open road.

There are no mind games. No bait and switch tactics. Nothing but you going to a computer, figuring out the most worthy candidates, and letting a salaried employee fetch the keys and answer the relevant questions to your car search.

Sounds too good to be true? Well, it’s already happened. There’s only one problem.

The place that does it primarily sells used cars, not new cars.

Thanks in part to the inordinate hassles of buying a car, Carmax is now the largest automotive retailer in the United States. In fact, they are now bigger than the #2 and #3 automotive retailers combined. They managed to do this tall order with just a small fraction of storefronts, and without the easy access to certain financing sources that help new car dealerships move their inventory. This is no small feat given the level of hardball tactics dealer lobbies usually inflict on state legislatures.

The almost universal desire to get away from bias and manipulation is a huge challenge for millions of new car buyers. Who offers the best car? It’s hard to say when advertising is all over the place and the chance to test drive all the new cars, without blatant bias at nearly every turn, is virtually impossible.

For consumers who are often firmly entrenched in the online search for a new car, the 21st century new car buying decision still hits the thick brick wall that is the early 20th century method of retailing cars.

The inherent costs to the Carmax model, for example, is still in the several billions of dollars even though they contract out a lot of their reconditioning activities. Between purchasing 500,000+ vehicles, investing in the real estate and physical infrastructure, hiring and training thousands of employees, designing the transportation logistics and the myriad of IT platforms, and finally, looking out for shareholders, Carmax can’t afford to offer the lowest price on a routine basis.

But despite this financial handicap, they still serve a large swath of the general public without resorting to the lower forms of salesmanship. People will pay a premium for honesty. If the new car business wasn’t in a legal stranglehold, chances are a lot of the fixed costs in buying a new car would go away. Or at least consolidate to a competitive superstore / online order / specialty store world where consumers simply pick their best fit.

All of these sales channels are as common as kudzu these days for anything but new cars. Thankfully there are other alternatives; although their presence is usually fleeting.

For example, when many of us head out to the larger auto shows, we get the same unique chance to look at and test drive a lot of brand new cars. The opportunity to walk around in one place and test drive what’s out there motivates millions of people to spend their money on a show that features things that you can usually go see for free. Just not under the same roof.

If you headed out to the more rural areas of the USA not too long ago, county and state fairs used to offer folks the same opportunity to go out and test drive a variety of new sheet metal. Maybe they still do, but I haven’t seen it here in Georgia for quite a while.

Finally, there are the rental car agencies, car sharing programs, and PR events that allow everyday folks to test drive what’s out there outside the new car dealership.

Except sometimes the new car is simply not what you want, and when it comes to rental cars in particular, the vehicle may be too used to be new.

This brings me to the big question. If there was a place where you could test drive a new car, any new car, every new car, would you go? I’m sure you would so let me throw a knuckleball into that equation. Would you be willing to pay $20 for the opportunity to drive whatever you want for an entire day? Let’s keep it short drives. Fewer than 10 miles. But as many cars as you wish without being four-squared and stuck in a miserable cubicle for hours on end.

Think of it as an auto show that never ends. Would it be worth $20 to figure out which car will be your next car?

Steven Lang
Steven Lang

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  • Dude500 Dude500 on May 14, 2014

    Steve, this business model already exists for new cars: http://www.tred.com/ It is $39 per car delivered, with 30mins of test drive time.

    • See 1 previous
    • Dude500 Dude500 on May 15, 2014

      @Lie2me If Tred’s revenue source is the test drive fee rather than getting you to buy a car, then (hopefully) their incentives are skewed against giving the customer the hard sell and run-around. I haven't tried the service myself, however. Actually, I’d think that Tred would be incentivized to have you test drive as many cars as possible, since they make a fee on each test. If I were them I’d say “Thanks for test driving the Camry and Accord. You know, the Subaru Legacy, Mazda 6 and Ford Fusion are also good cars, how about I bring those to you?”

  • Dude500 Dude500 on May 15, 2014

    I haven't tried the service myself, but if Tred's revenue source is the test drive fee rather than getting you to buy a car, then (hopefully) their incentives are skewed against giving the customer the hard sell and run-around. Actually, I'd think that Tred would be incentivized to have you test drive as many cars as possible, since they make a fee on each test. If I were them I'd say "Thanks for test driving the Camry and Accord. You know, the Subaru Legacy, Mazda 6 and Ford Fusion are also good cars, how about I bring those to you?"

  • Richard Poore Sure, as the article itself notes (hence my ire) California has mandated that all new vehicles sold in state be EV by 2035. They require EV or hybrid by 2026. Since the author admits to this mandate it seems that the article title is clickbait... was really hoping that there was some sort of changes in the CA position since the state is sorely behind on where they need to be with charging stations for this sort of requirement.
  • NotMyCircusNotMyMonkeys PRESIDENT HARRISS, THE YOUNGEST FEMALE OF COLOR PRESIDENT WILL SCALE BACK EV REQUIREMENTS. FAT ORANGE WILL BE DOING TIME
  • VoGhost When will Audi eliminate the fake, oversized grills that impede aerodynamics?
  • Kelley It's about time! I was so discouraged to see those poor Chevy Bolts stuck at the charging station receiving level 2 speeds after 80%, it was ridiculous. It would be nice if EA would had more level 2 chargers, also, at the same locations for people to top off above 80% on the fast chargers.
  • Tane94 Carmela Harris is supportive of EV adoption, so government incentives will be continuing under her watch.
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