Bark's Bites: What You Want To Buy Isn't What They Want To Sell You
Imagine that you were a buyer of fine art. Not THAT kind of fine art, mind you—I’m not talking Seurat or O’Keefe here. Just some private collection pieces for your home, maybe in the range of $1K-$10K. Something a little unique and different, maybe not something the masses would enjoy. It might take a little bit of art education to truly appreciate it, but you are capable of appreciating it more than most.
Now, imagine that the only place you could buy them was in a Thomas Kinkade “Painter of Light” store, right next to prints of barns and horses and lighthouses. Now, imagine that the sales reps at that store don’t really want to sell you the higher end paintings, because buyers of that sort of thing are notoriously difficult to deal with, and they don’t really make any money on them, because the artists demand most of the profit. They’d rather just make their commission selling to the ignorant masses who want a touching portrait of Aladdin and Jasmine flying over Agrabah.
That’s what it’s like to be a guy who wants to buy something other than a CamCordima at any non-exotic franchise dealership in America—or maybe more importantly, what it’s like to be a guy trying to sell one.
Recently, I had the chance to rap with the manager of a Mazda dealership in a larger metropolitan area. I asked him, “So, excited about the new MX-5?”
He gave me a very corporate answer like “Yes, we are thrilled to experience the new SkyActiv technology in all of its radiant glory…” But then he said something very telling.
“Of course, it’s not a high volume model. And the margins aren’t going to be great. Even better, we get to deal with all of the ‘Miata’ crowd who want a discount for being in this club or that club or for having owned a Miata for 20 years.”
I had a similar experience again when speaking to the GM of a Ford store about the new GT350.
“Yeah, I think I’ve got a brochure around here somewhere if you’re interested. Excuse me, there’s a fleet customer here who I need to speak with.” I don’t blame him. If I had the chance to sell a few flatbed trucks or Transit vans to a corporation, I doubt I would spend any time talking to the guy who’s waxing poetic about the rumble of a flat-crank V8, either.
I spoke with another gentleman recently who was a partner in a independent used car lot. He told me about a beautiful 2013 E350 Sport 4Matic that he sold to a customer, and how finally getting rid of that car was going to enable him to go buy TWO used trucks at auction that week. “Those things we can really make some money on,” he excitedly shared with me. “People are still afraid of car payments in this economy. It’s much easier for me to move a few used trucks that I can get people into $210-220 payments on than these high-end cars. Those cars have two kinds of customers—over-educated pricks who come in here and tell me how much I paid for the car and how they don’t think I should be allowed to make any money on them, and then the people who don’t have any ability to actually pay for them.”
It’s a tough pill for automotive enthusiasts to swallow, but swallow it we must. Our business really doesn’t matter very much to car dealers. The cars we drool over are often headaches for them—they are often the most viewed car on a dealer’s website, which means that they have to field endless numbers of phone calls and emails about them from “buyers” whose credit isn’t good enough to rent a Popsicle stand, much less buy a performance-oriented car. As a result, a high-dollar, rare car will often take up a semi-permanent residence on a car lot, taking up precious floorplan dollars that could be used to acquire vehicles the dealer will move several times more often per year. And for most modern, sensible car dealers who have given up on the idea of the four-thousand-dollar front-end profit on cars, that’s what matters most to them—how quickly can I turn this car into money that I can go buy another car with?
That being said, the B&B of TTAC are a practical bunch. We often discuss how the most popular articles on this site are not about the launch of some exotic car, but of a new mid-sized CUV or family hauler. We have written more words about the previous-generation Toyota Camry than Melville wrote about whales. Even so, we can be a finicky bunch. We’re convinced that Car X would totally sell like hotcakes if only Manufacturer Y would be smart enough to bring it across the Atlantic for us. Then we go and mock anybody who is stupid enough to buy a new car and, God forbid, finance it.
Is it any wonder, then, that the dealers prefer the poor, ignorant masses, seeking their late-model mid-sized sedans?
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