By on February 19, 2019

When I was a lad, there were two family-owned and operated dealerships within walking distance of my home. Upon reaching driving age, one had already closed while the other began adding storefronts in different towns. It now has three locations, ensuring a meaty inheritance and lifelong job security for several members of my graduating class.

It’s the nature of the free market and a familiar story. According to an assessment from the National Automobile Dealers Association, singular showrooms have gone from 7,514 strong to just 4,904 between 2008 and 2018. That’s a 35-percent decline, whereas the number of dealers with 10 or more stores increased 62 percent over the same period. 

While the number of multi-store owners is comparatively low, with only 177 individuals owning dealer chains comprised of 10 or more stores, it still represents a move in their favor. The bottom line is that, over the last 10 years, franchises of at least six dealerships have increased in number while those operating fewer declined.

Automotive News reached out to a few mom-and-pop dealers to try and unpack why this is happening. But, assuming you’re familiar with outfits like Walmart or Home Depot, you can probably already hazard a guess.

“Today, to be a family-run dealership, the industry and manufacturer, it’s not so much about the people. It’s about the numbers,” said Dean Konner, who owned a Chevrolet dealership with brothers until last October. “What happened is these bigger guys would undercut your price. A little guy can’t survive.”

His dealership was purchased by the Paul Miller Auto Group, which currently has 12 locations across New Jersey.

Many lone dealership owners are growing increasingly uncomfortable by the industry’s bold push into “mobility and disruption.” While subscription programs aren’t particularly popular with any dealer, they’re exceptionally difficult for smaller stores to manage. Meanwhile, rental-based “ownership alternatives” and upcoming autonomous taxi services coming straight from the manufacturer feel like a death sentence for single stores.

“[Disruption] creates huge anxiety, being a family business,” explained Rick Mohr, owner of Eau Claire Ford-Lincoln in Wisconsin, “but you have to strategically lay out your plan … We’ll have to right-size and consolidate some job duties to make sure the store can stay profitable.”

The introduction of electric vehicles is pushing some manufacturers to require that select dealerships have EV charging points available for customer use, requiring a significant investment on behalf of store owners. However, dealers are far more likely to find themselves subject to mandatory storefront improvements as stipulated by the automaker. Many suggest that the money needed to invest in the long-term success of their businesses is untenable. Rather than expend the necessary cash to appease the manufacturer and stay in business, many small-time dealers are getting out.

From Automotive News:

Meanwhile, larger groups continue to soak up stores as they battle one another. Asbury Automotive Group CEO David Hult this month said his company expects 2019 to be a “very active year” for mergers and acquisitions in the industry, though he declined to forecast how many acquisitions Asbury is expecting.

Asbury, No. 7 on Automotive News‘ list of the 150 largest U.S. dealership groups based on 2017 new-vehicle retail sales, has agreed to buy four stores in Indianapolis with eight brands from Bill Estes Automotive.

Hult touted such acquisitions as a “win for everybody” — the dealer and the company and its shareholders. Estes couldn’t be reached for comment.

Jim Tino Jr. found it hard to win as a small franchise facing rising costs and factory involvement. Tino, whose family-owned Chevrolet and Subaru dealerships in Union, N.J., were about 30 minutes from midtown Manhattan, said factory demands — specifically from General Motors — prompted him to sell his stores in 2016.

“I grew up in the business and always felt that while we were franchisees, we should be able to operate our business the way we felt. … I realized we weren’t going to make a profit here unless we play the game exactly the way they want it to be played,” he said, referring to GM programs such as Standards for Excellence and Essential Brand Elements.

There’s also the matter of transitioning a family-owned business. According to the Harvard Business Review, with data from the Family Business Institute, only 30 percent of family-run stores manage to successfully transition to the second generation. By generation three, that number falls to 12 percent, and it’s barely worth mentioning beyond that.

“These up-and-comers see an industry that will transform significantly over the next 20 years, making their careers more volatile and challenging,” Kerrigan Advisors’ third-quarter 2018 “Blue Sky Report” said. “Some are concerned that the value of their inherited family enterprise will decline rather than appreciate.”

The group estimates that more than half of the automotive retail industry is comprised of owners from second or subsequent generations, which doesn’t make for an overwhelmingly positive outlook for single-store owners hoping to keep the business within the family tree.

[Image: Janon Stock/Shutterstock]

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45 Comments on “Modern Times Spell Trouble for Mom-and-pop Auto Dealers...”


  • avatar
    salmonmigration

    Won’t somebody think of the dealers?

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Crooks. bastards even. They want to sell by blue book but trade in by their own “book”

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        (Old Joke)

        So an elderly lady has a minor accident in her well maintained but older car. The insurance man comes out to look things over and cut her a check. The damage is fairly minor but due to the age of the car they’re going to total it out.

        Insurance agent says: “Well Ma’am due to the age of the vehicle I’m afraid this is all it’s worth.” (Shows her a low 5 figure payout.)

        Elderly Lady: “But that’s certainly not going to be enough to replace it.”

        Insurance Agent: “I’ve got a little blue book that says this is all that it’s worth.”

        Elderly Lady: “I’ve got a little black book that says ‘Thou shall not steal.\'”

        • 0 avatar

          Insurance companies in NY use a service that produces prices about 15% below Blue Book or NADA values. Great Scam, I’ve seen it a few (dozen) times when I get the call from a client complaining about the insurance offer. You know who is the biggest force against making small claims courts easy to use or increasing the limits for small claims ? Insurance companies, so they don’t have to worry about you actually suing, as the amounts they chisel from you don’t justify heavyweight legal work…..

      • 0 avatar

        “Crooks. bastards even. They want to sell by blue book but trade in by their own “book””

        How is that any different at all than customers asking for your best deal? It’s not being a crook to be self interested. Frankly most sales folks just want to close the deal and aren’t all that concerned with gross these days. If we can make a little extra great, but we won’t lose a deal over it.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          “How is that any different at all than customers asking for your best deal?”

          It’s no different.

          But different dealerships have different fixed costs, different overhead expenses, if they finance the floorplan or not, etc.

          So, it is entirely possible that dealer A needs to make $4K over cost, while dealer B only needs to make $3K over cost. (ONLY AN EXAMPLE – NOT GOSPEL!!!)

          Factor in “Sales Volume”, as in bigger cities have more sales than small town dealerships.

          Going even deeper there is the “velocity” of how fast a dealership gets paid, and whether there are any “lost opportunities” in how fast the dealership can pay its debts, or other wise put that money to good use.

          In short, lot of factors a dealer has to consider. Never any easy answers, since the potential buyer can always walk away and spend their money at a competitor.

          Mom&Pops have been known to apply the sales philosophy to sell at break-even if they have to just so no other competitor gets that sale.

          You won’t get rich that way but you do take away a sale from your competition.

          And then there are buyers (suckers) who more than make up for the skinny sales.

      • 0 avatar

        How else are you going to make profit? Sell cars yourself if you prefer blue book price. Lot of headache I know.

  • avatar
    jatz

    I should be able to walk into a Home Depot or Lowe’s and pick out my new car.

    • 0 avatar
      MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

      Ehh, you need to visit a Lowes or Home Depot (or may I suggest an Ace Hardware) far more often than you need to visit a car dealership. I don’t find it a hardship to make that special trip, and I much prefer being able to wander around the lot looking at many different choices, than just one or two on display like it would be if they were sold at Lowes.

      • 0 avatar
        sco

        My last visit to Lowe’s:

        Me: “I’m looking for a hose clamp”
        Lowe’s Assistant: “Hmm” with a puzzled look on their face
        Me: “Yeah, the round thing with a screw to tighten it”
        Lowe’s Assistant: “Hmm – what do you use that for?”

        Lord help us if big box stores take over car sales

        • 0 avatar
          forward_look

          I used to buy hose clamps at a hardware store run by a really old guy who knew what everything was and where you could find it in the store.

          Nowadays I buy them online from China.

          When people can buy cars the same way we’ll look at the olden days of dealers with such nostalgia.

        • 0 avatar
          FerrariLaFerrariFace

          That’s actually not far off most of my experiences at car dealerships. Especially used ones. They know next to nothing about the products they are selling.

          • 0 avatar
            Rnaboz

            Not always. When I sold pre-owned cars for Saturn, I made it a mission to learn as much as I could if something odd came in. Managers don’t want you to learn the car, they want you to learn how to screw the customer. It’s not the car, its the sizzle!

        • 0 avatar
          4drSedan

          I had a comically similar experience at a Canadian Tire (think crappy auto parts store combined with a 1/4 sized Wal-Mart).

          Scour the auto parts section looking for a hose clamp.

          Go to the parts counter asking for said hose clamp.

          Guy actually looks it up on the computer.

          Tells me, we’re out. I can order it from the warehouse.

          I leave, go to Home Depot and buy a 10 pack.

    • 0 avatar
      brettc

      If that could eliminate a visit to the greasy F&I office, I’d be all for it.

      • 0 avatar

        “If that could eliminate a visit to the greasy F&I office, I’d be all for it.”

        I love the fact that we don’t have such a place. There are dealers that the sales staff works with you start to finish. We probably make less per deal, but we don’t get folks coming back asking what the heck they purchased. We are a two dealership family run store. Those extra dollars are what help pad the losing advertised prices that draw folks in to the mega stores. If enough people only shop for the best deal, that model will win out for sure.

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      I’d rather it more like shopping for a nice sofa. You go to a showroom to see a variety of models and representative samples. If you see what you like you can then customize (leather/fabric, colors, etc.) then place the order and get semi-custom delivery in about 4 weeks. Of course if you want beige or gray, they have those available for immediate sale.

    • 0 avatar
      carguy67

      I think you can do that at Costco (next to a Lowe’s where I live). They always have a ‘featured’ example out front.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      Or Amazon.com. Or Chevrolet.com. Or, for that matter, the Guadalajara Overstock Car company.com

  • avatar
    glennmercer

    I’d make a distinction between Mom & Pop suburban and Mom & Pop rural dealers. If you’re in northern New Jersey and surrounded by larger competitors, you have a rough ride. But many Mom & Pop stores are in rural areas. A single-point Chevy store in a small rural town likely has little competition, ultra-low land costs, and pretty loyal customers. It also has a few more degrees of freedom to operate (e.g. use some service lanes to do ATV or RV repair), which a larger store in a suburban or urban area would not (the factories apply a lot of pressure to the larger more visible stores to “toe the line”). The demise of the Mom & Pop dealer has been forecast for decades, and aside from the “brooming” GM and Chrysler did in the Great Recession, they remain resilient. Also I would note that while we absolutely are seeing consolidation into multi-store chains, these are almost always PRIVATELY-HELD chains… the Big 6 public chains (AutoNation, Asbury, etc.) have not increased their combined market share of new vehicles retailed in the USA in a decade…

    • 0 avatar
      WildcatMatt

      Agreed on the suburban/rural divide.

      My biggest concern regarding the growth of the large multi-store chain centers around the way it changes the concentration and balance of power when it comes to the dealership lobby, especially at the state level.

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        +2 on suburban/rural, especially re: costs & customer loyalty. The Mom & Pop Big Three dealer in my mom’s hometown gets by on low overhead (think no-frills waiting area with plastic chairs and a linoleum floor) and customer loyalty. That loyalty is well earned, as the family that owns the dealership is honest as the day is long.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Once the Big Chains take over, the buyer is at their mercy because of their increased fixed costs and overhead, plus the collusion with the car makers to fix pricing, profit and bulk transportation costs.

      OTOH, Mom&Pops don’t have the selection nor sales volume that the Big 6 do.

      Bottom line is, without competition among themselves, the buyer gets duped each and every time by the Big 6. Creative financing has run its course so there is even less incentive to buy.

      Bring on the Big Box imported auto sellers like Costco and Sam’s Club.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    7,514 strong to just 4,904 between 2008 and 2018…

    Um yeah hasn’t Ford almost eliminated “single marque” franchises as part of the restructuring with the shuttering of Mercury?

    Didn’t FCA make it part of their post bankruptcy plan to rid the world of single marque franchises? No more stand alone Dodge dealers as an example.

    Ironically in GMs push to make Cadillac more exclusive and close franchise locations many Chevy dealers went from “Chevrolet/Cadillac” to just Chevrolet.

    • 0 avatar
      whynot

      By “singular showroom” they mean dealerships where the owner only owns one store. Not single brand dealerships.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Just occurred to me that in my neck of the woods there are 6 new car dealers and 2 of them are family owned single location. Which is exactly the same number as 10 years ago. One of those locations is about to celebrate 100 years in business.

    • 0 avatar

      I would guess Carpocalypse took out a ton of single-dealer owners, not by choice.

      My dad used to buy his cars from a tiny Chrysler/Jeep dealer (Belle Meade Garage in NJ, FWIW). He went to high school with the owner. They had a showroom that held one car. They lost their franchise in the Chrysler bankruptcy despite being a 5-star dealership and now sell used cars and tractors.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    I hate this. This is extremely anti-American. Where is the enforcement of anti-monopoly laws. In my area, all Acura dealerships are bought by same guys. Anywhere you go it is same owner. So, you can’t even argue the price. They say, check with the other guy… but they other guy is the same guy.

    • 0 avatar
      mmreeses

      Car dealers have the best lobbyists at the state level (along with real estate, etc.)

      And no one lists state franchise laws as a big issue. And Democrats , ostensibly the party of the people don’t care, it’s cooler to talk ID politics or Trump versus bread ‘n butter issues

    • 0 avatar
      MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

      Slavuta, This is how it is with all the Mazda dealers around me – all owned by the same guy!
      You still have SOME chance to get a better deal at one over another, because each general manager wants to make a deal and one might go deeper than another. Half the holdback for example.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m grateful my two local Acura dealers aren’t owned by one guy. One is horrible…a total worst case for parts prices and “dis service” shop. The other, is everything you want in a dealer and none of the crap….but the good dealer is owned by a local chain with two other brands and a good rep at all of them. You know something is up at the bad dealer as the GM has a big sign on his door “Insurance Regulations-no one may enter unaccompanied”…..hmmmm. After dealing with each, I’d be a lot less price sensitive at the quality dealer, it’s a long term relationship

  • avatar
    theBrandler

    I for one hate care dealers. The whole corrupt system needs to die. They are unpleasant to deal with, and God help you if you actually decide you want to buy the car, now you’ve got hours of paper work and have to be extra careful they don’t scam you. It’s stupid. I’ve only bought a new car once, it was a lease. Never again. Buy used, save a ton of money and hassle. Research online until you find what you want, and then just go buy it. The used dealers, equally if not more sketchy than the new dealers, at least try to shove you out the door with your car as fast as possible. Come in with a loan from your bank and just get the car.

    Honestly as soon as someone comes up with a way to buy cars that doesn’t require this crap, I’m in. And don’t mention CarMax. They are a massive scam. All their cars are listed for thousands more than they are worth.

  • avatar

    When you shop just for the best price, that’s what you end up getting, and nothing more. Dealers are stuck in a tough spot because we’re buying and selling commodities but most customers still do buy the sizzle. We have to focus on the 80% of consumers, not the top 10% of the B&B or the bottom of the barrel 10%.

    I’ve worked in the industry enough years to have some sense of it. From a dealer that was on the list of single family owned no longer around, to the largest family owned network in my state, and now back with a family store that has two locations. Of course I’m biased towards the dealer network. Everything you hate about dealership experiences is based on consumer demand. When we get email leads that offer no relationship beyond a PDF that offers us the “opportunity” to fill out the information and whoever is the lowest price wins their business, there is little financial room to make a good experience. The F&I office is a profit center for sure, but you have to make money after you lose money in the big city advertising prices to win bids from individuals. They really are losing money on their cars in many cases, and depending on F&I to bring a profit, and those folks are trained specifically for that. Why? Because consumers decided to make a decision more on price than any other factor. Even if you are well trained to always say no, it’s because not everyone does that makes your price possible. You gotta suffer the process for the price to work that low. There are also still major laws between states that make advertising pricing not an apples to apples check for cross border customers, and again, most consumers aren’t educated to know that they might not be paying that same fee as an extra back home where the price seemed a little higher.

    Why have dealers at all? Well the manufacturers need them for one. Consumers are actually better served with them as well IMO. Who is going to get a better return, a single customer, or a dealership that goes to bat for a customer? Oh but dealers never go to bat for customers? Sure they do, the good customers. With the CSI surveys making for big punishment on dealers, if you give bad surveys (deserving or not) they will be less likely to help you. Yes, a dealership can lose considerable money because of a few bad surveys, so losing a customer can save a fair amount of money. So if they expect more bad surveys from you, they have little interest to help. I just had a dealer go to bat for me with Ford and they saved me $2k in a repair bill ($1700 paid by Ford and $300 the dealer picked up). This is not where I work currently but did in the past and even as their competition in some matters they know I’ll always give them good surveys and pass what leads I can on to them. All you have to do is find a good dealer and work with them and let them know you’re on the same team. It really does work very well.

    And as always, if you think dealership are just profit centers above and beyond any other reasonable business, you can invest in many of the publicly traded ones and put your money where your mouth is and see how rich you get!

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      It’s interesting to hear about the situation from a dealer’s point of view. It’s important to remember that the dealers and their employees are people too, and they need to earn a living. My sympathy will of course be slanted toward the people at grunt level and away from a multi-millionare multi-franchise owner, with a small franchise owner somewhere in the middle.

      However, I do see some odd things here. And I think a bunch of them can be traced back to one root cause.

      One thing that makes no sense is the excessive importance placed on customer surveys, and the pressure to give perfect ratings. I know this is a sign of the times, and companies like Uber are pushing this “5 of 5 stars is just barely acceptable” mindset, but it is nonsense. It looks to me like the manufacturer is deliberately setting an impossible bar just to raise the pressure on the dealers, so that the dealers in weaker financial positions will be penalized and forced to give up their franchises. We as customers should be aware of it, so thanks for pointing it out. But we don’t set the manufacturer’s policy, so we should not be punished for it.

      Another thing that doesn’t make a lot of sense is the idea that you have to gouge a customer in the F&I office because you have to lose money on a car’s sales price … because you have to advertise heavily to get customers in … because there’s too much competition. I understand there’s existential desperation around selling cars. But how big is the subset of customers that’s so cheap that they will play hardball on the price like that, and yet so uneducated that they will fall prey to bad lending rates and inflated care packages? Speaking personally, when I shop, the price of the car, the price of the loan, and the price of the care package are 3 separate negotiations. You don’t get a free pass on the second because you did well on the first. And this amount of time spent haggling is excessive, which is why many consumers avoid dealer finance entirely by getting their own loan approvals before they even walk in. If there’s too much competition for new car sales, that’s not the customer’s fault. Again, the manufacturers can choose whether they want to support small dealers to increase the brand’s presence on the ground, or whether they want to let small dealers flounder and fail. That’s on the manufacturers.

      Lastly, from the outside looking in, the “good customer” seems like he or she may be a dying breed these days. The vast majority of people are not trading in a new car every 3 years anymore. There’s not much reason to do so, and we generally can’t afford it. In fact, with the new report that 7 million individuals are 90 days or more behind on their auto loans, we really can’t afford it as a nation. So what that says to me is that the 80% of customers you focus on for sales are not really “good customers” per se. Reading between the lines, I am guessing that only the top 10% of people, who have a lot of money, and would rather give you some of that extra money to avoid extra hassle, count as “good customers”. For “the rest of us”, buying a new car is second only to buying a house in terms of financial impact. We don’t get to write off a bad experience as “no harm, no foul” and try again. So if the dealership can’t be bothered to stick its neck out for the vast majority of the customers, then the dealership model may not be working all that great.

      • 0 avatar
        CKNSLS Sierra SLT

        SPPPP

        VERY GOOD POST!

      • 0 avatar

        I appreciate your thoughtful response!

        Surveys are horrible in their current state. I should want honest surveys as a way of making my service better. The manufacturers don’t work that way regardless of which brand it is. I hate the system, but here is a real example. Brand X gives a $25k bonus per month when you’re dealership is in the top X in the region. That means a few things… first, no matter how good you are (unless you’re all perfect) some dealers are losing out on $25k. Some (most?) dealers will cheat on their surveys in order to preserve good scores, how much cheating depends on the dealers virtues for things that don’t matter but can cost $25k. So a single customers bad survey can literally be the one that brings the overall score below the ranked system, and cost you $25k… Such a customer is unlikely to be earning that much in profit over their lifetime… so it’s better to lose them. I’ve never worked in the service side of things, but on the sales side, no one who paid too much ever gives a bad survey, but those that are PIA and agree to a figure then come in and make a scene and get a few more bucks off are the ones that give you less than perfect surveys “because no one is perfect”. So I guess what I’m saying is, that I’m not really asking you to give good surveys just because it helps me, but knowledge of such things can help you. Giving a bad survey does nothing but make you feel good. If they know you’ll always give a good survey they are interested in your business front and back because it helps maintain the dealer cash. It’s not a good solution, but perhaps it makes sense? Also, if you give perfect survey but complain sensibly in the “comments” that won’t likely affect the score, but will grab some folks attention.

        For para two, we do operate for the sake of making money. Some brands are more into volume bonus’s than others, so you see it more there. But it’s no secret we make money from the banks for offering finance and warranty products. So if you develop a business around pure volume and zero profit but build in a back end business that everyone has to listen to and some people might take the bait… profit! It’s honestly the same thing as time share advertising. Cheap vacations but you’re a captive audience. You all know it’s a bad deal, but you get the cheap trip because someone else will say yes. That’s really what the volume auto dealers have become.

        I agree with your sediments in the last paragraph. But it’s hard to complain that dealers aren’t good if you’re not a good customer. Perhaps the dealers went bad first, I’m 35 so my career has all be within access to the internet. TTAC was a website when I started back in 2008. I too have a limited perspective, but it is a perspective to the here and now, and I’m an auto history buff so I do like hearing about days gone by as well as seeing where we are headed. Actually I agree with most all you said, just trying to share the other perspective here.

        • 0 avatar
          SPPPP

          Thanks for the replies. Just so you know, when I said the dealership model isn’t working all that great, I meant that both the dealer and the customer are suffering from it in some sense. Dealers are definitely necessary for service purposes. In terms of sales, they represent an extra layer between manufacturer and customer and probably add some level of cost to the cutomer. But in terms of customer service, they can actually help consumers in the way you describe. At least “the good ones” can.

          I feel that the customer survey game is really unfair to both parties, as you said, because it introduces a whole bunch of “noise” into what should be honest feedback. It’s eye-opening to think of how much the bonuses are, and how much a single survey can affect them.

          I am okay with the concept of variable pricing to an extent. However, I wish that both sides could be a little more honest with each other so a simpler, more fair price could be charged. I have learned over the years to avoid mechanics or any service-based business with the CRAZY DEALS … because it will end with icky feelings one way or another. Purchasing an item is a little different, in that I expect it to be one transaction and done. But a vehicle purchase is somewhere in between.

          Also … I actually like “my dealer”! Now, this is based on a limited number of purchases, so like I said, I doubt my dealer considers me a “good customer”. The last new car I bought hasn’t given much trouble. If it had been troublesome, my perception might be different. But I have always felt like I was treated honestly and respectfully there. On the service side, they have been very cautious about “upselling”, and I respect them a great deal more for that.

      • 0 avatar
        psychoboy

        Surveys exist for exactly one reason: to save money on labor costs. This is an industry that fires 100% commission people for “making too much money” after they hit their goals for three months. Most of the big corporate dealership groups are headed by money people, not car people. They find a mom&pop that’s making money, offer a unrefusable buyout, then take over and change all the stuff that was working, start losing market share, then fire all the people who can’t make it under the new system. This corporate approach is not unique to this industry, I’ve witnessed it in the general store and beauty supply store industries as well. Buy a company/process that’s making money hand over fist, change everything about the process, lose money, fire old people, hire corporate flacks, lose money faster, declare bankruptcy.

        As for the longer term Mom&Pops, the 3rd generation is barely a car guy like his grandfather was. Grandaddy built with experience and a firm handshake, grandson expands with his MBA and two years as a GM in a store that was neither helped nor harmed by his brief tenure or its end. No C-level employee has ever worked in service or parts, they are all from the front of the house (assuming they have ever worked in a dealership at all). Grandaddy built a business, grandson is building a brand.

        Meanwhile, the front of the store gets all the glamour, but it’s selling a commodity…the same thing the other three dealers in town are selling…to a customer that couldn’t give two shits about forming a relationship with a salesperson, much less the store/brand at large. Customers already know what they want, and what they’ll pay for it, they just need a test drive to make sure they fit in the car.

        But no, you can’t just get a test drive, not until you’ve filled out a 4-square and given the store your phone number, address, blood type, and stool sample. Decide the car doesn’t fit you, tell the salesperson as much, and they’ll still call you every three days until you threaten a restraining order. Hell, even if you buy the car, someone might forget to update your file, and a salesperson will still pester you to death.

        Meanwhile, the salesperson is worried that he’s going to get creamed on your survey, maybe because he promised stuff that he can’t deliver, maybe because F&I ran you thru a gauntlet then called you three days later to tell you you don’t qualify for the rate you were promised and can you come back in to sign new paperwork, maybe because you don’t like the way the garage light reflects off a crease in the hood, or maybe just because “nobody’s perfect except for Jesus, so nobody gets five stars”.

        So you give the survey a 4, and he loses a bonus because your last-day-of-the-month-4 and the two eariler 5s he got from the 20 cars he sold aren’t quite high enough to meet the metric… Lucky for him, tho, the entire store still managed to meet the manufacturer’s bar, so the sales team gets a pizza party next saturday’s 12 hour, all-hands-on-deck shift.

        Simply put, the whole industry is broken. It’s chock full of MBAs that have no practical experience, salespeople that don’t know product, mid-level managers that are too scared of the C-levels to do anything but kiss ass, customers that demand every possible advantage, and competition that gives it to them…usually at a loss.

  • avatar
    glennmercer

    I won’t divide up the Pie of Guilt here, among the factories, dealers, customers, lenders, etc…. but customers have to shoulder some of the blame. It’s like with airlines: If you always buy the cheapest possible plane ticket, why would you expect free bag check, roomy seats, etc.?

    I am waiting for some airline to install pay toilets….

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT

    Mega dealers and state franchise laws are not good for the consumer. Here in Utah, there are basically three automotive “Families” that own all the new car dealerships. There is Larry H. Miller, Doug Smith, and the Murdoch Families. If one wishers to save several hundred dollars-a trip 6 hours away to Las Vegas will result in a fun get-away-weekend and major savings. The only issue being is that in Las Vegas AWD/4 wheel drive vehicles are sometimes hard to come by in dealer’s stock and need to ordered. Here in Utah those vehicles are in inventory.

    Tesla has been trying for three years to open a dealership-franchise laws prevent this. They can sell used cars-but not new ones. If one buys a NEW Tesla-they need to take delivery in Las Vegas.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    I welcome the day that the value of automotive dealerships gets a similar market adjustment as has happened with New York City taxi medallions. (As pointed out above, both are anti-competitive and only created through legislation.)

    Regardless of your opinion of Elon Musk, I applaud Tesla’s efforts in this regard. No need to visit a big-box store – I just started a mock ordering process for a Model S from my couch. Delivery would be available before the end of this month.

    Bonus rant: In the largest city near me, the supply of parking spaces is artificially constrained by legislation, leading to contrived ‘shortages’ and ridiculous pricing.

    Preferential legislation works. Free enterprise and consumer choice work better. Now get off my lawn!

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