Bark's Bites: What Will Car Buying Look Like Post COVID-19? Maybe Not What You Think
My maternal grandmother lived with my mom, my brother, and me until I was about fifteen years old, when she suddenly passed away from complications resulting from a stroke. She was an amusing woman to be around — her personality was an interesting blend of old world sensibility and shocking racism. Grandmom had a degree from the Philadelphia College of the Bible, and could quote chapter and verse to you, and then curse you out for leaving socks on the floor seconds later. But the one thing that I remember the most about her was that she kept a large tin of buttons in her room.
If you had a jacket or a shirt that was missing a button, Grandmom would slowly shuffle over to her chest of drawers, pull out her tin, and carefully dig until she found an exact match — which she always had. One day, I asked Grandmom Mary Ellen why she had all of these buttons, some of which were clearly decades old.
“When I was younger,” she said, “we saved everything. You never knew if you’d be able to find those things again if another depression hit.
“Cotton from medicine bottles. Newspapers. Scrap metal. Cardboard. And then we’d find ways to reuse it. The economy came back from the Great Depression, but my parents never did. I guess I still have some of their habits.”
Okay, Bark, you’re over 200 words into an editorial, and you haven’t said a thing about cars yet. But hear me out. Everybody thinks that this “blip” in the economy is going to shift the way that people buy cars, that the online shopping model will become the new normal. Perhaps we’ll even see the death of the franchise model, and direct-to-consumer sales will start happening.
Your Uncle Bark knows better. Click the jump to see how my conversations with dealers have led me to believe that the car buying business is going to change — but not for the better. Just like those hoarders who lived through the Great Depression, manufacturers, dealers, and buyers will likely have their behaviors changed for good by this… I can’t use the politically charged language I’d like to here. We’ll call it a crisis.
Bark's Bites: Vote For Bark to Be Editor-in-Chief of Jalopnik!
Perhaps you haven’t heard, but our good friend, Patrick George, has left his post as Editor-in-Chief of the widely read G/O Media blog, Jalopnik. He’s now at The Drive, which your author finds a bit strange, since I specifically recall Patrick complaining quite a bit about The Drive being trash and stealing all of its ideas from, well, Jalopnik. But the automotive journalism world is a small one, and when most of us talk stuff about competing blogs, it’s mostly because they won’t hire us to write for them anymore. Ahem. Anyway.
With Patrick’s departure, Mike Ballaban has been named the interim EIC, which made me think, great, just what I needed — more white men telling me about cars. But while Mike is generally a good guy who is well-deserving of the job, I can think of somebody who’s even more deserving — me.
That’s right, Jalopnik is looking for a full-time EIC, and I’m just the guy to do it. But I need your support, TTAC readers. Although we may be the Delaware of the Electoral College in comparison to Jalopnik’s New York, our readers are definitely some of the finest people to ever read this blog, and I require your votes in this completely made-up election.
Want reasons why you should cast your ballot for Bark? Read on.
Bark's Bites: The Mustang Mach-E Is a Litmus Test and All of Us Failed
I’m so glad that the collective internet reacted calmly and rationally to the launch of the Mustang Mach-E yesterday. I was worried that people would succumb to the “Sucks or Rocks” philosophy that is so completely pervasive in not only automotive journalism but spreading throughout society at large. Thanks be to the God of your understanding, most people opted for a measured response to Ford’s first (relatively) high volume electric effort.
Nah, just kidding. Y’all went apeshit, just like Ford wanted you to.
I admit, as one of the very few automotive journalists who’s ever actually spent his own money on a brand-new Mustang, I overreacted a bit to the initial leaks, as well. You’re calling this coal-powered, ugly-ass, Tesla wannabe a MUSTANG? Go choke on Steve McQueen’s dong (as seen on Jalopnik)!
But the more I think about it, the more I understand that Ford did exactly the right thing by calling this new electrified crossover a Mustang. Read on.
Bark's Bites: When Used BMW M Cars Attack (Potential Customers)
Most people who write to me asking for car buying advice actually take it. That’s in stark contrast to what happens in the real world, where a friend will ask my opinion about a car in his search for confirmation bias. I’ve written about my frustration with this in the past, but just like politicians talking about social issues, I’ve evolved on this one. I now cheerfully offer roughly 5 percent of my attention to these requests and go about my day.
However, I do have one friend from the dayz of wayback who has asked for and actually taken my advice in a few cases — not so much on what car to buy, although I mildly influenced his Honda Pilot Elite selection a couple of years ago — but on the deals themselves. For the purposes of this conversation, we’ll call him Joe. I always knew Joe was a good guy back when we were in high school together, mostly because he had a part-time gig as a bagger at the same grocery store where my mom was secretly a second shift cashier. He could have used that as an opportunity to make fun of me for being poor, but he never did. So, yeah, good dude.
In additional to the aforementioned Pilot, Joe has a BMW Z4 for a fun, summer-focused whip. He’s enjoyed the little Bimmer, so naturally his eyes bugged out a bit when he saw a 2015 M6 Competition and Executive package with only 34k miles on the clock at a local dealership. For those who haven’t done a lot of M shopping lately, that’s a fairly difficult car to find. He pinged me on Zuck Chat and asked me to take a look.
Of course, none of the regular Bark readers will be surprised to know that everything about this deal reeked from the get-go.
Bark's Bites: Don't Care, Don't Compare
I can tell by the falling leaves and temperatures in the air surrounding My Old Kentucky Home that the season is here. No, not autumn. Not soccer season or even football season, which are already in full swing. No, it’s the season for the tried-and-true clickfest that is known as the Comparison Test. My friends at Road & Track are doing their Performance Car of the Year test out in California this week. Car & Driver should be doing Lightning Lap any day now at Virginia International Raceway. I’m sure Motor Trend does something similar, but I haven’t read a word of their writing in decades, even before that whole Apple Car nonsense.
The whole idea of the comparison test probably originated right around the time the second car was made — after all, it’s human nature to want to know what the best anything is. For as long as anyone can remember, the Camaro has been telling the Mustang to step outside, the 3 Series and the C Class have been toe to toe, and the 911 and the Corvette have been entering the ring. And if comparing 2 or 3 cars is good, then comparing 10 cars? Well, that’s obviously even better. Hence the mega-comparisons. Not only for performance cars, but for SUVs, too.
When I was younger, I eagerly awaited the results of such tests, treating them as virtual gospel. And over the seven plus years that I’ve been a contributor here, I’ve noticed that many of you do, as well. Any time that I’ve written a review of a car, some commenter will invariably say, “Yeah, well C&D ranked the Maibatsu Monstrosity best in their Midsized SUV Shootout, so your observations are obviously wrong, even though you just spent an entire week in one that wasn’t meticulously prepped by factory techs and accompanied by an on-site mechanic for the duration of the test!”
Well, I’m here to declare an end to all of it. The super comparison test needs to go away. Here’s why.
Bark's Bites: Cox Automotive's Investment In Rivian Speaks Volumes About The Future
Full disclosure time: For those who are new around here, I worked at Cox Automotive for a little over four years as a sales trainer in the Media Sales division. In that role, I was (very) peripherally aware of some of the company’s strategic decisions, as the Sales Strategy team was also part of my larger department, but I didn’t have any influence or advance knowledge of them. (This is a boilerplate statement for when my old friends at Cox decide I’m in violation of my employment termination agreement by writing this.)
When I first started at Cox (before they even called it “Cox Automotive,” it was just Autotrader.com then), the company was a fat cat, to say the least. I remember when one of our leadership team members declared that we had sold $1.2 billion of revenue in a year, and that over $700 million of it was pure profit. I remember when we drastically overpaid for Dealer.com and Dealertrack at a whopping $4 billion dollar pricetag, just because we had the cash laying around and we were going to get heavily taxed on it if we didn’t spend it on something.
Of course, everything has an expiration date, and the third-party automotive classified business was no exception. Around 2016 or so, consumers started using this new thing called “Google” to search for cars on the internet, dealers stopped writing five-figure checks for classified ads every month without even asking why, and sales reps learned that they aren’t actually worth $250,000 a year for just “checking in” on dealers. Their strategy of diversification, with the purchases of companies like Kelley Blue Book, vAuto, and VinSolutions turned out to have been a smart move, as some of their competitors like Cars.com were stuck holding the note on a company that literally nobody wants. Ouch.
So when I read that Cox Automotive had invested $350 million into Rivian last week, my initial thoughts were, “Oh, there goes Cox burning some more cash,” and I mostly went about my day. However, a week later, I’m beginning to see that there are more wheels in motion than anybody on the outside realizes — and they will have a significant impact on the automotive marketplace in the years to come.
Ask Bark: Can They Actually Do This to Me?
When it comes to buying new cars, I don’t have much patience. When I bought my Focus RS in 2016, I spent less than an hour doing the whole deal, including actually deciding what car I wanted to buy. Got a blank check approval from my bank, spitballed some ideas with my older brother and my good friend Bozi, and then put down a deposit on a car at a dealership about a thousand miles away. But there was one time when I tried to have patience, and was sorely disappointed.
Eleven years ago, I put down a $5,000 deposit and placed an order for a BMW 135i with my local BMW dealer. It was the launch year for the ill-fated 1 Series in the states, and I wanted to have one of the very first Ones to hit our shores. I ordered a very stripped down version — black, stick shift, cloth seats, no roof. After about 12 weeks, the dealer called to let me know that my car had arrived. Well, a car had arrived… but certainly not mine.
This example was an automatic. But that wasn’t the only thing they got wrong. They added somewhere in the neighborhood of $5k to the sticker, including nearly every option, even a red leather interior. Imagine my disappointment and frustration with the dealer, who had recycled sales people a couple of times since my order and couldn’t seem to track down anything about it, not even the original order sheet.
I asked for my money back, which they reluctantly gave me, and I ended up buying a Pontiac G8 GT instead — not a bad trade. But not everybody who goes through the ordering process is so fortunate. Click the jump for a question from our friend Andy about his experience in ordering his own custom German whip.
Bark's Bites: The Blazer Might Be the Meteor That Kills the Journosaurs
“It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags.”
— Dr. Suess, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas
2019 Chevrolet Blazers are available for purchase at dealership near you. No, really, they are. Like, right this second. You could buy one. Some people already have. This is interesting because it’s pretty much impossible to find a review of one anywhere on the internet. A search for “Chevrolet Blazer Reviews” brings you to some news of the initial auto show reveal, and that’s about it.
To you, the TTAC reader and automotive enthusiast, this news probably doesn’t rock you to your core. But there’s a group of people that are wringing their hands nervously about this product launch.
Bark's Bites: 2018 Changed the Way We'll Drive Forever
2018 was pretty lit, am I right? Let’s recap some highlights:
- Ford decided to stop making passenger cars except for the Mustang
- GM followed suit, killing off most of its cars and closing several plants
- Elon Musk got high and said a bunch of crazy stuff
- Carlos Ghosn got arrested, not once, but twice for shady financial dealings
- Sergio Marchionne took the checkered flag
In fact, this has probably been the craziest post-bailout year yet. Since TTAC was one of the first blogs to predict the General Motors bankruptcy, I thought I might honor that tradition by taking this New Year’s Eve opportunity to predict how events that unfolded over the past 12 months will affect the way we buy and drive cars for the foreseeable future. Click the jump and see if you think I’m right.
Bark's Bites: All The Cars I Rented in 2018
As all loyal Bark fans know (Hi Mom), I travel extensively for the ol’ day job. Thanks to Uber and Lyft, I don’t always have to rent a car when I’m on the road, but most of the time it’s actually cheaper to rent a car for $35 a day than it is to use ridesharing services, not to mention to increased convenience and saved time. Plus, I’m a firm believer in job creation, and somebody needs to keep those valets at the hotels employed.
In 2018, I used National’s Emerald Aisle Executive services 21 times, which is a bit low compared to my average over the last 10 years. Nevertheless, let’s see what I can remember about all of my rental rides that I borrowed this year, and then I’ll make some sweeping generalizations that are sure to offend many of you. Go!
Bark's Bites: Crossovers Are the Gateway Drug For Self-Driving Cars
Automotive Twitter really is the worst Twitter, for many reasons. First of all, it’s not very “automotive.” With the exception of our dear friend, Bozi Tatarevic, who is a must-follow for his encyclopedic knowledge and Holmesian sleuthing skills, nearly every other autowriter on Twitter views the platform as an opportunity to share the wonkiest political views possible. When they aren’t doing that, they’re all sipping from the same “I am an expert on financial matters but I also dress like a flood victim” Kool-Aid, chanting the same mantra over and over.
Last week was particularly objectionable, what with the GM decision to mostly abandon passenger cars in favor of light and heavy trucks. “People are buying the wrong cars!” they shout to their literally dozens of followers. “Crossover bad! Car good!” they shriek, neglecting to share with you that nearly all of them are childless and nary a one of them has ever tried to fit a collapsing stroller, a diaper bag, and a breast pump into the trunk of a Miata. One particularly stupid individual compared the nation’s overwhelming preference for crossovers to its preference for superhero movies over art films. Sigh.
It takes roughly three functioning brain cells to understand that crossovers are a better fit for the majority of flyover country than small cars are. Of course, once you understand that the majority of the major digital automotive press in this country is based in New York, then it’s not hard to understand that they can’t see outside of their bubbles. You certainly don’t need something like a Chevy Traverse if you are a childless man with a domestic partner who lives in a third-floor Brooklyn walkup with no available parking. But when you live in suburban Indiana with your three kids, all of whom have multiple after school activities, well, crossovers make a little more sense. And since childless couples in NY don’t buy cars and soccer moms in Indiana do, well, it only makes sense that the General is gonna listen to Jennifer from Carmel.
I, however, tend to think that there is an even more sinister goal behind the switch from cars to crossovers. I think it’s to prepare people for the (possibly never) upcoming switch to self-driving cars. Allow me to elaborate.
Bark's Bites: What If They Held an Auto Show and Nobody Came?
For those of you who haven’t been to the press days of one of the major American auto shows (Detroit, New York, Chicago, LA), I’ll briefly describe what they are like: many, many parties, a lot of free alcohol, and very little to do with cars. I mean, yeah, there are some cars present, but nobody really looks at them or talks about them. All the press materials are sent in advance so that websites (like this one) can publish their stories en masse as soon as whatever artificial embargo is in place expires. The cars don’t really even need to be there. I enjoy going to the New York International Auto Show for one reason — it’s in New York. If you put it in Peoria, Bark ain’t going.
Local auto shows, however, serve a completely different purpose. The idea of the local auto show in your town is that it allows you to see all of the cars you might be considering for purchase in one place. Or, if you’re a car geek, you can just go look at all of the stuff that you normally would have to have a lot more money to be allowed to look at in person. When I was growing up in Columbus, Ohio, I eagerly anticipated the auto show every year. I remember my dad begrudgingly taking me to the show, just so I could walk around Veterans Memorial Auditorium and see things like the Chevrolet Citation Coupe Concept and maybe even sit in a Trans Am for a few seconds before the Pontiac booth guy kicked me out.
So it was with that same sense of excitement that I went to the Miami International Auto Show last week. It was the first time in over a decade that I had the chance to go to a car show as a member of the general public — no name badge around my neck, no glad-handing PR reps, no hordes of automotive “journalists” obstructing my view of the cars with their ridiculous camera rigs. It was going to be an opportunity to see cars, man.
An hour later, I left the massive Miami Beach Convention Center feeling more sad than anything else. The local car show, as I knew it, appears to be dead.
Bark's Bites: Here's Why You Should Take an Autocross Drivers' School (and Why You Should Teach One)
There are two things that all men think they’re good at: sex and driving. While I won’t make any comment on the former, I can tell you, with absolute certainty, that most of you are really bad at driving. Sure, if you consider going back and forth to the grocery store and back without too much trouble, or putting the accelerator pedal to the floor and making very loud noises “driving,” then you’re probably okay. But any sort of combination of braking, turning, hitting apexes, tracking out, transferring weight, heel-toe shifting… yeah, you’re not good at that.
But before you get all mad at me and rush to the comments to make remarks about my mother — relax. Nobody is naturally great at performance driving. It’s a learned skill, just like anything in life. And while many of us might be hesitant to take a daily driver that’s currently on its 14th of 60 payments to the track, there is likely a place near you where you can learn some of the basics of enthusiastic piloting in a safe and friendly environment. Chances are that your local Sports Car Club of America region has an Autocross School with hotshoes who are ready to sit in your passenger seat to help you improve.
My local region, the Central Kentucky Region, hosted just such a school a few weeks ago, and I enthusiastically offered to be one of the coaches.
Bark's Bites: In a Diverse Future America, Ford Is In Trouble
In these United States of America, there is one vehicle that is the undisputed heavyweight champion: the Ford F-Series truck. If you came to TTAC today looking for groundbreaking news, well, this ain’t it. The F-Series has been the best selling vehicle in America for roughly 167 years. I’m relatively certain that Lee Harvey Oswald escaped from the Washington Hilton in an F-150 crew cab when he shot Lincoln. (If you’re a history buff, you just threw something at your computer screen.)
Except that there’s one area of the country where that isn’t true at all. In fact, in this hugely popular and wildly growing area, the F-150 doesn’t even crack the top ten. The Volkswagen Jetta outsells the F-150 in this burg. True story.
Of course, that’s bad news for the Ford brand as a whole in this town, because if you aren’t selling F-150s, you aren’t selling Fords. As a result, in this metro area, Ford is outsold by Toyota, Chevrolet, Nissan, Honda, Hyundai, and Lexus. Yes, I said Lexus.
You wanna know the name of this town? It’s Miami. Although you might think of Miami as an urban city where trucks are rare, in reality, Miami-Dade includes a significant amount of farmland and swamp country. And you know who doesn’t have a problem selling trucks in Miami-Dade? Chevrolet. The Silverado is solidly in the top models sold when it comes to Miami-Dade county registrations for the last 12 months and Ford shoppers, as a whole, are only 3 percent more likely to live in a suburban area than the average auto shopper.
And in an America that is increasingly looking a lot more like Miami, that could mean real trouble for the boys in Dearborn.
Buick Death Watch: Brother, Can You Spare an Encore?
Welcome back to Buick Death Watch! It’s been a long time; we shouldn’t have left you without a strong tale of sales woe to complain about. And just like the Jesus of the New Testament, we’re going to start our tale with a parable.
Once there was a young woman from a faraway land in the south, and she wanted to buy her very first car. She drove cars from lands far and wide, including the Orient and the Land of Cortez. When she drove the Tiny Crossover of Three Shields, she found it to be the best of them all, for it was cloaked in leather and CarPlay, and its motor held the charge of turbines within its soul.
But the moneychangers in the Temple of Finance were not pure of heart. They offered her many baubles, and some of them were tricks of the devil himself — rebates for students of the Word of False Prophets, owners of cars from other lands, and more. The young woman did not qualify for any of these, but the moneychangers were devious, and they promised them to her anyway. And, lo, they delivered, giving her a total of $6,250 in rebates, but only if she would sign the parchment by the second day of the fourth moon. Thus, the woman drove away in the crossover, relinquishing nothing but $200 a month for the next three harvests.
Click the jump and I’ll tell you why all of this means Buick is hosed.
Bark's Bites: You've Got a Target on Your Back, Mr. Car Shopper
It’s happened to all of us, right? You’re reading a review on a website like TheTruthAboutCars.com, and then you decide to go browsing for some cars online at a dealer’s website, perhaps casually looking for a weekend toy or a new family hauler. Since you’re like most car shoppers, 95 percent of whom don’t take action the first time they visit a car dealer’s website, you leave the site and go about your day on the internet.
But when you go to ESPN.com to check the latest World Cup results (Viva Colombia!), there’s an ad for that same car you were just looking at. Whoa, that’s a little creepy, right? And then, the next day, you get an email from another dealership — you never even went to that website! How did they get your information?
Car dealers are getting more sophisticated than ever when trying to get your attention online. Luckily, your old friend Bark is here to tell you how they do it.
Bark's Bites: Your Ego Is Getting in the Way of Becoming a Better and Safer Driver
Tony Horton, the creator and lead trainer for the P90X series, has a frequent saying about not letting your ego get in the way of your success. Don’t use 25-pound dumbbells for an exercise when you really need to use 15s, etc. It can be tough, especially at the beginning (when you’re not terribly strong yet), and you’re using weights that look more like they belong in a Richard Simmons workout than a P90X workout, but it’s the only way to build up enough strength and get the results you want.
About five weeks ago, I realized that I was terribly out of shape. Well, that’s not really true. I had known that I was out of shape for much longer than that, but I hadn’t actually done anything about it. With the traveling for business and the parenting and the soccer coaching and the socializing, I had taken my concerns about my physical fitness and placed them in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of the Leopard.”
So it wasn’t until five weeks ago that I decided to take action and throw the old P90X3 discs back in the Blu-ray player and get my ass moving. Good news is that I’m down double digits in weight, my resting heart rate is down about 11 beats a minute, and I’m on the path back to being physically fit again. This is, of course, completely uninteresting to you, but there’s a point coming up here in a second.
I drove my loaner Lotus Evora 400 down to Atlanta Motorsports Park for an SCCA “Track Night in America” this week, and I’ll have a full write-up of whether or not it’s a good idea to drive 700 miles in one day for a track session next week, as well as the rest of my impressions of the car. However, today I want to talk about what I saw in the Intermediate session. It wasn’t good.
Bark's Bites: ReST in Pieces, Ford CaRS
Unfortunately, I knew this whole Ford “kill all the cars” was coming a few weeks ago. While visiting a dealer, I had a conversation with a regional Ford rep who told me the company’s plan was “Mustang, Focus Active, and Trucks, Baby!” for 2020 and beyond. So it’s easy for me to say I saw it coming, but, more importantly, I can also say that I knew why it was coming.
It’s not Mark Fields’ fault. It’s not even Jim Hackett’s fault, really. Do I think he’s the second coming? No. Do I think he’s going to run the company into the ground? Of course not.
No, at the end of the day, the only person that can be held responsible for the death of Ford’s passenger cars is You. Not me. You.
Bark's Bites: When Fiats Attack (the Bottom Line of Dealerships)
“See that sign over there?” The weathered, weary general manager of the dealer I was visiting that day pointed in the direction of a shiny, silver and red beacon with the word “FIAT” in bold capital letters. He spat the still-burning cigarette out of his mouth and stomped on it in disgust. “Cost me $27,000. They gave me the franchise for free, but they made me pay for that damn sign.”
“How many Fiats have you sold since you put it up?” The exasperated look he shot me after I asked that question told me that perhaps I shouldn’t have ventured into that territory.
“One. One freaking car. I’d have to sell about 40 of the damn things just to pay for the sign, much less make any money.” He gestured toward the line of Fiat 500Xs that were crowding his lot. “You wanna take a couple with ya? I’ll make you a hell of a deal.”
Even though I’m actually rather fond of the little crossover, I’m not fond enough to actually buy one. Apparently, nobody else is either. And that’s a problem for FCA dealers.
Bark's Bites: New Car Reviews Are Only for the Six Percent
Earlier this week, I found myself behind the wheel of a Hyundai Kona SE, doing some test driving on behalf of a dear friend of mine who recently acquired her license and had yet to acquire the accompanying insurance.
“This car feels like despair,” I said to her as we rumbled harshly over some bumps in the urban streets of Miami. Everywhere I looked, I found reasons to be depressed. The steering wheel was of the most severe and slippery plastic material. When I pressed the accelerator, there was a ghastly noise accompanied by a complete lack of actual forward motion. The stereo was of such poor quality that I just turned it off. “No me gusta.”
The salesperson in the backseat was not pleased with my reaction to the car. “Well, you know, this is the base model. I could show you an Ultimate model if you want some more features. It has the better motor, a nicer steering wheel, more speakers. Of course, we only have one of those in stock.”
And therein lies the problem with most modern car reviews, including ones that I’ve personally written. The cars the OEMs have the automotive press reviewing are not the cars the dealers are stocking, and they definitely are not the cars people are buying.
Bark's Bites: New York's Greatest Misses
It seems like only last year that the star of the New York International Auto Show was an 840 horsepower, zero you-know-whats-given, single-seated rocketship that did a 9 second 1/4 mile and literally lit things on fire. That’s probably because it was last year. This year, I found myself enthralled by … an in-car audio system.
That’s right — the very best part of the 2018 NYIAS was enjoying Art Pepper and Bonnie Raitt on the ELS surround sound system in the Acura RDX A-Spec (no kidding, it’s freakin’ amazing and it’s worth buying the RDX just because of it).
Yes, there was a yellow Porsche thing and there was a very Lamborghini Orange Corvette, but there was little else for this journosaur to get excited about other than the fact Honda ordered some extra wine for their social hour (see pic at the top, featuring my security detail: our own Bozi Tatarevic), due in no small part to the fact that I drank six glasses of red wine all by myself in less than 60 minutes.
So rather than do what every other autoblog on the planet does, I’m not gonna give you my greatest hits of the auto show. Rather, I’m going to tell you what should have premiered on this year’s show circuit.
Bark's Bites: The Lightweight, Affordable Sporting Car Is Dead by Our Own Hands
My friends, I spoke to you last week about the dangers of freedom-hating wackadoodles who want to take away your right to own and drive your own car. Some of you agreed with me, others didn’t. Such is the nature of an op-ed. I was pleased to see that only a couple of you tried to no-platform me — either I’m getting less offensive in my old age or you’re getting more tolerant, and both of those are good things.
But today I am here to warn you of a more subtle threat to your driving-related joy, and it’s coming from a rather unsuspected source — the very manufacturers of the cars we love so much. Well, no, that’s not exactly right. It’s actually coming from you. The economic factors presented by the buying behavior of the general public are eventually going to make it impossible for automakers to deliver the cars that enthusiasts want to buy.
I’m not just talking about silly “Save the Manuals” nonsense. I’m talking about being able to buy a lightweight car. I’m talking about buying a car that will allow you to get yourself into trouble without kicking in the traction control. They won’t be dead — at least, not yet. But there’s no denying that cheap, fun cars are very, very close to being a thing of the past.
Bark's Bites: The Ethics of Driving a Murder Machine
Here is who should have the right to get around in a giant hunk of metal traveling at speeds that will instantly kill a pedestrian, such that tens of thousands die every year and no one notices or cares: no one. No one deserves that right.
— David Klion (@DavidKlion) March 6, 2018
Oh, my friends. We knew this day was coming, didn’t we? In a society where all it takes for a cause to be popular is a tweetstorm, David Klion has decided that nobody should have the right to drive a car. Who’s David Klion, you may ask, and why should we care what he thinks? Well, he’s a freelance columnist (hey, so am I) and he lives in Brooklyn (I was born near there!) and he used to work for Al Jazeera America (okay, I would never do that) and he occasionally gets to write op-eds for the New York Times (like Ed Niedermeyer!). And, holy shit, I actually predicted this way back in 2016.
So while I may not particularly care what Mr. Klion thinks, it’s important to realize he represents the opinion of a significant number of people just like himself — people who are scraping by to make a living in ever-growing urban centers, who probably can’t afford a car and probably don’t have a driver’s license, and have seen how the power of a few malcontents on social media can affect significant social change in these United States of America.
In other words, they’re very, very dangerous. And in order to show you how dangerous they are, I’m gonna have to talk about the third rail of American politics at the moment: The Bill of Rights.
Bark's Bites: The Day the Dealers Died
Over the years, every single time I’ve written about dealers and questionable business practices, the feedback from readers is invariably the same — kill the dealer model. Nuke it from orbit. We would all rather deal directly with the manufacturer than some slimeball franchisee. We want to order cars exactly the way we want them, down to the color and trim, and we want them delivered directly to us without the hassle of spending the day at the dealer saying “NO” to Tru-Coat.
Well, I should clarify — not all readers feel this way. Any reader who works for (or has previously worked for) a dealer will tell us all that we need the protection from OEMs that franchise agreements provide the customer. They tell us that competition in the marketplace is good for the consumer, and that it helps the local economy to have franchises around America.
But what would really happen if OEMs got their way and were able to sell directly to the consumer? What if all the dealers disappeared tomorrow? Would you be happy with the result? Or would it damage the customer? Who would benefit, and who would suffer under such a model? Let’s look at it objectively.
Bark's Bites: The Car Buyer's Path
In 2017, car dealers across the country experienced something they hadn’t experienced in a decade — a year without sales growth. The decline was ever so slight, thanks largely to a couple of bad hombres named Irma and Harvey, but it was a bit of a challenge for dealers who were used to consistent improvement year-over-year since the Great Recession. As such, dealers and automakers are more concerned than ever about consumer shopping behavior, because all of the predictions for 2018 indicate a continued decline for new car sales in the U.S.
Dealers are no longer content simply to throw their inventory up on a third-party listing site, hoping to win your click. They’ve paid millions of dollars to collect unstructured data, track your online behavior, and enter your name into customer relationship management systems.
Today, I’m going to walk you through the way that the industry thinks you shop for cars, and you can tell me if they’re right.
Bark's Bites: Five Good Minutes With Juan Pablo Montoya
I’m not ashamed to admit it — I’ve got a total mancrush on Juan Pablo Montoya, and if you care even a little bit about racing, you should too. Not only does JPM have the most impressive and diverse resume of any modern day racer (7 wins in Formula One, including the Monaco GP, multiple wins in the Indy 500 and 24 Hours of Daytona, multiple NASCAR road course wins), but the way he’s gone about it has been exactly the way all of us weekend racing warriors wish we could do it.
He’s been just as likely to win a race as he has been to give the chrome horn to a competitor who crossed him. If Montoya were on your bumper in an Oldsmobile Alero, you’d be nervous that he’d either fly by you or put you into the wall. My friend Sam Smith says that he’s one of the last, true, IDGAF dudes in racing, and a unique talent, and he’s right.
I had the chance to flag JPM down for a few minutes in the media center at the Rolex 24 this weekend (more on that experience tomorrow), where he was the anchor driver for the #6 Acura ARX-05 Daytona Prototype car. I don’t often find myself nervous around another grown man, but I was a bit starstruck for this conversation. Apologies in advance that it kinda goes everywhere. (Disclosure — Acura invited me to the Rolex 24 for the weekend, and provided flights, hotels, meals, and tickets to the race.)
Bark's Bites: Subprime Lending Is Even More Bizarre Than You Imagined
“We’re dirty, yeah, but so are the dealers. We’re all dirty in this business.”
The petite, honest-faced young lady sitting across from me at my lunch table doesn’t look like a predator. To be fair, she isn’t. She just works for a company that’s one of the biggest subprime lenders in the country, with offices in several states. By the time a dealer calls them for a loan, they’ve already tried every traditional bank and credit union in their Rolodex.
And in exchange for a delicious burrito, she agreed to meet with me and pull back the kimono on the subprime auto lending business in the United States, a business which many in the financial sector believe to be the next big bubble.
I have a lot of questions, and she’s more than willing to answer them. I ask what sorts of credit scores they’ll approve.
“We can pretty much approve any credit score. I just approved a 413 beacon score the other day. Of course, it was a 25 percent loan. Credit is really just one piece of the puzzle,” Elizabeth* (not her real name) explains to me. “Sure, we pull TransUnion and Equifax, but we’re also looking at their obligations versus their verifiable income. Medical bills don’t count. It’s just rent plus whatever else is on their credit report.”
“Sure,” I say. “That makes sense.”
“Of course,” she continues between small bites of burrito, “if they’ve just stopped paying a bill, something other than another car loan, we don’t count that bill as part of their monthly obligations. Nobody pays student loans. They’ll have like five or six loans and won’t have paid a damn dime in months. So we don’t worry about those.”
Hang on. It gets weirder. And better.
Bark's Bites: Pay Your Tickets on Time
It’s a constant theme of my life, one that I keep expecting to “outgrow,” yet I never seem to do so: I let things grow from molehills into mountains by failing to take care of them properly at the onset. For example, I won myself an extra $1,800 in fines this year by paying the Commonwealth of Kentucky their pound of tax flesh a few months late. Ouch.
And when I got my first speeding ticket in quite some time (well, at least a year) in Georgia last February on my way to the American Endurance Racing race in Road Atlanta—and then another about a month later in Fayette County, Kentucky — I just kinda forgot to pay them. They were both relatively small tickets — one for 10 over and another for 15 over. It’s not like I didn’t have the money, or like I haven’t had dozens of free hours since then to log on to the Gwinnett County website and pay my out-of-state infraction or stop by the local courthouse. Nope, it wasn’t until I got a nastygram from the Kentucky DMV letting me know that my license had been suspended that I realized I had let it go for too long this time.
No problem, I thought. I’ll pay my fines online and go get my license reinstated.
Yeah, that’s not how it works.
Bark's Bites: America Can't Be Great Again Without the Fiesta ST
The Fiesta ST was the greatest car to ever be sold in the United States of America. So, naturally, Ford has decided to stop selling it here.
Boom. How’s that for an opener, y’all? I mean, I can just picture the keyboard warriors reading those sentences and fumbling their bag of Cheetos while running to Reddit to say that ol’ Bark is off his rocker again.
“He should be fired — not just from TTAC, but from the entire internet! Has he forgotten about the 1994 Camry, for Hillary’s sake?”
As Aaron Rodgers would say, “R-E-L-A-X.” I’m going to take a moment to explain to you why the greatest mistake I ever made was returning my 2015 Fiesta ST at the end of my lease.
Bark's Bites: Turn, Turn, Turn
“The internet has ruined the car business.”
“I’m not interested in a race to the bottom.”
“There’s an ass for every seat.”
Yes, my friends, in the year 2017, dealership general managers still say these sentences. What’s worse is that they’re not even being ironic. And in this era of record-setting car sales (yes, despite what you’ve heard, 2017 is going to be the fourth-best sales year in history), some of them are even able to keep their jobs.
But smart dealers know better. They know that the internet is their friend, that being the cheapest sometimes really is the best strategy, and that no, there most definitely is not an ass for that 2013 Malibu that’s priced at 117 percent of the market average.
Why are they so smart? Because they understand a seemingly simple concept that can get quite complicated when dealers try to execute it. That concept? It’s called “turn.”
Bark's Bites: The Dealers Who Add $3,000 to Window Stickers While Secretly Selling at Invoice
In the last five years, I’ve visited over 2,500 dealers in 44 different states. Sometimes I think I’ve seen everything. And just when I think that, I’m invariably proven wrong.
This week, I walked through the doors of a massive dealership — easily one of the largest dealers I’ve ever set foot in (the name and make of this dealer shall remain anonymous, since the conversation was “off the record”). This dealer sells upwards of 500 new cars a month and about 200 used per month, and they’re planning to add even more floor space so they can increase their volume.
As I waited to talk to the GM, I browsed the cars on the showroom floor. Considering the overwhelming success of this store, you can imagine my surprise when I saw that every car on the floor, without exception, had an extra sticker on the window.
Bark's Bites: The Focus RS Is Dead, and Dealers Are to Blame
“You know, that might be the answer – to act boastfully about something we ought to be ashamed of. That’s a trick that never seems to fail.”
— Col. Korn, Catch-22
It never fails. I’ve visited dozens of Ford dealers this year in the course of my day gig, and they almost always have a Focus RS sitting prominently on the showroom floor. Sometimes, they have two. This week, I visited a dealer that had four.
“Hey, I’ve got one of those,” I said to him, pointing at a 2016 Nitrous Blue RS2 model.
“Would you like another one?” he pleaded. “I’m selling it below invoice.” A quick check of his inventory revealed that it had been sitting on his lot for 217 days, with the others eclipsing the 150 day mark — a lifetime at a Ford dealership.
Of course, we know that Ford has already decided to pull the plug on the RS, and they’re gonna send it off with a limited-edition run of 1500 cars with the RS2 package and a Quaife LSD (something the car has always desperately needed). But why? Why did a car that American hot hatch enthusiasts have been craving for decades see such a short existence in the States?
Ford dealers. Duh.
Bark's Bites: Virtue Signaling Isn't A Good Look On You, Automakers
I remember it as though it were yesterday. Well, actually, my short-term memory isn’t that good anymore, thanks to the little transient ischemic attack I had about two years ago. So, let’s say I remember it like it was the day my son was born: the announcement of the Ford GT at the North American International Auto Show in 2015.
Painted in an unobtainium shade of blue, the GT rolled out onto the stage in Joe Louis Arena to much thunder and applause — and then a similarly painted Shelby GT350R came out and starting doing smoky donuts all around it.
Then, out of nowhere, a bald eagle flew in and landed on the hood of a Raptor F-150, carrying the severed head of Mary Barra in its beak. After that, a reanimated Norman Schwarzkopf rolled an Abrams tank in and blew a hole in the roof on the arena, causing $100 bills to rain down on everybody while girls in stars-and-stripes bikinis lovingly brushed Mark Fields’ mullet.
That second part may not have happened exactly like that. But compared to what Ford and other manufacturers did during their reveals this week, it may as well have. Because this week’s show was a fucking bore, and it was all because of that most millennial of vices — virtue signaling.
Bark's Bites: If You Won't Buy A Cadillac, Maybe You'll Borrow One?
Oh, Cadillac. Sometimes I feel bad for you, what with your rebadged Impalas, your ATS wasting away on dealer lots for $15,000 under sticker, your XT5 badges that look exactly like XTS badges — it’s enough to make a man pity you.
But then you go and do stupid shit like starting a “Luxury Subscription Service,” and I lose any sympathy I have managed to scrape together. Yes, Cadillac thinks that renting you a car (that nobody wants to buy) for $1,500 a month is a great idea, and it has all the early signs of being something that Cadillac has excelled at recently — being a complete and total failure.
Bark's Bites: Are We Getting The Dealer Experience We Deserve?
In my nearly 25 years of car buying, I’ve walked into a dealership and walked out with a brand new car more times than most people would in several lifetimes. 14 times, to be exact. I’ve bought Volkswagens, Infinitis, Pontiacs, Mazdas, Fords, Chevrolets, Hyundais, and Toyotas, representing nearly every mainstream brand. And yet, only two of those 14 instances was anything resembling positive.
When I leased a Mazda CX-7 in 2008, I drove to the store in my 2005 Scion tC with two numbers in my head: $279 a month with zero down (the advertised CX-7 lease price) and $9,000 (the amount of money I believed my tC to be worth). The lease was already a strong offer, so I didn’t feel the need to negotiate further, and my trade valuation was based on one thing only — as with most shoppers, it was exactly the amount of money I needed to pay off my loan. The dealer quickly agreed to my terms, as he knew he would be able to sell the tC for $10,500 within 30 days.
The second time? We’ll get to that. But the other 12 times? As Dr. Dre once said, it was like muthaf–kin’ Vietnam. And in all honesty, I have nobody to blame for that but myself.
Bark's Bites: What Level of Transparency Can We Expect?
“I’ll tell you something,” the grizzled used car veteran said to me menacingly from across his massive, oaken desk. “The internet has ruined this business.”
Tell me something I don’t know, old man.
It’s a variation of the same thing I’ve heard for five years. The car business used to be a place where men of little to no education or intelligence could make veritable fortunes, simply by preying upon the ignorance of their customers. Pre-internet, it was completely realistic to make $4,000 of front-end gross profit on the sale of a used car — and sometimes even more! Pull up a chair across from the more tenured sales guy at any Cadillac store, and he’ll gladly spin you a yarn about that one time he made $10,000 in gross on a little old lady who was on a fixed income, and he’ll laugh as he’s telling it.
Of course, he’ll have plenty of time to tell you this tale because he’s the guy who doesn’t take ups and instead lives on his book of referrals — and those are dying faster than the baby boomers who made them an integral part of the car business in the first place.
But now? Why, that rotten internet and all of its information has made it impossible for dealers to screw customers. Or has it?
Bark's Bites: The Social Network
Remember when we didn’t know what the word “hashtag” meant? Gosh, that was nice. I recall reading one of Jack’s fiction pieces in 2012 (did I mention that Sunday Stories are coming back this weekend! YASSSS! Thank you, readers! #MakeFictionGreatAgain damn it I just used a hashtag) that was laden with hashtags and thinking, “Christ, I’m glad I have no idea what that was all about.”
Of course, it’s now 2016, and I’m busy adding #fordperformance #fordfocusrs #fors #nitrousblue to every single picture I post on Instagram in the hopes that some 15-year-old hot hatch enthusiast will get bored in study hall, find my picture, and give me the highly sought-after “like,” or, if I’m really lucky, a “follow.”
I think we can all agree this is pathetic behavior, yet everybody in the game does it. I’m not as bad as some — my social media pages are designed more to inflame the opposition than inspire loyalty — but we’re all driven to play this silly game by the OEMs, who have universally decided that having 10,000 Instagram followers means you get to have press cars delivered to your door, regardless if you have any knowledge of or about the industry.
Bark's Bites: Two Hundred Posts Later
Recently, our austere Managing Editor, Mark Stevenson, asked what TTAC means to you. This is an important question, for many reasons, the most important of which may be this: every automotive blog/website has an audience, but TTAC may be the only site where the audience has such an active role in “steering the ship,” as it were.
I’ve been here for nearly five of these fifteen years as a contributor, with over 200 posts to my (dis)credit, and for considerably longer as a reader. And while you can find my writing elsewhere on occasion, TTAC is, without question, my home. I was quite pleased to see that many of you said that “Bark” was one of the things you wanted more of ( well, not all of you), so I’ll do my best to live up to your high expectations.
Henry Ford once said that if he had asked people what they wanted, they would have wanted a faster horse. Well, we’re beating the holy hell out of this horse, trying to get it to giddyup. Here’s what I’ve learned about TTAC, myself, and the B&B in the process.
Bark's Bites: The Popular Vote Doesn't Matter
Oh, come on. Don’t be mad. You knew I was gonna bait you a little bit this week with political stuff, right?
As I was reading the dozens and dozens of posts from my friends and frienemies on the Bookface yesterday, I couldn’t help notice all the discussion about the “popular vote” vs. the “electoral vote.” Depending on which side of the aisle you sit, I’m sure you have opinions about which one is more relevant. However, automakers play the popular vs. electoral game all the time, every day of the year.
Bark's Bites: Ford Fiesta ST Vs. Ford Focus RS in the World Series of Love
Yep, that’s my driveway. Based on my non-scientific observations and complete lack of research, I’m going to say I’m the only person in the world to have both a Ford Fiesta ST and a Ford Focus RS. Well, okay. I’m a person in the world who has a Fiesta ST and a Focus RS, which makes me uniquely qualified to compare the two.
“Hold up,” you might be saying. “Who compares a car that stickers for just over $23,000 with a car that runs $43,000 plus additional dealer markup?” (And yes, I know that you can get FiSTs for under $20,000 now. We’ll get to that.)
Well, it’s not as crazy of a comparo as you might think.
Bark's Bites: This Is How They'll Take Your Car From You
Almost three years ago, I wrote a little piece of fiction for this site (back when we used to do that sort of thing) called “The Controller.” The premise was that, one day, the government would decide what was best for all of us by taking away our right to own and operate cars. A little “Red Barchetta,” a little Richard Foster, and a little Affordable Care Act, all wrapped up in one. To this day, it ranks among my favorite pieces that I’ve written.
However, the change in the socio-political climate in those three years has led me to believe that the government won’t have to resort to totalitarian tactics to take our cars. No, the majority of people will hand over the keys willingly and easily, and they’ll do it thanks to one of the most brilliant political tactics ever developed.
They’ll be shamed into doing it.
Bark's Bites: Lincoln and Cadillac Should Be Trims, Not Brands
As our own Matthew Guy has marvelously demonstrated recently, it’s widely known a new-car purchase’s best value can often be found in the base-level trim. Rarely is a vehicle improved in proportion to the cost of additional options. Nor is the money spent on additional options or higher trim levels recovered in resale as secondhand customers are reluctant to pay more money for bells and whistles because, quite often, they’re obsolete by the time the car sells the second time around.
If we take these truths to an obvious conclusion, it can be said that the higher the trim level, the worse the resale value — and in my years of experience working for Autotrader, I can tell you that’s true. Many of the low-end pricing tools used by dealers to determine used car values often don’t even take trim into account.
Is it any wonder then that General Motors’ and Ford’s top trim levels have wretched resale values?
No, I’m not talking about “LTZ” or “Titanium.” I’m talking about Cadillac and Lincoln.
Bark's Bites: To Mod Or Not To Mod
I have a confession to make. I’ve never modified any car that I’ve owned. Not a cold air intake. Not an exhaust. Not a single bolt-on. Nothing.
I guess you could make a case that I modified my Mazda RX-8, but all I did was buy Koni Sport shocks (which are considered OEM replacement) and O.Z. Ultraleggera wheels (man, I miss those) to make it a better autocrosser. And I did buy the Trackey software for my Boss 302. But I’ve never done a single thing to a car that would cause a warranty to be violated. And as a “car guy,” I’ve always been completely okay with that.
That is, I was, until I saw an Instagram picture yesterday.
Bark's Bites: All The Things You Ain't
I bought a car yesterday ( as seen below). I’ll do the full reveal and write-up for you tomorrow. For now, let’s talk about all the things I considered buying but didn’t, and how it might help you make your own buying decision in the future.
And yes, I bought it. I didn’t lease. We’ll discuss that tomorrow, too.
Bark's Bites: An Open Letter to Florida
We need to talk. You’re a good state. Really, you are. I love your beaches. There’s the delightful lilt of latin accents everywhere. Daytona is the place where motorsports royalty is crowned in America. Sebring is the place of legends. And who doesn’t love Disney World?
But we need to talk about your car situation. It’s just flat-out embarrassing. All of your friends are talking about it. I think it’s time we had a an open, honest conversation, and maybe we can solve this problem together.
Bark's Bites: Stop Saying There Aren't Any Bad Cars
Right up there with I wish they’d make a manual diesel wagon in brown, it’s among the most played-out tropes on the Internet.
There just aren’t any bad cars anymore.
This is generally followed by some recollection of a Saturn of the early ’90s that had a faulty engine, or perhaps some Brezhnev-era Soviet masterpiece. Blah blah blah nostalgia blah blah A Christmas Story blah blah. Enough.
There are plenty of bad cars out there, but the majority of people haven’t driven enough of them to know it. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I have. And I’m here to break the bad news to you: some cars suck. Maybe even the one in your very driveway.
Bark's Bites: Subprime Customers Don't Get To Negotiate
Dodge. Nissan. Kia. Mitsubishi. Ever wonder how any cars from these makes end up getting sold?
While there are certainly cars from these brands that attract the higher end of the automotive consumer marketplace (Hellcat, anyone?), the vast majority of the customers who end up in a car from one of these brands are in them for one reason, and one reason alone: they’ve got subprime credit. And they’re not alone.
In fact, over half of the American public now has subprime credit, and there’s no sign that it’s getting better any time soon. As a result, most customers are just walking into a dealership hoping to be approved for a loan. Instead of being in a position of power when it comes to negotiation, they’re in a position of weakness.
For dealers, this is great news. For consumers, it’s awful.
Bark's Bites: Car Reviews Need A Reboot
Let’s be real with each other for a minute, okay? Car reviews are just plain awful. They serve no real purpose for today’s in-market automotive consumer — they only serve to boost the SEO rankings for anybody searching for “MID-SIZE SEDAN UNDER $30,000 NEAR ME,” which is approximately nobody.
Your friend Bark is here to tell you how this, um, industry of car reviewing needs to be improved in order to help customers find and buy the car they need instead of the car they’ve already decided that they want.
Bark's Bites: Oh, the Games They Play With CPO
If you were to listen to the Experts Of The Internet, you might become convinced that Certified Pre-Owned is the only way to go when buying your next whip (I like to say “whip” because I know it annoys many of you). In this case, the experts aren’t entirely wrong — after all, there’s a lot to like about CPO. Late-model cars in like-new condition at a cost that’s considerably less than new, extended warranties, 1,857-point inspections — it’s all good stuff, right? If you play your hand correctly, you can get an outstanding deal and a car that will inspire confidence.
But CPO is a giant pain-in-the-ass for many dealers. Knowing what we know about the dealership world, is it any wonder that a good number of them game the system? If you’re looking to go CPO, you’ll want to know the tricks they pull, and how they affect you, the consumer.
Bark's Bites: Used Car Pricing Isn't Going Anywhere
As we reported just the other day, analysts are somewhat confused by the continued rise of used car prices to near-record highs, despite a flood of lease returns hitting the market.
This just goes to show you the stupidity of most people who call themselves “analysts.” There’s absolutely no reason to think that used car pricing will go anywhere but up in the near future. If these analysts had ever spent a single day in a used car department at a franchise dealership, they’d understand why. Unfortunately, they haven’t.
But guess what? Your friend Bark has! And I’m here to tell you why this used car bubble isn’t going to pop any time soon.
Bark's Bites: I Buy the Cars Everybody Else Says They Love
I own a Ford Flex. It’s true. Well, technically, Ford Credit owns it, but I’m only 12 months or so away from getting the real title in my hands. I’m constantly being told by people — hell, even by commenters on this website — that the Flex is a great car, but that people just don’t seem to like it. Of course, since I bought one, I completely disagree.
The Flex is just one example of a car that people who fill up comment sections of automotive websites seem to love but never buy for themselves. The list of such automobiles is quite long: The Pontiac G8. The Mazda RX-8. The Fiesta ST — wait a second, what the hell is going on here, I’ve owned all of these!
Just what is it that makes a car popular with enthusiasts but unpopular with the general public?
Bark's Bites: I Am A Writer, And So Can You!
“How do you get a job like that?”
Since June 13th, 2012, I’ve been asked this question more times than I can count. That was the day that my f irst post appeared on TTAC. Between then and now, I’ve been fortunate enough to be published on several sites around the internet and in print. As a result, I can’t sit next to somebody on a plane or work a corner at an autocross with a group of Tilley-wearers without being asked some variation of that same question.
I typically respond in the same way. “Start writing.” You can’t be a writer without writing — seems simple enough, but that’s where most people get stuck. Never fear. Your Uncle Bark is here to help you get started. If you want to get free flights to Tenerife, I can’t help you. But if you want to share your love of cars with the world, keep reading.
Bark's Bites: Dealers Are the Worst Businessmen, Part Two
Bark's Bites: Buying Your Next Car New Is Quickly Becoming the Smarter Choice
There’s been a slow, yet steady change in the automotive marketplace over the last eight years, and you, the consumer, have been the lobster sitting in the pot as the change has occurred. The market has gotten significantly worse for car buyers. The number of franchise and independent dealers has been reduced by almost half. And yet, those surviving dealers have had an unprecedented run of year-over-year growth since 2008.
But as that growth has slowed in 2016, car buyers find themselves paying more money for used cars than ever before. We know that the typical American household can’t afford the typical new car sold in America, but we may soon be approaching a day when that same household can’t afford the typical used car, either. In fact, according to NADA Data, the average used car transaction price in 2016 will crest $20,000 for the first time in history, and will be 59.1 percent of the average new car transaction price of $33,903.
What does all of this mean to you? That buying used may not be the smartest financial choice you can make. In fact, it might not be very smart at all.
Bark's Bites: Dealers Are the Worst Businessmen, Part One
Imagine that you owned a successful business. For many of you reading this today (including me), you don’t have to imagine, because you’ve done it. If you owned anything from a lemonade stand to a global airline, you’d have a pretty good idea of your costs and profits. You’d know which advertising sources worked best for your business. You’d strive to know where your customers came from. You’d have a system for hiring and training employees.
You’d do all of this and more, because you must have all of your ducks lined up in pretty little rows to be successful.
Well, that is unless you’re a car dealer. In that case, you may have no idea about any part of how your business works and still make money hand over fist.
Don’t believe me? Over the next several weeks, I’ll prove it to you. Today we’ll start with a simple concept that befuddles most dealers: online merchandising.
Would Most Crossover Drivers Be Happier With Sedans?
“Well, I mean, all this is basic and terrible,” said Mrs. Bark, pointing to the dash of our rental Hyundai Sonata. “But this could work for us.”
Mrs. Bark just turned 40. She’s an educated woman with four college degrees. She’s a college professor, almost the definition of a middle-class job. And yet she’s never owned the most middle class of vehicles — a mid-sized sedan.
When she became pregnant with our first child in 2007, she owned a 2005 Scion tC that we bought new from the dealership. After roughly a month of dealing with taking a baby seat in and out of the back seat of the little coupe, she decided that she needed something more suitable for motherhood. Since I owned an RX-8 then, I decided that we’d look at Mazda’s offerings, the Mazda5 and the CX-7.
Strangely enough, we never even considered a mid-sized sedan … but maybe we should have.
Bark's Bites: On Used Cars, Transparency Is A Myth
I always buy new. I know, I know.
There’s a financial wizard of the Internet around every corner, ready to pounce and scream “DEPRECIATING ASSET” at me. But the reality is that I — like most shoppers — like to get a good deal when I buy anything, and that includes five-figure investments. Also, like most car buyers, I feel that “good deal” really means “the dealer didn’t make a dime on me.” Yes, I know that car dealers need to make money on used car sales to stay in business (and to continue perpetuating the myth that they don’t make any money on new car sales), but that doesn’t mean I’m their mark. On a new car, I can know with 100-percent certainty if I got a good deal.
When one of my Twitter followers asked me why the dealer’s cost isn’t the starting point for negotiation on a car, I quickly replied (as I was walking to dinner) that “used cars have recon cost.” However, upon further reflection, I realized that’s just the tip of the iceberg and if a Twitter user didn’t know why used car costs are so nebulous, most of y’all probably don’t know either. Transparency on used cars simply doesn’t exist, and it never will. Here’s why.
Bark's Bites: Buying a Cheap Car Is an Expensive Problem
One of my favorite pieces that my dear older brother has ever written is his recount of his experience with Matt Farah’s Million Mile Lexus. His epic takedown of the very notion inspired a good amount of heartburn amongst the Best & Brightest, generating nearly half a thousand comments on the way to becoming one of the most viewed articles ever posted here.
I was reminded of it today when I was browsing through the new Facebook Marketplace for my zip code. There are dozens of cheap cars posted daily, ranging from $300 for a Suzuki Reno without a motor to $3,500 for a Jeep Grand Cherokee with a rear window that’s sadly fallen off its track, destined to lazily lay halfway down its frame for eternity. However, in each of the corresponding comments sections for the listed cars, at least one person asks the following question: “What’s wrong with it?”
And that’s when you begin to understand how buying a cheap car can become an incredibly harrowing, terrifying experience.
Bark's Bites: Meet The Worst Car Reviewer Of All Time
Here at TTAC, it’s been a tradition of sorts to call out poor examples of car reviews. In fact, we’ve done it so often over the years that I wondered if doing it again would be overkill. There’s such a multitude of miserably bad car reviewers on the minor car blogs of the Internet that it hardly seemed worth pointing out yet another case.
Well, I did wonder that. Then I read some reviews by Tim Esterdahl of Car Revs Daily. I wondered no longer.
Ask Bark: How to Replace a Dart That Missed the Mark
I graduated from college six months ago and took my first real paying job four states away from my family and anyone I know. In the process, I needed a different car, as for the past four years I was daily driving a 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula. While I love my Fiero and will never sell it (my dad and I restored it when I was in high school), daily driving a ’80s GM car is playing with fire. My parents were very gracious and were willing to sell me their 2013 Dodge Dart (Multiair, six-speed manual) for $8,000. I took it as that was the best deal I was going to find at the time.
Fast forward six months and I regret that decision.