TTAC Rewind: How Has the Pandemic Changed Car Shopping?
Bark opined back in May of 2020 about how the pandemic would change car buying. Now that we're approaching three years on and we're living something resembling normalcy, was he right?
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.
Ask Bark: Bitten by a Bark's Bite
One of the great joys I’ve had over the last six years of writing for this site has been offering my advice (for what it’s worth) to the loyal readers of TTAC, the Best & Brightest. Nearly every person whose question I’ve answered has written to tell me that they appreciated what I’ve written in response to their advice, even if he or she didn’t follow it exactly. But today, I got an email from somebody who ended up feeling the sting from my words. Let’s hear from our friend Quincy and see if we can help him.Hi Mark,I was recently reading your article about the deals that could be had on left over inventory and I felt inspired to test the waters. My local Buick dealer in Metro Detroit had a 2018 Regal TourX Preferred in silver with a MSRP of $36k and I was happy to take it home for $23.5k before TTL. However, the honeymoon came to a screeching halt as I was introduced to the concept of lot rot. Back to the dealer for new brakes. To make a long story short, the driver’s front wheel came off during the technician’s new brake road test and moved in a generally northeast pattern towards the A-pillar. With only 444 miles, my car sits in the dealer’s back lot with a driver’s door impinged by a front fender. The only offer from the owner of the dealership is to let them repair the car in-house or they won’t cover the costs of the repairs. Do I really want the dealership that damaged the car to fix it? With no parts is sight (GM strike) and a damaged vehicle history, I’m finding the dealer’s offer leaves me less than satisfied. So what would you do in my shoes?Thanks,QuincyUgh. That sucks.
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: A Moment of Appreciation for the Ford Flex
Seven years ago today, I bought a 2013 Mineral Gray Ford Flex SE. It wasn’t the ideal combination of options, nor was it the most desirable color — I would have preferred something in a Blue or Red, but Flex inventory was pretty limited, and Ford was offering some sort of quarterly promotion on in-stock inventory that was expiring that same day, so Mineral Gray SE it was.
180,000 miles later, it’s still in service as the family hauler. It’s taken thousand-mile-plus trips to places like Orlando, Minnesota, Kansas, and Iowa every summer, loaded to the gills with suitcases and sleeping bags. It’s endured through dozens of fruit punch spills and had hundreds of Cheerios trampled into its carpets. It even took a 40 mph hit to the rear subframe at a dead stop, and the precious occupants inside, my two young children, suffered nothing except a cup of spilled chocolate milk (which the interior also suffered, with a smell that took multiple cleanings to exorcise).
It started making a weird whirring sound in the dash a few years ago, but when the Ford tech said it would cost a few hundred bucks to fix, we simply got used to it. The “Check Fuel Filler Inlet” warning comes on every so often, as it does with all Fords of this era with capless fuel fillers, but I just clean it out and wait for the CEL to clear. It has consumed six sets of tires, but only two sets of brake pads — and it’s on the original shocks. I nearly knocked myself out with the tailgate once, thanks to the lack of a push-button feature, but honestly, I deserved it.
In other words, the Flex, long since paid off, continues to do exactly what I bought it to do all those years ago — transport my family with relative ease and comfort. I confess that I enjoy not having that $500-a-month payment anymore, and I fully expect to drive it another 2-3 years without issue (knock on wood). But if I did want to replace it, I’d have trouble doing so, because Ford won’t be making it after the 2019 model-year run expires. And that’s kind of a shame, because there’s nothing else like it.
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.
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: 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: Everybody's a Winner at SCCA Time Trials Nationals (But Not Everybody Gets a Trophy)
Somewhere along the way, somehow, the Sports Car Club of America lost the focus on fun. I know this, because a few years ago, after a particularly tedious conversation with some officials on the SCCA Solo Events Board about whether or not I had put the proper roll hoops on my car, I said, “Enough.” After about six years of national-level autocross, everything about dealing with the SCCA or participating in their events had become tedious, and nothing was fun.
The only way I ever had any fun at all was if I won, and since I had chosen to participate in the toughest and most highly subscribed class in autocross, the chances of that happening were becoming slimmer and slimmer all the time, and the costs were escalating to the point where road racing became a cheaper option. Think how crazy that is. So, I quit.
But three years ago, the SCCA began its Track Night program. Two years ago, Targa became a thing. And just like that, thanks primarily to the efforts of Heyward Wagner and his experiential team, the SCCA became fun again. It wasn’t all about spring rates and spoiler heights and tire width and thousandths of seconds — it was about having fun with cars.
So imagine how bummed I was when I started to hear rumors that Targa was dead, the victim of high costs and low ROI. Sure enough, the rumors were followed by an email that confirmed its untimely murder, but there was hope — Targa was being replaced by a new program called “ Time Trials Nationals.” The idea was to have an event that Track Night participants could evolve into — maybe wheel-to-wheel racing is too intimidating or costly, but they’d still like to be able to compete against the clock on a track, not in a parking lot.
After running a couple of regional events as warm-ups, the SCCA held their first Time Trials Nationals event this past weekend at NCM Motorsports Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky. There was no way I was going to miss it. So I didn’t. I packed up my Focus RS with all the tools and driving gear I could fit in the hatch, pulled my son out of school on a Friday, and headed west to find out what this new program was all about. And what I found out was that running a bone stock car against the clock is a hell of a lot of fun.
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.