By on May 1, 2020

Chinese Lincoln Dealership, Image: Lincoln Motor Company

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.

(Read More…)

By on April 12, 2018

“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.

(Read More…)

By on April 5, 2018

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.

(Read More…)

By on November 13, 2015

fordfriends

If you happen to live somewhere in the United States where radio waves can be transmitted and/or received, you’ve no doubt heard of the “Friends and Neighbors” sale that is going on Now At Your Local Ford Dealer. It sounds like a pretty good deal, doesn’t it? Employee pricing for everybody!

Not so fast, my friends.

Like nearly everybody on God’s Green Earth, I qualify for X Plan pricing at Ford. It’s how I effortlessly purchased/leased my Flex and my Fiesta ST. X Plan is Ford’s code for supplier pricing, and it’s typically about four-percent higher than invoice. It also limits the documentation fees that dealers can charge, which can be insane in some states.

Can better deals be negotiated? Certainly. However, for a low-stress car buying experience, it’s hard to beat. You simply walk into a dealership, they print off the X Plan price, you give them your certificate, and you walk out half an hour later with a new set of keys.

Ford also has pricing for actual employees and their immediate families, called A Plan, which is a little bit better than X Plan but it follows essentially the same guidelines. All that’s required is proof of employment and a PIN code you generate from Ford’s employee site.

So wouldn’t you think that “an inside deal for everyone” would be A Plan, or at least X Plan? You’d be somewhat right, but you’d be mostly wrong. Here’s why.

(Read More…)

By on December 2, 2013

barkflex

Everybody on the internet knows that buying new cars is just plain stupid. New cars, after all, are just “depreciating hunks of metal.” New cars depreciate an average of 20% immediately, and then go down another 15% each year after that, according to sources such as KBB and Edmunds. According to every message board I’ve ever read, buying a new car will probably cause you to lose your house, get divorced, and be sent to the Chateau d’If for thirteen years.

But how true is that? And if it is true, does it matter? Let’s find out.
(Read More…)

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