Buying a new car is good for the soul. It’s exciting. It’s fun. You want to show off your new purchase to everyone you know. But that excitement is counterbalanced by what you must go through to buy it.
I know this because I just bought a new car. Keep in mind that as part of my job I get to test drive over 100 new cars every year, everything from the most basic, to the fastest, to the most expensive. You would think that, as an automotive enthusiast, I would have my fill.
And that’s what I thought, until I bought a new one. I could not believe how excited I was to buy my own brand-new car. And of course, this is true of just about everyone who buys a new one. But what I had to go through just about killed my enthusiasm.
I started online searching for prices at local dealerships. All I wanted was the price. But every dealer I contacted told me I had to come in to the show room. I told them I knew exactly what I wanted and was just trying to get the price. But they still wanted me to come in, so I set up a time with the nearest dealer.
When I got there, I was pleasantly greeted at the door and asked if I could please take a seat. Even though they had set up the appointment it was 20 minutes before the salesman showed up. He asked me to follow him back to his desk. Then he told me he was busy that day and asked if I could come back tomorrow.
I was stunned. I’ve worked with some good salespeople in my career and they taught me that when you have a customer who is willing to buy right then and there, you close the sale. You don’t delay another second. You get the deal done.
Keep in mind there were other salesmen in the dealership just standing around talking. But I guess it was this guy’s “up” so they couldn’t help me.
I came back the next day, met the salesman and told him exactly how much money I had to spend. He asked me to take a seat so he could talk to the sales manager to see what he could do. About 20 minutes later the sales rep and the sales manager showed up and offered me a price that was significantly higher. I thanked them for all their time and trouble, got up and left.
So, it was back to the internet, but this time I started searching nationally. I live in Michigan but found a killer price for the car I wanted at a dealership in Maryland. After all, I have plenty of frequent flyer miles. I figured I could fly to Maryland for free, buy the car for thousands of dollars less, and drive it back.
I called the dealership in Maryland and everything was going swimmingly until the sales agent realized that I was from Michigan. “Oh,” she said, “you don’t qualify for that price. This is only a special price for Maryland residents.” So much for the freedom of interstate trade.
So, it was back to the internet. This time I found a dealer about 30 miles (48 km) away who had the car I wanted. I drove out to take a look.
I knew the car had been sitting on the lot a long time because it was dirty. A quick glance at the factory label inside the door told me it was built six months ago. And I knew that gave me great bargaining power. When a car sits on a lot for six months the dealer is losing money and highly motivated to move the metal.
Once again, only a specific salesman could sell this car. So, I had to wait for him. He was chatty and friendly but definitely old school. He told me he was on my side and asked me to take a seat so he could “go to bat” for me with the sales manager. I knew all this to be a complete charade, but played along.
After a while the sales guy came back and begged me to up my price. He asked for some “better numbers that I can take back to my manager” because he was getting beat up bad. I told him I couldn’t do that because I didn’t have more money. So, he disappeared again.
I was no longer excited. I was frustrated. This was taking forever. All I wanted to do was get in my new car and drive away.
Finally, he came back, stuck out his hand and said “you got a deal.” I was relieved, not that I got “a deal,” but that the ordeal was over.
I can only imagine how many customers go through this silly process every day. This is the only business I know that takes one of the most exciting moments in someone’s life and turns it into an excruciating process that makes you want to get away from the dealership as fast as you possibly can.
As I drove my new car home I reflected on what I went through. And all I could think of was, what an opportunity for anyone in the industry who is looking for a competitive advantage.
John McElroy is editorial director of Blue Sky Productions and producer of “Autoline Detroit” for WTVS-Channel 56, Detroit.