I cut my teeth, learned the business and made my first big bucks on “American iron.”
We do business with a lot of import dealers. Like me, many of them started out selling domestic-brand cars. Many still have domestic stores as their flagships.
It hasn't always been easy. We've seen car brands disappear over the years, including Plymouth, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Saturn and Mercury.
Things happen. Where am I going with this? It is this. Let's take the common sense approach to today's opportunities. Let's look at some marketing techniques by other companies, such as the makers of canned beans.
The can stays the same, but the label changes. Sometimes its colors are brighter. Sometimes the graphics are bolder or plainer, depending on market tastes and demands.
They might even add an ingredient to enhance the flavor of the contents, but the shape and design of the can stays the same. There is a parallel to the auto industry.
In the 1980s, sheet-metal designers for the domestic auto makers must have all retired at once, and can designers replaced them.
Gone were some distinctively designed American cars. Instead, auto makers focused on making the same can, but with different colors and detailing.
Today's focus is on fuel economy, creature comforts and safety. These are good things. There are engineers that work in those fields that make the cans better for domestic auto makers.
It's the sheet-metal guys that build the can that we need to focus on. What if Chevrolet dealers (and their committees) met regionally with their factory representative and said “Hey, here is what we would like to see at the new-car showings this year, a little appearance pizazz.”
Nobody knows better than you do, because you know the type of vehicle you are competing against when working a deal.
Remember DeSotos of the 1950s? They moved the needle in the market because it got a new can. They got a new label. The cars had 3-tone paint combinations, fins and a gear shift on the dash. This was something.
A showroom salesperson wants to show something that looks good. Look at what they have sent us to sell for the last few decades. We have an opportunity to take America back with our iron.
I drive only domestic-brand vehicles. We build the safest, most comfortable, fully loaded autos on this planet. But most are plain looking.
As dealers, you can change what you are getting.
Recently, General Motors' think tank decided to start referring to used cars as pre-owned vehicles. Wow, what a creative day in the think tank. I wonder how many sat in on that command decision-making meeting.
What makes you think there is any difference in the designers saying, “Well, let's see how we can change the can this year with a new color.”
It's time for dealers to weigh in on this one. Work together. You have dealer committees and associations. You know what you need to sell well.
I never doubt you guys and gals will make it. If you had ever gone down, I'd have gone down with you.
Auto industry veteran Tim Deese is a used-car expert and heads Progressive Basics.