Today's manufacturers don't lie as convincingly as before. I'm not sure if it's because we're harder to fool, or that they've gotten bad at it.
Years ago a dealer could swallow a truckload of unlikely things dumped on him by straight-faced reps, and still feel good about himself.
These days you count your fingers after shaking your rep's hand, especially when it is attached to the same guy who delivered a termination letter to your neighbor, and is more likely to cost you than make you money on any given visit.
Making it even more difficult is that those reps used to balance injustice with a special allocation of hot product. Nowadays they come with nothing to soften the sting of what they're passing around.
Among the bolder factory lines I used to buy:
- “Sure we're going to support overstocking with great marketing, trust me.”
- “Of course you can just go ahead and fix what needs to be fixed under warranty.”
- “We don't' want to audit you, but it's out of our hands.”
- “We've studied the prices and they are competitive.”
- “You're the only one complaining of that.”
And my personal favorite:
- “We never forget the dealers who are there for us through tough times.”
Against a backdrop of bankruptcy, audits and dealer terminations it's difficult to keep your dignity while saying ‘yes’ to factory foolishness.
Dealers once believed big corporations couldn't possibly know the many hardships they were causing in dealerships. Sincere dealers would fly to distant factory offices and invest days explaining things to “factory guys,” who acted as if they were hearing the stuff for the first time.
In turn, corporate suits presented themselves as intently interested in changing things. In retrospect those meetings were darkly comical.
We used to accept,“We're looking into it” as a legitimate response from franchisors.
Moreoever, we actually believed that it could take months, even years to “study” a problem. That just isn't true anymore, if it ever was. With the end of our innocence comes an impatience and crankiness much like that of our customers.
We now rankle when we're put off for a few days, knowing with new-age certainty that the time it takes information to travel up and down the corporate ladder should be the speed of a tweet.
Smart phones have made it impossible for anyone to claim ignorance or to successfully dodge calls by being “out of the office” or “in a meeting.”
I predict all this will usher in an age of honesty. Not the kind that is brought on by altruism or ethics, but rather the kind that is underpinned with a fear of getting caught hiding the truth. The public is becoming quick to indict any factory that claims not to know how things are going.
How many Lexus GX 460s are in the field, where, and at what cost to the dealers who are stocking them? It's all there at the click of a button. Want to know the home address (and the phone number) of the owners who bought GX 460s last month? That's there too. Ditto if you want to know just how many serious complaints have been lodged.
From deliveries to brake jobs, it's all computerized, uploaded and downloaded daily. You can use a stopwatch to measure the time it takes to know something or find someone.
There is a new level of intolerance for hiding the ball and brushing aside falsehoods as marketing hype.
Clearly, the truth is tilting the scales for consumers and dealers to make better decisions. Sadly for companies who have relied on emotional distractions rather than their merits to make their case, the smoke is clearing.
I remember the first time I heard the expression “not enough juice for the squeeze.” It came from a dealer who refused to yield to factory propaganda that was not adequately linked to commensurate opportunity.
Looking back, I recognize how courageous a thing that dealer did by simply refusing to accept a lie.
Peter Brandow is a veteran of auto retailing.
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