Stalls – January ’88
I come here to damn dealers, not to praise them. At least to damn most of them.
Owning BMWs and Mercedes means doing business with BMW and Mercedes dealers. With a few exceptions I have been spared the experience of traditional “‘Mercun” car dealers. Having made up for lost time in the course of researching the “Twelve Cylinders” article with David Lightfoot, I stand astonished . Why sentient human beings would do business with these knuckle-dragging chainsmokers is beyond me.
Their motto is : “Profit Before Reputation!”
DEALERSHIP NO. 1: Let us start at Pierre Ford . The one on Lake City Way , so you don ‘t confuse it with other Ford dealers , like the one in Ballard which is really rather decent.
I called the Yugo 800 number in the morning , and after parting company with too much demographic data was given Pierre Ford ‘s name and number as the nearest Yugo dealer. I called them , and made a 6:00 pm appointment with sales man “Weston” for a test drive.
Upon arrival (in the 230SL) a sales man (“Wesley “) was at my car (top down) even before J got out . You have an appointment with Weston? He just left. Did he know you were coming? I follow Wesley inside. While he looks for Weston I admire the dead fish on the wall, their schooling interrupted by a dead turkey. The fish , obviously , represent customers . The wild turkey is either a comment on salesmen or their taste in beverage. I am soon to learn which.
In the meantime , DL arrives.
Wesley emerges from his little sales man room. There are at least six other salesmen milling about. We are the only customers in sight . Weston is gone, I’m Wesley , may i help you? Yes, we want to drive a Yugo . OK , but I have to come along and I have to drive it off the lot, insurance “regulations”, you know. OK .
As we walk outside the salesman asks which of us wants to buy a Yugo . We are honest: Neither, we want to write about it. Hmmmm, I don’t know if we can do that . Just a minute. Wesley disappears inside, returns with New Car Sales Man ager “Bahr”. Manager Bahr questions us about whom we write for. We explain , and mention that our readers may be interested in Yugos . He gives us an unlikely reading of his insurance situation . He asks how long we want the car (45 min.) &c ., and concludes that he can ‘t justify tying up a salesman for 45 mins . when he could make $500 staying at the store. I mention that our readers might be interested in that, too.
David and I look inside at the show room . The sharks are swimming about with nothing to feed on (and thus we learn the truth , that the fish are the sales men and the customer is the wild turkey). Manager Bahr asks if ten minutes in the Yugo will be enough. I decline it , be cause it would be dishonest to my readers to judge a car based on ten minutes in traf fic. No more is offered , I count the Yugos on the lot and head for my roads ter.
On the left rear fender of my roadster is parked a salesman ‘s derriere . Its control unit (calling it a brain would be the rankest overstatement) is enjoying a cigarette , chatting with folks in a nearby car. He does not move his ass off my car as I approach , but he kindly does let me squeeze by so I can get to the driver’s door.
- The salesmen at this dealership have utterly no sensitivity about cars .
- The salesmen at this dealership have utterly no sensitivity about custom
- The salesmen and management at this dealership take a very short view of their business . They are concerned with today’s profit , not tomorrow ‘s reputa Kind of makes you wonder about your treatment after you ‘ve driven your new car off the lot.
- There is a very good reason why there are nineteen unsold Yugos on the lot.
DEALERSHIP NO. 2: David and I threaded our way to Pierre Hyundai , located on Aurora Ave. North. This is a transparent effort by a traditional-type ‘Mercun dealership to create a more “mod” atmosphere. And , perhaps , to add more wall space for the future acquisition of stuffed animal heads. The salesmen wore more fashionable, punkish clothes (I recall naught but white shirts at Pierre Ford) ; sales were completed at tables out in the open , not in little cubicles; the Great White Hunter motif was more subdued (i .e. fewer dead animals on the walls). Emblazoned on Pierre Hyundai ‘s cars was “Smart Buyers Buy Here”, which is close enough to Phil Smart ‘s “Smart Investments ” tattoo to attract the Joe Biden set, but not so close that Pierre will berned.
David has admirable powers of recall , and remembered that his sixteen year old daughter needs a car. Ironicall y, David’s memory is as accurate on this sort of detail as is a car salesman ‘s during the sales pitch . Only due to the quality of David’s memory did we get behind the wheel of Hyundai’s guttersnipes (they had five Yugos on the lot as well as Hyundai; the Yugos were on loan from Ford) . The place was quite busy (in marked contrast to P. Ford) , and we actually did take a salesman away from potential work for the obligatory and unwanted navigational assistance . All the salesmen appeared quite young , and those whom we spoke with knew little about what they were selling.
We drove with one salesman and were pitched by another as the first got called away to the phone . They didn ‘t know much and couldn ‘t keep their stories straight. Don ‘t these people have sales meetings?
The repossessed Hyundai we drove (GL package) was $7200 from salesman 1, and was down to $6000 from salesman 2 .
Salesman 1 told us that the average car has 22 gauge steel , and the Hyundai 18 gauge . Salesman 2 told us that the average car has 22 gauge steel, and the Hyundai 16 gauge.
Salesman 1 told us the Hyundai weighs 2500 lbs, and salesman 2 told us 2100 lbs.
Salesman 2 told us that Hyundai ‘s diagonal braking system would control the car on ice.
Salesman 1 did not know the displace ment of the Yugo ‘s engine .
Salesman 2 told us the Yugo weighs 2500 lbs, when i n fact it weighs 1800 lbs. Test drives consisted of a course of about two miles , containing only right turns . The salesman with us the whole way. The salesman , happily , saved his sales pitch until each drive was over. At which point we were fair game, with no fact beyond exaggeration and prices fixed in quicksand .
- ‘Mercun-type car dealers are afraid of having their cars driven.
- The salesmen at this dealership do not know what the hell they are Does the service department’s familiar ity with the cars exceed that of the sales department?
DEALERSHIP NO. 3: Number three is , of course , BMW Seattle, f/k/a Phil Smart, now at 714 Pike. One phone call and the M3 was mine for a few hours . Rick Arendt first made me look at a cleaner-than-new orange! 320i (which is for sale), and the M 1 got the obligatory pat on the flank . I was not checked out on the M3 , and none was needed. I did sign a form to the effect that my insurance was primary. Rick did not drive the M3 out of the showroom for me, which I under stand was a mistake since Phil Jr . passed me on his way in , and misinterpreted my gentle traffic entry manouever as “smok ing it.” Neither were we accompanied by a salesman on our drive. The only incon venience was wiping off the gas jockey’s drool when we needed a few gallons pumped into the tank .
- The staff at BMW Seattle appreciate the difference between cars and appliances .
- The staff at BMW Seattle under stand the difference between a “consumer” and their
- If you like to be treated as a moderately intelligent anthropoid , you will not go back to the ‘Mercun dealerships once discovering the a I understand this to be a matter of some concern in Detroit , as it should be. Tokyo should pay heed , too – Subaru ‘s current downfall may not be a fluke .
The Positive Thinking. New car deal ers can be their own worst enemies . The emphasis is traditionally on “making a deal” to the exclusion of service, follow up, and the customer having some real knowledge of what s/he’s buying. There is a school of thought, not evident at ‘Mercun dealerships , that a car should have a price , for which it is sold , and some of the profit should be spent on keeping that customer happy , the sales people trained, the walls clean of dead animals, and so forth. It ‘s a formula which has worked very well for Mer cedes Benz for decades , seems to be working for BMW since it was adopted about six years ago, and I fail to see why it shouldn ‘t work for Yugo or Hyundai
This article was originally published in the January 1988 edition of Zundfolge