Tesla gets all of the attention when it comes to changing how people buy cars (and fuel them), but the dried up and motor oil-caked monolithic body of traditional car dealerships is attempting to change from within. As with all insanely large things, changing direction takes time and results in a lot of nervous shaking and questionable results. Just look at American landyachts from the 70’s and 80’s.
Sure, you could buy cars online with as much effort as it takes to watch a bad movie on Netflix. Unfortunately, American car dealerships largely seem indifferent to the possibility of selling cars with minimal effort. For the price of a website made in 2015 instead of 1999, you’d think that every dealership from Toyota to Ferrari would be jumping on the opportunity. Most of their attempts are about as useful as a Smart Car at a tractor pull, but they are trying in their own way, as I will go into some detail of below.
Although still stubbornly refusing to admit that the accuracy of their online inventory matters, many car dealerships employ people like me. Seemingly all referred to as “Internet Sales Managers”, we office dwelling few all focus our efforts on replying to leads generated from sites like Cars.com and AutoTrader.com.
The first step of the process looks like this for just about every dealership: While browsing Cars.com or something similar, you fill out a data sheet with as little information about yourself as possible (fake names are great; I will email or call you if you provide contact information and I will address you as “Jack Squat”) and say that you want a Ford Focus. That data sheet, called a “Lead”, gets sent to an Internet Sales Manager/Coordinator/Glorified Secretary. Once we find your desired vehicle, the process differs depending upon who you work for.
This is how my dealership does it: I send you an email with the final price before taxes, title, doc fee, etcetera. This final price includes our discount, available rebates, all of that stuff. The email also contains a PDF of either the specific vehicle that you expressed interest in, or of a vehicle that I picked if you just said “2015 Focus”. At the bottom is my name and all of my contact information, plus my license plate number and a picture of my car, so that you can run me off of the road because I have emailed you 30 times.
I like that we send quotes out to every customer that requests information. I like that we don’t ask them to come in for pricing or financing, even if they want accurate monthly payment quotes. I like that we don’t have stock vehicle photos for our website. I like that we have fairly decent video walkthroughs of our vehicles and that I don’t really email people 30 times.
However, there is a lot that I don’t like. The industry of car dealerships in America has advanced about as slowly as all-electric vehicles. While EV’s received a new lease on life, dealerships have basically defaulted. Something like 98% of dealerships in America must be owned and operated by old men who still won’t purchase something on “the Amazon” for fear of catching malaria. It seems as though they don’t want to pull money from the air, with little to no customer interaction.
For some, this is because they feel as though they deeply understand the market and yes yes, they understand that millennials don’t want to bother with salespeople or haggling and they just want it all right now, but they also read that millennials don’t have money and don’t buy cars, anyways. So, why should dealerships bother changing for the current generation if the youths are all too concerned with vaping, public transportation and not working? Because those articles are lies.
Toyota seemed to understand some of this when they launched Scion. They also possibly understood that old people love boxy cars with great visibility. Not many other manufacturers and their associated dealerships have adopted any sort of new way of dealing business, which leaves most customers at an annoying disadvantage. This especially annoys people who are simply shopping around, car enthusiasts, and anyone who frequently purchases things on the internet.
The things that we, as the buyers often have to deal with:
- Inventory saying that they have a Miata with a manual transmission when it in fact, has an automatic.
-Inventory saying that a rare, 100% stock Mk4 Supra is available for sale when it actually sold 3 weeks ago to some guy who drove in on a slammed GTI.
- A website designed in 2001 that will force you to see the vehicle in person to figure out what trim it really has.
- No useful pictures or, pictures of every single detail that you don’t care about, like 46 different pictures of the ventilated leather seating.
- “Internet Sales Managers” refusing to send you an actual price quote or anything beyond “COME INTO THE DEALERSHIP WE WILL GIVE YOU THE DEAL OF YOUR LIFETIME” 84 times in one week, all while calling you 10 minutes after each email to see if you have received their most recent digital, text based assault.
- And a hundred other little problems that add up to something of the equal size and annoyance of a Nissan Armada poking you in the arm saying, “hey, hey, hey, hey. I am fully utilized by my owner”.
Then finally, if someone gains half the amount of courage that the brave souls who purchase a 150,000 mile V12 Mercedes have and venture into a dealership, they are treated like a homeless person walking into a police department. They might help you, but they might also waste your time, spit on you and push you out the door. All because you were told by the Internet Sales Manager that the vehicle that you have been lusting after is yes, still for sale.
I’m not high up at my dealership. I make calls and write emails. That’s about it. While that sounds exactly like the job description of most CEO’s, I’m not even the General Manager at my dealership and I don’t have the ability to make decisions. But soon, I will be asking him if I can have control of our online inventory. I want to talk to him about the possibility of allowing customers to purchase a vehicle online, of an automated test drive scheduling system, synced up with sales peoples so that customers can very quickly and easily get a feel for a vehicle of interest while not wasting anyone’s time. A lot of people are tired of the old way of things because a lot of people have busy lives, too many bills, more kids than can fit in a Boxster and the patience of someone who grew up trying to watch porn over dial-up. Tesla is trying to change the game, but unfortunately it seems up to the incestuous relationship between politicians and dealerships.
Dealerships have the advantage here, but they need to realize that they are missing out on a crazy amount of money. Almost every one of my friends has decided not to purchase a car from one dealership or another because they couldn’t quickly find out the price of a car or motorcycle. The whole of the car enthusiast world appears to hate nothing more than pavement sharks in suits who only sell automatic M3’s. Dealerships need to open up their eyes and look around them: Elon Musk, Amazon, Ebay, Steam and countless other digital stores all sell big ticket items to millions of customers, many of them sitting on the toilet on their iPhone. Dealerships are missing out on this because they’re stuck in 1950, when the human connection meant something and when the world of technology wasn’t feverishly developing more ways to ignore everyone while also engaging with everyone at the same time. Even a few simple things like accurate online inventories would allow me, personally, to get 15 or more people every month into the store.
But instead, most dealerships are sticking with the tried and true: radio and TV advertisements at 3:00AM, targeted at the precious buyer demographic of bored 15 year olds watching Adult Swim.