An Open Letter to Todd Lassa of Motor Trend

Todd Lassa,

 I have read 80% of what you've written in Motor Trend, and I agree with a lot of it; most of it is pro-American automotive industry, and I like reading another positive voice. However, I take severe issue with your recent post about car dealerships and the financing options that we offer consumers. I've been selling cars for almost 4 years now, and I've never gotten an "attitude" about a customer obtaining their own financing for a vehicle. If a customer is getting their own financing, that means that they have already decided to purchase the car and more often that not are preparing to do so.

What's more, one of the biggest things that prevents me from making a sale is a customer leaving the dealership, even if they are leaving to procure their financing. All it takes is for a customer to drive by another dealership, and decide to stop in; all of a sudden, a deal that I thought I had wrapped up is not happening because I let the customer leave the dealership. Taking care of the financing in-house frees up time and frustration for the customer; they don't have to leave and talk to another set of goofballs at their bank.

What is even more alarming to me is the fact that it appears that you don't think dealers should make any money on cars; we should be content with what comes in from service, parts, and accessories. That idea is incredibly insulting. It seems as if you don't believe that car dealership are a legitimate business. Do you have beef when Best Buy makes money off a TV they sell? How about a boutique clothing store? Why is it acceptable for a non-car dealer to make a profit?

It is up to the customer to decide if they want us to handle a loan for them, just as it's their prerogative to purchase the car itself from us. If they want to spend hours arguing with us over a price, that's also their decision. Maybe more consumers should look at irresponsible journalism as part of their problem, instead of part of their solution.

Sincerely Yours,

Joseph Davenport

This letter was written in response to a blog post in Motor Trend by Todd Lassa. Will I send it to him personally? Probably. 


Tips for Buying a USED vehicle

I know that most people don't have the means to buy a brand new car. I didn't. Or, rather, I realized from my years in the business that a used car is a much better value. When you drive a new car off the lot, the value drops by at least 15%, and that figure is probably conservative.

Take your basic Chevrolet Malibu. A 2010 Chevrolet Malibu LS will have an MSRP of $22,815. If you read my post about new car negotiating, you know that I don't charge anyone sticker on a new car because it isn't in my best interests to do so. So, that $22,815 price goes down to $21,900 or thereabouts. Currently, there are about $3,000 in rebates available on the Malibu. You can deduct that right from the $21,900. Now we're at $18,900. That means that if we took in your Malibu on trade a week after you bought it, we wouldn't be realistically able to ask more than $17,000 for it because a new one is within $2,000. If we can only ask $17,000 for it, we can only give you $15,000 for it to make selling it worth our time.

If you made it through that number-laden paragraph, you probably figured out a couple things. First, you probably know that my earlier estimate of 15% is very conservative. Second, you know that a used car is a much better deal; in that example, a used Malibu is a couple grand less than a new one.

So how do you go about negotiating on a used car? Read on.

Red Cedar Lager

I'm a beer guy.
Some people love cranberry-and-vodkas, some people do shots. I drink beer. I know the difference between lager and ale, between pilsner and stout. I've tried almost any beer you can name.
So, during one of our slow periods, we started comparing favorite beers. (In case you're curious, here are mine in order: Leinenkugel Berry Weiss, Miller Lite, Bell's Oberon, Killian's Irish Red, Guinness Stout, Bell's Kalamazoo Stout. Don't come at me with that Mexican piss-water called Corona.) I'm a minority at the dealership, in that most people prefer Bud Light to Miller Lite, but I digress.
We started to kick around the idea of starting our own brewery. One of the long-term guys actually brews his own beer, so it's not that far of a stretch. The topic of names came up. I went to Michigan State University, so "Red Cedar Lager" was my suggestion. It got a good laugh.
So good that one of the more entrepreneurial staffers decided to purchase the domain name.
Now we have our brewer cooking up a test batch. Maybe we started something here...

Close Shave with a Hummer

I've been absolutely slammed for the past week, so forgive me for not posting something in a while.
I've gotten some things done, though. I sold a handful of cars on Monday, a young couple's first family vehicle on Thursday, and my first Hummer on Friday. Mixed in with all of those wins were a handful of failures, zero-credit scores and time wasters. So I'm taking time to breathe and squeeze out a post before something else happens.
On that note, something else DID happen. I got busy just as I sat down to write this post. Something else always happens. Well, when you work 50+ hours a week and have no time to yourself, that's kind of what happens. :)
My Hummer deal almost didn't go down. I have a middle-aged couple that have bought their last 3 cars from me. On Tuesday I got a call from the wife, who said that she saw a Hummer H3 that we had sitting in our back lot awaiting inspection for a lease return. She wanted to find out if we could get her one. No problem. Easy specs; Black, Sunroof, assist steps, automatic transmission.
We buy vehicles all the time, so it really wasn't a big deal for us to get one. We found one that she liked, won the auction and purchased it for her. It arrived the next day. I went back to the detail area to check it out; we have to make sure there isn't any damage. It was a beautiful unit. The paint was almost flawless, the interior was spotless, and it had no extra miles on it. I opened the door and looked inside.
5-speed manual. Oh God.
I walked briskly back up to the showroom and checked the auction sheets for the H3, hoping against all odds that some kind of mistake was made and I didn't just have the Dealer Principal purchase a manual Hummer H3. Thoughts of a 90-day inventory turn and sales spiff to get rid of the car danced through my head, managers begging us to unload the truck on some Internet buyer for a $500 loser deal. I wasn't at these meetings, of course, because I had been fired for having the powers that be waste money on a Hummer nobody wanted. Gulp.
The auction sheets were no help. They clearly indicated that the H3 was a manual. Time to panic. I tucked my tail between my legs and sidled up to the Dealer Principal.
"That Hummer is a manual." I told him.
"You're kidding." he replied, shaking his head and smiling his "we all just screwed up" smile.  "I thought that H3s were all automatics"
"So did I"
"Have you told the General Sales Manager?" he asked, lowering his voice. The Dealer Principal and General Sales Manager are best friends, and the General Sales Manager wouldn't hesitate to freak on the Dealer Principal (the highest ranking officer in the dealership) if he had wasted thousands of dollars on a car no one wanted.
"No not yet."
"Go tell him. I'll come with you."
We walked into the General Sales Manager's office. The Dealer Principal spoke first.
"Joseph has something to tell you." he said, backing away.
"You know that Hummer we bought?" I said, unable to hold back a nervous chuckle.
"Yes..."came his cautious reply.
"It's a manual."
"You're s***ing me."
"Did you tell your customer?"
"Call her. She might take it anyway."
I hadn't thought about that. I had sold this couple 3 cars, and the wife grew up on a farm and learned to drive on a tractor. Driving a manual might not be a problem for her.
Maybe I could save my job.
"Hey!" he yelled at me as I was walking to my desk. "You owe me one!" I knew what that meant. It meant that he was going to let me slide on this major screw-up, and absolutely skewer me the next time I so much as talked to a customer with my hands in my pockets.
I called my customer and told her that her H3 had arrived. She was at the dealership in 15 minutes flat. She saw the manual transmission.
"Hmm. I thought it was going to be an automatic." she said, looking at me with seeking, questioning eyes.
"Well, I kind of goofed." I said, rather sheepishly. "I didn't know that H3s came with manual transmissions. Can you drive it?"
"Of course I can. I used to drive manuals all the time."
Every so often in the car business, there is a singular moment when you know the Car Gods have smiled upon you, and you feel a laser-like ray of sunshine hit you directly in the right shoulder. With my right shoulder glowing, I asked her if she wanted to take a test drive.
One test drive, a little number juggling, and one husband approval later, she was driving away in her shiny black Hummer H3 with a 5-speed manual transmission. I let out the biggest sigh of relief that I had ever released in 3 1/2 years of working at the dealership.
I walked past the General Sales Manager. "I owe you nothing!" I exclaimed, with a massive smile on my face.
Next time, I'll look more closely at the auction sheets, though.

"What's your best price"

There are a few statements that customers can say that get me riled up, and a commenter reminded me of one of them.
Allow me to set the scene.
I've been at work for, say, six hours. My job consists of running around a parking lot talking to people. You drive up in your car, and you're looking at my shiny new sedan. After the pleasantries, we have this inevitable conversation:
"So, you like the vehicle, right?" I ask.
"Yes, we like it fine. It's what we've been looking for." you reply.
"Well, how about I grab a plate and we take it for a drive?"
You look at your spouse and say what all of the car-buying guides have told you to say: "Well, give me your best price and then we'll drive it."
This is when I run you through with my new machete. Just kidding, folks.
Why would you ask me for my best price? What does "best price" even mean? What you are essentially asking me to do is give up any hopes of making money on this deal. If you remember from one of my earlier posts, dealerships run on profit. If you skin us alive on your car deal, we won't have enough money in the pot left over to placate all of your various complaints. When we can't take care of your complaints, however frivolous, you get upset. See the vicious cycle?
The best price is the price that we arrive to, together, in negotiation. If you can't negotiate a car deal, read my tips. Best price is also code for "I'm going to shop your price at every dealer from here to Syracuse, NY."
You asking for my "best" price is asking me, up front, to take a pay cut. It's funny how in this situation, "best" for you means "worst" for me.

Machetes and the Cure for Boredom

I said before that the worst thing in the world for a car salesman is boredom. When we're bored, it means we aren't making any money. If we aren't making any money, it makes us edgy. So, instead of skewering everyone, we try to find ways to cure the boredom.
A little while ago, my ex-trainee took at trip down to the Coleman outlet in Birch Run near Flint, MI. Being an avid camper and an impulsive buyer, he came back with a shiny new machete.
"How much did you pay for that?" I asked him.
"Six bucks." he replied.
Six bucks. Hmm. I had always wanted a machete.
The next week, during one of the many boring periods, I decided to check out machetes on Amazon.com. (If you've never used Amazon to do any of your shopping, you're doing yourself a great disservice.) I prowled around on the website scrutinizing the various blades. I found the machete that my former trainee had bought, but it had gotten poor reviews by purchasers. I decided that I would only buy the best. After another five minutes or so of searching Amazon.com, I found it.
It was a kukhri knife, a 13-inch sharp blade slightly curved away from the handle. It was made out of a heavy, durable cold-forged steel. Instead of a shiny surface, the metal gleamed dark and cool. I fell in love. The price? $7.99, with $7.48 shipping. $15 bucks, if you're keeping track. I clicked the purchase button.
Now, I'm waiting for my cold new machete to come in the mail. I can't wait. I think I'm going to start a collection.