I contemplated writing this post. A part of me feared it would come off as a long gripe or that it would insult people as opposed to processes; neither of which were my intent.
Car buying will always be an antagonistic and unwelcome struggle between buyer and seller and a process automakers have little-to-no control over. This post won’t change that (If I could quit my job and make car buying what I think it should be –fun, exciting, and dare I say pleasing, trust me – I would).
This post is to help buyers prepare for a true reality:
Buying a special car doesn’t make the process special.
By special I’m referring to cars with performance badges, painted in wild colors and equipped with more power than one could ever really use. These are the cars bought by enthusiast or at least people who aspire to be an enthusiast – people who are motivated and enthusiastic about their purchase. This post is for those people.
It was nearly midnight and I’d been at the store since 7:00 pm. I was finishing the last round of back-and-forth between the salesman and The Pit. The holdup this time: who was going to cover a FIFTY NINE DOLLAR difference in the numbers.
The Jeep SRT, a special performance version of the Grand Cherokee worked over by Chrysler’s Street, Racing and Technology (SRT) brand, had been sitting on the showroom floor and had 23 miles on the odometer. Small pieces of plastic were in the cup holder, likely residual material (knockout pieces) from dealer prep. The driver’s door was covered in show scuffs presumably from floor traffic getting in and out of the truck. The front end was covered in white speckles of what looked like paint overspray. I asked if it was remnants of protective film of some sort and was told the Jeep didn’t come with front plastic on delivery.
The salesman entertained me with small talk during the hours of back-and-forth with his managers. At one point he offered to clean up the Jeep, but the last thing I wanted at 11:00 pm was someone to “run back and give it a good cleaning.”
When I asked about the SRT Experience I was told, “Chrysler will call you.” This turned out to be wrong.
At this point all the excitement, emotion and impulse that drove me to the store had all but vanished. I was tired, hungry and angry – apathetic about a new SRT.
Then I realized something. Buying an SRT, or any special vehicle for that matter, was no different than buying any other vehicle on the lot. When a vehicle, like the Jeep for example, spans such a wide price point ($23,000-$71,000) there’s no room to differentiate the buyer experience. There’s no way to make it special.
Later in the evening I was offered some food from Wendy’s. I opted for chicken nuggets.
In the end I don’t blame the salesman. He did what he could to make the process better. But he and most every other sales staff in the automotive business are just a byproduct of a process, a mindset and a culture. A culture that seems driven by a pay plan and structure that focuses on immediate profits and makes car buying excruciatingly painful. There’s a chance had I taken my money and went to Land Rover or Audi I would’ve had a different experience – instead of Wendy’s I would’ve been offered Starbucks and a bagel.
At the beginning of the day I wanted an SRT. At the end of the day I just wanted to be home.
Part of me, the idiotically naïve part of me, really did believe that buying an SRT was something special. But I learned, like most buyers will, it’s just inventory – inventory that shares the same painful buying process of every other piece of inventory. It, the car isn’t special.
Hearing the sales staff brag about close rates and debating how much they’d make on my trade – special was the last thing I felt.
That night I joined a family that I’d been watching from the sidelines for years, yet as I signed the last few pieces of paper and midnight approached, there was little joy, few smiles, and zero excitement. I was tired, too damn tired to care.
The next day
My alarm went off at 5am the next morning and when sat up the first thing I saw were the two sets of keys I tossed on the nightstand. I picked up the set with my house key attached to it, pressed the unlock button and walked over to the window. It was still dark out. I looked down in the driveway at the LED headlights and I smiled.
All the anticipation and happiness lost during the buying process and washed away by my exhaustion – came rushing back all at once. It was a refreshing feeling.
The last thing the sales staff told me that night; “If you could leave us a review on Google that would be great.”
And I did leave them a review, “Thank you for the chicken nuggets.”
And to my new SRT family, “Thank you for making this special.”