Observations and arguments.

Archive for September, 2006

How not to sell a car.

Went shopping on Sunday for a new car, specifically looking at the Honda Civic Hybrid and the Toyota Prius. Both cars claim long wait times of 60+ days, so shopping early is recommended (we believe we can keep our VW running through the end of the year).

The Toyota dealership my wife and I visited first offered us one of the worst customer service experiences of my life. Some of this was a function of the sales rep’s inability to read people, but some of it was by design.

Red flag #1:
When we told our sales rep we were interested in learning about the Prius, he said “Prius? No! That’s a bad word!” The choice to denigrate the company’s bestselling car is a curious one.

Red flag #2:
As for wait times for ordering a Prius, our charming sales rep said “Four to nine months, unless you want silver, in which case: forget it.” This exaggeration (three months is standard at two dealerships I’ve spoken with since) is perhaps intended to weed out nonserious hybrid inquiries among those needing a car right away, and to redirect them towards a Corolla or Yaris.

Red flag #3:
Our sales rep carried with him a hand scribbled notepad of interested “Prius buyers”, which he occasionally flipped open furtively, to demonstrate that there were people wanting cars “ASAP” and “any color”. Presumably those buyers who had placed their $500 deposit with the dealership would expect to be registered on a typed list, in a database, rather than in a single sales rep’s pocket. Presumably they would also be uncomfortable having their names and phone numbers displayed to random potential buyers such as ourselves. Perhaps the point of showing us this list was to play up the frenzy angle, to hook in those buyers likely to be caught up by the drama and excitement of a possible call saying “I’ve got one on the lot. It’s white and has the high end options, but if you get down here today we can make it happen.”

Red flag #4:
No fleet model available to sit in, let alone test drive. From a certain perspective this is understandable, as the dealership clearly has sufficient numbers of buyers willing to place an order for a Prius without a test drive. If a customer balks once the car arrives on the lot (it is a strange car to sit in and drive, at first glance), there is a list of others (apparently, in our sales rep’s pocket) willing to buy the car right away. This is a dealership decision; I can’t blame the rep for this.

Red flag #5:
In lieu of a test drive, our sales rep walked us around the lot to look at the outside of three Priuses that were on site, but already purchased. One of the cars was in a back lot behind a fence marked “Employees Only”, a transparent device employed to make the sales rep appear to be showing the customer something secret or special–when in fact what he was showing us was the outside of yet another Prius. I see the outside of Priuses every day on my car commute.

Red flag #6:
Our sales rep hurled unsolicited and repeated insults at George W. Bush, claiming that the lack of available Prius inventory was somehow due to the president’s direct intervention at the behest of “the oil companies” (of which our sales rep informed us, Bush owned two). Perhaps our rep or his colleagues had found success in closing Prius sales by riling up anti-Bush emotions, but this line of rhetoric came off as merely nonsensical to us.

Red flag #7:
In a direct and mystifying contradiction to his earlier assertion (see Red Flag #2, above), our sales rep promised that if we were to put down the $500 deposit “today,” and if we didn’t care about color, he could get us a Prius “in a week”, he had fourteen of them coming in. I understand that by the time the cars arrive on the lot that those who reserved them may have already bought a car somewhere else, or no longer have the money, or for whatever reason no longer want the car, and the dealership must then call the next person on the waiting list. Yet presumably the call would go to the individuals at the top of the list, rather than at the bottom.

Perhaps he meant that if we gave *him* the $500, he’d be willing to help hook us up. But I mean, honestly.

The upshot is: while we’re likely to purchase a Prius, it won’t be at this dealership.

We later drove to another Toyota dealer in our area, which had a fleet model on the lot for test drives, and a sales rep who spent an hour with us showing us the car–its innovative hatchback and in-car storage, the electronic smart key, the touchscreen radio and environmental controls, the hidden power outlet and aux input, the rearview video camera, and of course the curious startup sequence and gear shift toggle. So despite the fact that the Prius is the number one selling car of the number one car manufacturer in the world, this sales rep at the new dealership was willing to take the time to try to sell us the car. This dealership has earned our business, and this sales rep the associated commission.

The dealership that didn’t care whether they got my business or not: Stevens Creek Toyota
The dealership that did: Toyota Sunnyvale

I’ve kept the names of the specific sales reps (good and bad) out of this. Does that seem appropriate? Because someone else could have had a good experience with a different rep at Stevens Creek, and a poor experience with someone else at Sunnyvale. Is this all about the sales rep or is the dealership accountable by itself?