Spexious

Observations and arguments.

Archive for Climate

No more waiting for a Prius?

When we finally put down our $500 deposit for a 2007 Toyota Prius, we were told we’d have to wait two to four months–especially as the color (silver pine mica, aka green) and options package (with bluetooth phone connectivity) were the most popular choices.

I received a call two days later telling me that we’d have the car within a two weeks.

Five days later I was driving it off the lot.

The official story I was given was that Toyota was ramping up production, and that the dealership was surprised with a shipment of eighty cars for the month, up from their typical shipment of thirty.

If this story is correct, then quoted wait times for the cars should begin to come down, and not just at Toyota Sunnyale.

I remain unconvinced, however, as our car was the only Prius I saw on the lot. For the narrative to sustain plausibility, there would have to be at least some small number of cars available for sale. Unless one were to believe that nearly all eighty of the cars were silver pine mica with the HK option set–otherwise, how would they have gotten so far down the “waiting list”?

The more likely scenario is that yes, Toyota has built up its production to better meet demand, but that the cars are held at an intermediate location and shipped to order promptly in response to customer deposits. Toyota would benefit by being able to artificially sustain demand, and give them some power over its dealers by tightly managing wait times. Dealers would benefit by maintaining their zero-day inventory on the cars and their sticker-price sales numbers–customers are not bargaining from strength when they have to “custom order” their vehicles. Sales representatives also get to play the good cop role when delivering the news to the customer that their vehicle has arrived well ahead of expectations. As dealers (and their better sales reps) are typically working not just to sell you today’s car but your return business, delivering good news can be a powerful emotional hook.

(In my earlier post regarding a bad experience at another dealership, our obnoxious rep attempted this as a last ditch maneuver as we were on our way out the door–promising to finagle a car “just for us” within two weeks. Curious how the end result matched this prediction.)

The trouble with this strategy, at least from our perspective, is that we were in a position to wait two to four months, so that we didn’t experience any real emotional relief at getting the car so quickly. Our advance planning allowed us to remain detached from the theatrics and drama, and as a result I’m much more critical of the manipulations involved.

I would encourage future Prius buyers to kick the tires of the quoted wait times. Share the fact that I got a car within a week, and that you’d be willing to walk off the lot and find a dealer who can match that.

See if you can get a car quickly, and for a fair amount under the quoted price.

There is a third possibility that I can envision, however, only because this dealership is located in Silicon Valley. It is conceivable that the dealership’s internet manager found my earlier blog post, which favorably compared our experience to that we had at a competitor. Hoping to milk some additional positive blogness, s/he may have influenced the speed at which we got our car. This seems unlikely to me, but if it’s true at all and you the dealership’s internet manager is reading this right now I hope you understand that it kinda backfired.

I’ll have positive things to write about my Prius in future posts. But getting the car so quickly has left a foul taste in this car buyer’s mouth.

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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?

Trying out the Carbon Calculator

So I went to the Carbon Calculator at the website of An Inconvenient Truth, to see an estimate of the tons of carbon dioxide my lifestyle outputs each year into the global atmosphere. Once calculated, there are links to buy carbon offsets, through a single affiliated company, NativeEnergy, which develops wind turbines and other renewable, clean energy projects on tribal reservation lands. “Buying offsets” means basically subsidizing NativeEnergy projects to create an equivalent amount of energy that someone somewhere can use, ostensibly decreasing enough of their carbon dioxide production to offset my own.

(I understand that politically, environmentally, and emotionally there is a difference between exploiting tribal lands for sustainable clean energy and exploiting tribal lands for their mineral and fossil fuel resources–or their exemption from state gaming regulations–but rationally and from a business perspective the distinction seems a bit meaningless. Although I suppose revenue and wage earning potential must precede home-grown business innovation, by a generation or two at least.)

My issue, however, is with the calculator form itself.
Sure, it’s clean-looking and AJAXy, with a dynamically updated total on top.

But while there is a question having to do with the number of people living in the household, there is only one place to input information about a car. Is it inappropriate to suggest that among the demographic of people most likely to visit the site in the first place, two cars would be commonplace? How hard would it have been to add a second car to the form input, in order to generate an estimation for the entire household’s output?

The rest of the form appears to be aimed at an aggregate household tally (number of residents, average monthly electric/gas/heating oil bills). But not the car info. The form designer is assuming that my wife will log into the calculator herself, and fill out only her car and air travel information, pretending that her house has no additional residents and no electric or gas usage. (I note that reducing the number of listed residents per household increases the total impact, rather than decreases it.)

That seems weak.

My total, minus my wife’s car: 18000 pounds/year. Nine metric tons.

Carbon offsets via NativeEnergy cost me a mere $12 per ton (that seems freakishly low to me), so that’s $108 that I’m asked to pay to expiate my carbon sins.

Substituting a 2006 Civic Hybrid for my 1997 Honda Civic while maintaining my yearly 25,000 miles of driving nets me savings of 2 tons/year. That still places me at an average consumption level. I can cut out my annual flight to Minnesota to visit the in-laws and conserve electricity, but neither of those moves the needle very much.

Looks like I need to move carpooling higher on the agenda.

Or get another job.

The one after seeing An Inconvenient Truth

Seems like Technorati is swarming with posts by people who’ve just come back from seeing An Inconvenient Truth

Except that the posts aren’t so much swarming as sprinkling. Maybe a related tag burst into the “Hot Tags This Hour” during opening weekend, but there’s no sign of it now. (Certainly no one’s picking up on Gore’s “Climate Crisis” language, or at least not tagging it.)

It seems pretty irrelevant to me, particularly in the context of the film, whether Gore will ever run for elective office again, although on the subject I’ll offer this aside: I was a Nader voter in 2000, but I was in California so my vote didn’t make a damn bit of difference. Nader voters were, as a given, predisposed to ignoring the corporate media–in whose universe Nader wasn’t even an option. The problem, I would posit, is that Nader voters (I would include myself in this) were all too willing to uncritically trust the anti-corporate media, which for cultural-emotional reasons too complex to explicate in this brief and sweeping generalization, was itself more interested in tallying the sins and compromises of Al Gore than in working to understand the radical nightmare represented by the collaboration of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney in the coronation of the mad prince George.

But enough about national politics.

Christa and I will be exploring the “carbon offset” model proposed by Gore and his team. And I will document here the progress we make–as we make it, towards reducing our own CO2 production. These steps could (and eventually will) include:

– upgrading to a hybrid car for the commuter (me, currently in a 1997 Honda Civic, driving 25,000+ miles/year)
– relatedly, re-initiating carpooling at least once a week
– attic insulation (will make a huge difference in our winter natural gas usage; we don’t have A/C)
– replacing our 1950s era aluminum frame windows (again, big difference in the winter)

Still, if I learned anything from my decade as a vegetarian it’s that one person’s choices don’t honestly matter. The carbon offset idea extends the individual’s economic impact, by subsidizing projects that federal tax dollars won’t invest in. But it’s a fair question what additional contributions I am capable of and willing to make.

Tags: An Inconvenient Truth, Climate Change, Al Gore

Doomsday

In a feature in the New York Review of Books, Bill Moyers delivers one more knife to the gut with another lucid, bitter reflection on the new reality. In this case, the uselessness of environmental ethics in the face of the Rapture and its growing constituency in America and within its halls of power.

On some level of hyperrationality I understand that my faith in science is as subjective and unprovable as American Christians’ unquestioning adherence to the raving of madmen and liars, but at an even more fundamental level we’re all stuck with each other so why can’t we just adopt some common principles of respect for each other and our children and our children’s children. It’s just being good roommates.

Because otherwise honestly, I could opt for solipsism and set these fucking people aflame with gasoline, and why would it even matter.

Which, basically, I suppose is my complaint.

That their Rapture is the fire in which they intend to let me and my family burn, because we do not live in [h]im or believe in [h]im so we can all just stay on this poisoned, flooding, barren earth to die.

It does not create a space of lovingkindness for discourse that is even civic, let alone civil.

As Probst is fond of repeating, Survivor is a social game.

So when you’ve got players who can’t wait to be yoinked off the island, because the soft bed, warm shower, and bar tab waiting back at the resort seems like a better deal than the arguing and insects and unripe coconuts, it makes for a poor showing at the challenges, and frankly it’s just bad television.

Which brings us back around to today’s questions:
What kind of a world do you tell The Boy he is entering into? How do you teach The Boy the gospel truth without the book of John? And what is that jammed under Daddy’s ribs, and will the bleeding stop soon?

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post scriptum March 10
NYT article on a movement within the evangelical community to embrace the science of climate change and the call to slow it. As with all things, there is more than one reality at work.