What Do I Need To Do To Put You In This Van, Err . . . On This Motorcycle Today?

Avoiding auto industry offenses that have a strong potential of becoming common place in the motorcycle industry.

I was so stunned that I had to read the line again: "… just _____ed a customer with a warranty, credit life and disability…" And no, the blank space was not saved, helped or covered.

You creative types are probably rotating through your repertoire of expletives and euphemisms. Others of you are probably going with your old favorite. Regardless of which you choose, this statement bodes poorly for its author.

This message was posted by an auto industry "professional" on a website forum dedicated to the improvement of the vocation. The majority of the site is well-run, fairly informative and visited by people who seem to be honest contributors.

In this example (as in other posts), you can often detect the subtext of an adversarial relationship between the customer and the dealership; often what comes through is that the contributor doesn’t really believe in the value of what they are selling — and this is a toxic combination.

You know the usual arguments someone might use to defend their website and its sponsors:

  • "The webmaster can’t control every post and every contributor."
  • "The website provides a clear disclaimer that third parties may contribute to its content."
  • "A rogue employee is involved in the offensive posts."
  • "We’ve posted rules against such practices."

These are all (at face value) good arguments. After all, businesses and webmasters cannot realistically exert 100% control over the content of what is published on their site. However, they do have an obligation to periodically monitor the adequacy of website’s content and furthermore they have a responsibility to deal with the offensive post once identified.

One way is to ask the webmaster or moderator to peruse the site for such distasteful postings and to make it known that the behavior will not be tolerated. Perhaps they should consider banning individuals posting inappropriate messages from posting again to serve as an example. In final analysis, the website’s moderators or sponsors should certainly take some action to help protect the integrity of their industry or the website’s well intended initiative. In the particular case we illustrate at the beginning of this article, they have not.

Fact Or Fiction?

There is a great scene in the Seinfeld episode: "The Dealership." Elaine has just broken up with newly-promoted car salesman Putty, and Jerry is therefore no longer positioned to get the "insider" deal.

"Let’s finish this up," says Putty as he taps numbers at breakneck speed into his calculator watching the tally scroll out in alarming amounts. Jerry knows he’s about to get the treatment.

"Just left out a few things … rust proofing …

"Rust proofing?" a stunned Jerry repeats.

"Transport charge, storage surcharge, additional overcharge, finder’s fee …"

"Finder’s fee?" Jerry asks indignantly. "It was on the lot!"

"That’s right." Putty replies coolly as he returns to his calculations.

"Floor mats, keys …"

Incredulous, Jerry stammers, "Keys?"

Putty’s stops adding, looks up and condescendingly asks, "How are you going to start it?"

It’s funny… I watch this episode at every opportunity… maybe you do too.

When I watch this episode and chuckle, I remind myself that this is fiction. Something like this would never happen in real life … right?

Excessive Mark Ups & Hidden Charges

Few of us in the business can forget the collective industry gasp emitted during a Dateline "Tricks Of The Trade" episode. Reporters went under cover to expose a car dealer’s recap statement featuring a theft protection product referred to as "Etch" which cost the dealer $75, yet was being sold to the consumer for $1,000!

I’m a fan of profit. I’m a fan of premium pricing. But I would have a hard time justifying this excessive mark up. Especially since other customers in the dealership were paying under $200 for the same coverage.

Recently it seems another life-imitating-art, Seinfeld-esque example has emerged: In November 2006, McKenna BMW (based in Norwalk, California), was charged with, "passing leases and purchase agreements with hundreds of dollars of extras without telling customers." According to the lawsuit (and reported in an auto industry trade magazine), key chains and pens priced between $150 and $2,000 were buried into the deal.

Now unless we are talking about Mont Blanc pens requested by the customer as part of their transaction, this seems pretty high. You can almost hear Putty now, "How are you gonna sign for it?"

Money is an emotionally charged topic, for both customers and dealers. I believe it is important to support reasonable levels of ambition, not greed. So what can you do?

  • Avoid excessive markups (yes, this is subjective, but it should also pass the reasonableness test).
  • MSRP is a defensible pricing strategy.
  • Always make sure customers know what they are buying from you and how much it will cost them.
  • Don’t try to make up a shortfall by taking advantage of customers, whether they are na

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