I wonder if the “American car dealership and car salesperson” era is coming to an end. Car buyers often loathe the trip to a car dealership knowing they must deal with the pressure of a commission paid salesperson. And with many car dealers now adding thousands and in some cases tens of thousands of dollars on top of the MSRP (manufacturers suggested retail price) the car buying experience has become even more dreaded. I worked as a car salesman when I first moved to the USA from Germany and was amazed to learn about the car sales methods. Huge lots with hundreds of cars in stock and hungry salesperson paid only by commission and often living at the edge of income existence.
Growing up in Germany I experienced a different treatment for people buying expensive items. After all a car purchase is the second largest purchase you will make in your life after a home purchase. So shouldn’t it be one of the most fun and exciting experiences of your lifetime? I grew up with a luxury furniture store witnessing the customer being made comfortable, given a coffee and snack and loads of very helpful information. When I began my first job in California in car sales, I pretty much refused to treat my customers as cattle pushing through and instead treated them like Kings and Queens. I often would bring them a chocolate cake on my day off (I made a deal with a local bakery) to help them celebrate their new shiny car. I would not talk about price when I was showing them the cars. Instead, I made sure to know everything I could about all models on the lot so I could really educate them on all the features. If they would buy a second car in one year from me, I invited them to my home for a German dinner I would cook.
I butted heads with the dealerships to keep treating my customers in such a luxurious way but soon they realized that I was selling more cars than anyone else and I kept that record for the 5 years I sold cars. I was salesman of the month almost every month. So, they supported me and left me to my methods.
Now with Tesla and other new car makers showing that a car can be bought without haggle online and the car will be delivered to your house it’s a game changer. For one I miss the interaction with a knowledgeable salesperson, the smell of a bunch of new cars while shopping and the feeling that I actually was a good enough negotiator to get the best deal. In Germany you would go to the dealership and sit down and build the car you want with a representative and come pick it up 3-6 months later. This is not too different to where these new car companies are now. The empty lots of car dealerships right now are not only due to computer chips missing. It might have something to do with the surge of new car companies gaining in the marketplace.
This will undoubtedly change the car buying experience forever and soon the “horse trading” methods of buying a car will be told by grandparents to their grandkids. What will the future of thousands of car dealerships be? Will it be another economic evolution like the death of the video stores? They will be relying more on service and used cars I would guess. Although online used car companies are taking over slowly there also. If I were a car salesman today, I would still strive to be the most knowledgeable one on the lot and learn all of the details of all cars on the lot as to be able to impress my customers and give them the best buying experience of their lifetime.
CEO, Swiss-Link, Inc.