Commentary

Five weeks on the road, only stopping home to repack, I’m on a whirlwind series of speeches and dealership consulting visits.

Tonight, I find myself at a hotel in Memphis, TN. Tomorrow, I fly home to Georgia, only to leave the next day for Cleveland, OH. But I’m smiling because this is the dream come true and the price one pays.

There are three more travel weeks, three more cities and four days of seminars before Thanksgiving and some time with Debbie and the puppy.

I’m in Memphis conducting training sessions at the Jim Keras dealerships. After a full day in class, I headed back to the hotel, but I was overwhelmed by an urge to visit the legendary Corky’s Barbecue on Poplar Ave.

An hour later, after a dinner of pulled pork, beans, slaw and beer, I was renewed in body and spirit and returned to thinking about some interesting things appearing on the menu of today’s auto industry.

Earlier in the day, Jim Keras and his sons asked what automotive trends I was seeing and hearing about from other dealers, managers and industry executives. First of all, I sense the public is pulling away from high-line luxury cars and toward less-ostentatious transportation. Hard data doesn’t bear this out yet. But a growing number of affluent consumers aren’t much interested in making a statement with their ride.

This isn’t something I necessarily enjoy saying, because some very prestigious high-line dealers are great friends and clients. But it is the way I see things shaping up.

I recently experienced a personal seismic tremor in life’s direction. After owning nine Cadillac Escalades and seven Chevrolet Corvettes since 2000, I bought a Buick. I handed the keys to my latest Escalade to the manager at Jim Ellis Buick in Buford, GA, and took delivery of a new Enclave cross/utility vehicle. It is an incredible car, but I am not yet ready to give up my current Corvette.

My motivation in buying a Buick was, to a certain extent, social pressure. More people see driving around in luxury cars as flaunting success and excess. You find yourself apologizing, as if you’ve done something wrong.

I loved my Escalades, but let’s face it: They certainly aren’t fuel-efficient or environmentally correct. Some folks think virtually all SUVs are environmentally wrong.

That’s changing as auto makers introduce bigger luxury hybrid vehicles and even contemplate developing electric versions. But for the time being, many upscale consumers are keeping a low profile and distancing themselves from “image” vehicles.

When Hyundai introduced its Genesis sedan two years ago, the auto maker billed it as a vehicle with premium features, but without the ostentatious image many upscale cars carry.

There’s only been an uptick in the numbers, but we’re seeing a trend developing in this regard. It’s something to keep an eye on. I sure hope luxury auto makers are staying on top of it.

On another matter, I was sure Toyota was going to come out blazing with monster incentives in October. At least that was the impression they were giving.

Then, what a letdown with the weak and ineffective programs they announced. On Oct. 10, they let Columbus Day, typically a day of auto-sales specials and dealer opportunities, come and go with uninspired programs. They motivated no one. What a waste.

Are these guys asleep at the switch, or what? If they really expect that bland new Camry to sell, they’d better jack up the money on the hood and subsidize those leases more.

Oh well, I think I said what needed to be said, and I’m still burping from my barbecue dinner (a good thing). No Remy Martin Louis XIII cognac tonight. Just a Diet Coke, Monday night football on TV, writing this column and thinking about an ever-fascinating auto industry. Let’s keep in touch.

Jim Ziegler, president of Ziegler Supersystems, is a trainer, commentator and public speaker on dealership issues. He can be reached at zieglerss@aol.com.