I'm struggling to find something new. Most headlines these days state what we already know.
“Gas over $3 a gallon affects sales of fullsize SUVSs and cars with big engines.” Nothing to stop the presses.
“Manufacturers find that, after a decade of rebates and discounts, the public is no longer responding to them.” No big woops here.
Even a yawn is “Employee pricing wears thin when public discovers some previous deals were better.”
Nor is there much really going on in the dealers' world these days.
“Dealers refuse to stock heavily to support pricing and incentive schemes that yield little or no profit margin” ranks right up there with:
“Lack of sufficient notice of manufacturer's marketing programs often leave dealers without adequate inventory or advanced planning to support the program.”
Equally old: “Popular brands edge out less popular brands in residual values” and “Lower prices enabled by higher residuals give popular cars a big edge.”
No one is falling from their chair over stories such as: “Car sales people resent lack of financial stability,” “Dealers resent lack of financial stability” and “Wall Street hesitates to recommend institutional investment in automotive segments because of lack of financial stability.”
The motivators in the car business are the stuff we already know. Show us the money and we respond. In this day and age, there are few secrets, little surprises and almost no trust. Straightforward works. The old razzle dazzle is not so dazzling these days.
This is not to say the industry has matured in a way that precludes new ideas. Rather, new ideas are precisely what we dealers, the public, our manufacturers and Wall Street desperately seek.
We crave real innovation that can produce cheaper and safer vehicles. We want more choice without more cost.
Manufacturers who find ways to build it our way without charging us the premium associated with bigger dealerships and bulging inventories will create this new value equation.
Consider the savings that could be achieved if vehicles in primer paint were delivered to dealerships, where the final color coat could be put on.
Instead of stocking as many of each vehicle as there are popular colors, a dealership could give every customer exactly the color he or she wants without the heavy cost of carrying more vehicles than necessary to accommodate the real market demand.
Could vehicles be designed to accommodate dealer-installed drivetrains? Imagine the savings in time, space and money. Imagine the customer satisfaction.
Imagine if your calendar were tied to your navigation system so that your car were preprogrammed to find directions to where your calendar said you were going.
The phone number of the destination could be already loaded onto your mobile cell phone and your progress could be transmitted as you proceeded so that those expecting you could monitor your time of arrival.
By hitching our vehicles to the Internet we turn them into smart appliances. Everything from tire wear to safety recalls could be monitored via an electronic link among your car, your servicing dealer and the factory.
Fluids, engine efficiency and safety could all be checked constantly. Moreover, appointments and pricing could be handled 24/7.
New horizons to be explored in automotive retail lie beyond the everyday world of tiered incentives and employee pricing.
We have matured to the point where the thin currency of factory-controlled rating systems or contrived industry polls no longer entice the public or the dealer body to do things that are not supported by a strong business case.
A new age of why people buy, what they buy and from whom they buy can be established.
The market is poised to turn toward a new value system. The first manufacturer to realize new-age car buyers are looking for a different experience that links their transportation to their lifestyle in innovative ways might gain dramatic market-share overnight.
Peter Brandow is a Pennsylvania and New Jersey dealer.