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Monday, September 10, 2012

How much is that auto in the window?


 
I’m writing this article on Monday, September 10, 2012. I copied the title and the illustration above from an article in today’s Wall Street Journal. I’m not guilty of plagiarizing because I’m giving credit to the Wall Street Journal and the reporter, Charles Passy who wrote the article. After what happened to Fareed Zakaria, I want to be very careful. You can read the entire article online by clicking on www.earlstewart.com/pdf/WSJ.pdf.
The Wall Street Journal reporter interviewed me several times over the past month for this article. I sent him copies of invoices, buyer’s orders, dealer addendum labels, and names of people I knew around the US who were experts on unfair and deceptive advertising by car dealers. It was important to me because having what I’ve fought against for so many years written about by a national publication adds credibility. Not only does the Wall Street Journal have the largest circulation of any newspaper in America, but it’s also arguably the most respected daily publication.

One might ask, why don’t local newspapers write stories about car dealers’ unfair and deceptive sales and advertising? The answer, like so many, is “follow the money”. Every local newspaper has an auto advertising section with most of, if not all of the dealers in that market. Newspapers seem to be the advertising choice of many dealers, although TV has definitely cut into their revenue. In large metro markets TV ads are so expensive that most dealers have no choice but to use the newspaper. Car dealers are the single largest source of ad revenue in many newspaper markets.
Now I know that journalistic ethics require a separation between the news, editorial, and advertising departments. But that’s the way it used to be. Today local newspapers and even some national ones are struggling for survival. Ethics go out the window when it comes to survival. Would you steal food for your child if you had no other recourse?

Another reason that I’m encouraged by this Wall Street Journal article is that every auto manufacturing executive reads this newspaper every day, especially articles about automobiles. Also, most car dealers also read the Wall Street Journal. Reading a negative report about deceptive car dealer sales practices in a highly respected national newspaper has got to get their attention. Many manufacturers and most car dealers seem to be in denial about how they endeavor to trick their customers with misleading, false ads and sales practices. I’m a Toyota dealer and I was shocked when Toyota recently removed the financial penalties from violating the Toyota Dealer Advertising Covenant, TDAC. They said they did this based on a request from the national dealer council. The TDAC was created over ten years ago to establish ethical guidelines for Toyota dealers’ advertising. It was written with the input of dealers and all dealers had to sign to promise to abide by its tenets. An example of a tenet would be that a dealer cannot advertise a car for a price unless he will actually sell the car for that price…no “bait and switch” advertising. As you would agree, laws are not effective without penalties and Toyota used to fine dealers very large sums for violating these advertising covenants. Now, there are no financial consequences for a Toyota dealer violating the TDAC. Other manufacturers have similar covenants but enforcement and and penalties are rare.
I have to believe the auto industry will awaken one day and realize that almost all other retailers in the 21st century have left car dealers in the dust. Most car dealers are still employing the “get ‘em in the door any way you can and make as big a profit as you can get away with” shabby tactics that were common practice fifty years ago. Most manufacturers and some dealers are beginning to realize that car dealers are held in the lowest esteem of any other retailer. Car sales and service complaints top the list and car dealers rank dead last in the professional ethics ranking, tied with congressmen, lobbyists, and lawyers.

I tell manufacturers and my fellow dealers that if we don’t regulate ourselves, you can bet the government will step in and do it for us. As I write this article, the Federal Trade Commission is conducting hearings all around America asking for input about unfair and deceptive trade practices by car dealers. If the government steps in like they did with our nation’s banks, car dealers and manufacturers can expect to be up to their eyeballs in expensive regulations, red tape, and bureaucracy.

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