Friday, July 20, 2007

Bigotry and Car Dealerships

Obviously bigotry exists world-wide among some employees of all businesses and some of their customers, not just in car dealerships. I have to confess that I have underestimated the problem over the years. I was born in 1940 and grew up among lots of prejudice and bigotry. Through education and legislation there were lots of improvements in our society. Up until a few short years ago, I thought we were coming very close to a virtually prejudice free society. I think I may have been overly optimistic.

A few years ago I established a firm policy at my dealership that all phone calls would be put through directly to the person being called. This included me. Nobody in my company has a secretary that screens her calls. The telephone receptionist will not ask you whose calling or what the nature of your call is. She will simply put the call straight through. If an employee is not in the dealership, the call is automatically transferred to his cell phone. After this, I added four red phones strategically located for maximum access to my customers. One is outside in the service drive. One is in the service customer waiting lounge, right next to the cashier. One is on the receptionist’s desk right in the middle of our showroom. The last red phone is in our body shop waiting room. There is a sign next to each phone, with my picture, that says to pick up the phone if we have not exceeded your expectations.

I think you will agree that this gives my customers better access to the owner and managers of my business than any other business you know of. So what has all that got to do with the subject of this article, “Bigotry in Car Dealerships”? Because I am “in the trenches”, I can tell you that a disproportionate number of complaints come from minorities and those who speak English with an accent. I estimate that about 20% of my customers fall into this category, but customer complaints from this group are more than 50%. For a while, I thought that this some kind of fluke. Then I even considered whether minorities and people whose primary language was other than English just complained more. But that simply is not logical. I finally decided that it was a communication problem. These people were unable to make themselves clearly understood by my employees and visa versa. But, I’m not sure that is the entire reason.

You may have seen my latest TV advertisement in which I speak Spanish with English subtitles ( As you know the Hispanic population of South Florida is among the largest in the USA. Most of these Hispanic Americans are fluent in English and watch conventional English speaking TV channels. The reason I did the commercial in Spanish was to signal my respect for their culture. If you have traveled abroad, you know that most foreigners speak English in addition to their native tongue. But, when you address them in their own language, even a few simple phrases, this pleases them very much that you would go to this trouble. In the TV ad I simple say that I admire and respect the positive impact that Hispanics have on our culture and economy and I invite them to visit our dealership. I added the English subtitles because the vast majority of the viewers don’t speak Spanish and I wanted them to understand the purpose of my advertisement.

The ad began running a week ago and I have been surprised and shocked by the negative phone calls and emails I have received. There have not been a lot, but they have come in steadily every day. There are more people in South Florida than I realized who resent Hispanics. They tell me that they are insulted that I would allow a Spanish language ad to run on the TV set in their living room and that they would never buy a car from me. Some miss the point of the commercial entirely and tell me that “those Hispanics should learn to speak English!” I can’t figure out why they think Hispanic people are watching WPTV Channel 5 news if they don’t understand English. I also hear a lot of people who say they can’t stand the phone recordings that say “touch one for English”, etc. I don’t quite see how that relates to my TV ad. Perhaps the most disturbing phenomenon has been comments from friends of mine who feel strongly that the only language that should be permitted to be spoken in America is English.

I don’t want to get political on this. I can’t afford to take sides in a political debate because I’m a businessman. My goal in advertising in Spanish is to sell more Toyotas. Toyota happens to be the number one choice of Hispanics in America. A higher percentage of Hispanics drive Toyotas than non-Hispanics. Toyota ran the very first Spanish speaking spot in the Super Bowl. The vice president of Marketing responsible for this was James Farley who now heads the Lexus division of Toyota. He sent me an email when he saw my Hispanic ad, congratulating me and telling me that the feedback he received from his Spanish Super Bowl ad was that it made the Hispanic community very proud and increased their trust in Toyota.

I won’t ramble on or draw any kind of a conclusion because understanding why some human beings fear, dislike or distrust other human beings because of their language, country of origin, religion, or color of their skin will be debated and discussed for many years to come. Draw your own conclusions from my observations in this article and please remember that all I want to do is sell as many Toyotas as I can and make my customers (all of my customers) as happy as I can.


  1. I'd like to be optimistic about this, but my experience matches yours. It's a dispiriting thought.

  2. I understand how some people are bothered by your commercial - it touches on a sensitive and very topical controvery, immigration. However, the more I thought about it (after reading your blog posting) I realize that you are appealing to those Hispanics who are assimilating into our society: the ones who do speak English. The Hispanics who threaten to erode our American culture are the ones who illegally sneak across our borders and do not learn our language. They are not watching the English stations you are airing your commercial on. They are the problem - not you or the law abiding, English-speaking Latinos you are advertising to. I commend you for being intelligent enough to see that fine line and I condemn the hateful morons who are attacking you and your bravery.


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