Monday, July 21, 2014

“Come Into my Parlor” Said the Spider to the Fly

Some readers will say, “There Earl goes again, tarnishing the name of car dealers. Why doesn’t he just focus on his own dealership and not run down his competition?” I’ll answer that. I’m 73 years old and have been a car dealer since 1968. I have 3 sons active in the business who will take it over one day. I also have 5 grandchildren who may decide to come into the business. My main purpose in what I do as a consumer advocate (aka “tarnishing the name of car dealers”) is to light a fire that will spread and, one day, raise the (very low) level of respect the public currently has for my lifelong profession. My wife, Nancy, is my teammate in this quest. Our dealership’s stated company purpose is: To make the car buying and servicing experiences pleasurable ones for our customers. In doing so, and leading by example, we will bring integrity and respectability to the image of car dealers everywhere.”

Though some say so, I don’t believe all car dealers are evil or even unethical any more than I believe that all lawyers or all politicians are. These three professions have something in common. They are all ranked at the bottom of the annual Gallup poll on “Honesty and Ethics in Professions.”

I have many friends who are car dealers, lawyers, and politicians that I respect and trust greatly. They feel the same way about their profession as I, and many endeavor, as I, to raise the level of public trust for what they do for a living. The Florida Bar Association regularly fines, suspends, and disbars lawyers who violate their code of ethics or the law. Similarly, the US Congress and Florida Legislature have internal codes of ethics which are enforced. Unfortunately, the National Auto Dealers Association (NADA) has a code of ethics, but with no enforcement. The Florida Auto Dealers Association (FADA) has no code of ethics or internal enforcement of any kind. I’ve been asking and working with the leadership of FADA for years to change this, but they can’t get the approval of their dealers.

I believe time is running out for NADA, FADA, and all car dealers to accept the fact that we have too many rotten apples in our barrel. The consumer of the 21st Century’s intelligence, education, and awareness has exponentially increased in the past 20 years, largely due to the Internet as a source of knowledge and instantaneous, universal communication via the social medial. Tesla has begun to sell cars directly, by-passing the dealer. My sons and I visited the Tesla showroom in Boca Raton on July 2nd and what a refreshing and amazingly satisfying experience! The sales person was very well informed, pleasant, and there was absolutely no pressure to buy a car. We were given bottom-line prices on all the models. If ordered a car there was no deposit required and we could change our mind at any time before we took delivery.

The car dealers and their associations are vigorously fighting against the right of Tesla to sell their cars directly, bypassing the car dealer. The NADA and state dealer associations are very powerful and have been politically successful so far. Only a few states are allowing Tesla to sell directly to the public. But the public is overwhelmingly behind Elon Musk and Tesla and over 95% of Americans would rather buy their cars directly from the manufacturer. You would think that this would send a “message” to car dealers and car manufacturers. I’m not a big advocate of the Tesla product because I don’t think all electric cars will be the answer for long, long time. But I am an advocate of the way Tesla factory stores sell their cars with total courtesy, respect, honesty, and transparency.

I think it’s only a matter of time before GM, Ford, Toyota and all of the auto manufacturers start thinking about doing the same thing that Tesla is trying to do…eliminate the car dealer and go direct. This is what Apple has done so successfully and, in a fashion, so does Amazon. The only thing stopping this from happening today is the lobbying, political power of car dealers and their national and state associations. But this can only buy them time. Ultimately, it’s the American public that runs things in the USA. The politicians need the car dealers’ money to get elected, granted. But ultimately it’s the voters who elect them and allow them to stay in office. The voters are almost all car buyers and almost all of the car buyers would rather buy directly from a manufacturer in the Tesla way of doing business than from their local car dealer.

The car dealers still have time to get their act together…maybe even 10 or 15 years, but they better get started right away. They have a whole lot to change and way too many “rotten apples” in their barrel.

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