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Friday, June 30, 2023

“Tesla Full Self-Driving May Do the Wrong Thing at the Worst Time” - Elon Musk

The headline above is a direct quote from Elon Musk regarding the latest software update for my 2021 Tesla Model S Plaid (as seen on Elon’s shirt). The trim level "Plaid" is inspired by the Mel Brooks movie "Spaceballs," symbolizing a speed that's ridiculously fast, even surpassing the previously fastest Tesla S model, named "Ludicrous". The Tesla Plaid is the fastest production vehicle available, capable of accelerating from zero to 60 mph in just 1.9 seconds.

Approximately two years ago, my wife, Nancy, and I purchased the Tesla Model S with the Plaid aupgrade, opting for the Tesla FSD (Full Self-Driving) software package. We knew it was beta software, which indicated it wasn’t fully developed or entirely safe. To activate this beta FSD software, Tesla required us to achieve a safe driving score of 100 for 30 consecutive days. However, after a year, Tesla lowered this threshold to a score of 95, subsequently activating our beta FSD.

We regularly receive software upgrades to improve the self-driving feature. In the past month alone, we’ve received three such updates. Each time, we take our Tesla Model S Plaid out to assess the reliability and safety of the newly enhanced software. The latest software upgrade included the quote that headlines this article: “Tesla Full Self-Driving may do the wrong thing at the worst time”. Unfortunately, this has proven to be accurate. Nancy and I have experienced several “close calls”, such as nearly being rear-ended when our Tesla Model S Plaid FSD abruptly applied the brakes for no apparent reason. This strong language hadn't been used in previous software updates, though we were always reminded that we were dealing with beta software and advised to keep both hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

A recurrent issue is the inability of the cameras, lasers, and radar sensors to accurately detect road lines, traffic signs, construction indicators, and pedestrians’ intentions to cross the street or otherwise. Much of this difficulty can be attributed to poor road maintenance in South Florida. However, I believe our highway infrastructure is suboptimal in nearly all states, with construction signs and orange cones often placed haphazardly by highway workers.

Tesla's rationale for allowing Nancy, myself, and thousands of other Tesla drivers to navigate in a Tesla steered by an incomplete, potentially unsafe autonomous driving system, is the valuable data gathered each time the software narrowly avoids causing an accident. When our Tesla behaves unpredictably, such as stopping abruptly on the highway for no reason, we are obliged to disengage the FSD software immediately. Upon doing so, a message flashes on the display screen, asking, "Why did you have to disengage the FSD?" Frankly, we've been so shaken up by these incidents that we haven't yet reported the software glitches to Elon.

Wall Street has started scrutinizing Tesla Full Self-Driving, and the media have followed suit. This attention could adversely affect Tesla's sales and stock value, explaining the increasingly stern warnings about the autonomous abilities of Teslas within software updates.

Despite these setbacks, I still believe Tesla will soon refine their software to the point that it will outperform the average motorist in terms of driving skill and safety. I am confident that this milestone is less than five years away. But for now, Tesla Full Self-Driving isn't ready for primetime.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Who You Gonna Call?

No, unfortunately, the Ghostbusters can't handle car dealers, but the owner of the dealership, the general manager, and the department heads of their new car sales, used car sales, service, parts, and body shop departments can and usually will.

What's the biggest obstacle and frustration when you've had a problem with any company? You'll agree that it's the inability to communicate with someone who has the authority to make things right. If you've had a problem with Comcast, AT&T, Florida Power & Light, or any other utility company, you know what I mean. These companies and thousands like them force you to call, text, email, or chat with "tech support" or customer service. I can understand why huge international companies feel they must resort to this impersonal, highly time-consuming, and aggravating process. However, car dealerships are local and not too large to have human, empowered decision-makers available to their customers.

The trick is to obtain the necessary phone numbers BEFORE you finalize your vehicle purchase. Prior to signing on the dotted line and giving the dealership your money, you're a very important person in their eyes. After they have your money and you have their car, you're "just another customer". Sure, you can call the main switchboard at the dealership or email and text, but your phone calls might not be returned and emails and texts might be ignored.

The key is to get the personal cell phone number of the person who has the authority to make things right if you have a problem. Ideally, you should ask for the cell phone number of the owner/dealer or the general manager of the dealership. At the very least, don't buy a new car without having the personal cell phone number of the new car sales manager. The same applies to used cars, service, parts, and body shop.

When cell phones first came out, they were rare and expensive. NOBODY would share their cell phone with anyone except close friends and family. Some older folks still erroneously think of cell phones like we used to. Today, cell phones and their usage are inexpensive and have virtually replaced regular phones. Pay phones hardly exist anymore. The only reason anyone would refuse to share their cell phone with you is that they don't want to be bothered.

Companies teach their salespeople this little trick to get the names of prospective customers: "Hello, my name is George Brown, and yours is…?" Notice the long pause after George gives his name. He's smiling, looking into your eyes, and waiting for you to give him your name, which you usually will. The next time you're talking to a car salesman, and before you buy the car, ask to speak to his supervisor or, preferably, the owner or general manager. You can add, "I just wanted to thank him for the wonderful job you did in helping me find the right car." You can bet he'll run off and rush back with the highest-ranking manager he can find. "Mr. Brown, I'd like you to meet the owner of our dealership, Earl Stewart. Mr. Stewart, I’d like to introduce you to George Brown who’s buying this new 2023 RAV-4 Hybrid." Now you say, "Mr. Stewart, it’s a great pleasure to meet you. My cell phone number is 555-555-5555, and yours is...?" (Maintain eye contact, smile, and wait for him to give you his cell phone number. Hopefully, Earl Stewart says, "mine is 561-358-1474." (By the way, that's my real personal cell phone number, which I gladly share with all my customers.)

Please give this technique a try. You'll be much less likely to be stonewalled by your salesman or anybody else in the dealership when they know you have the personal cell phone number of their boss. If you do have a problem and the salesman doesn’t respond, one call to their boss is usually all it takes. One of the reasons my Toyota dealership in North Palm Beach is recognized as #1 in customer satisfaction is that all my employees know all my customers have my personal cell phone number. My employees also know about the six red phones inside our dealership that ring my cell phone 24/7 when any customer picks up the receiver."

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Car Buyers' Guarantee for an Out-theDoor Price

About the only retail product sold in the 21st century for which the buyer is refused an upfront, out-the-door price is the automobile. Car dealers sell their new and used cars and trucks today like horse traders sold horses in the 18th and 19th centuries... haggling. This is time-consuming, frustrating, and only skilled negotiators end up with a fair price.

Below is a legal document that any car buyer can require the car dealer to sign, which requires an out-the-door price guarantee. The dealer will sell the vehicle of the buyer's choice at the stated price plus government fees only. With this legally guaranteed information, you regain your rights as a buyer to shop and compare this dealer's lowest price with other dealers, just like you can when buying a house, a loaf of bread, or a TV set. This is one big reason that Amazon became the world's largest retailer—Jeff Bezos was the first to offer all prices on virtually all products for the shopper to choose from.


Dealership name agrees to sell this vehicle, VIN number/MSRP, for $Out-the-Door Price, which is defined as the total price, excluding government fees (paid to the federal, state, or local government), to Buyer's Name.

It is agreed that there will be no additional charges to the Name of Buyer, including dealer-installed accessories, dealer fees, junk fees, addendum labels, electronic filing fees, document fees, notary fees, tag agency fees, or anything that constitutes reimbursing the dealer for their costs or enhancing their profit.

The above-stated out-the-door price will remain in effect for [Fill in this blank for the number of days] days, during which the dealer will honor this price.

It is further agreed that violation of this agreement will constitute a violation of the Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, which guarantees that both parties' legal fees will be paid for by the prevailing party.

Signatures: X For the Dealership's Authorized Signatory

Date: _________

X Customer

Date: _________

Friday, June 02, 2023

The Car Buyers’ Bill of Rights


My regular readers know that I’m a car dealer and that, for many years, I’ve required all my employees to follow the Earl Stewart Code. This has served my customers, employees, and my business very well. Not only do we feel better about what we do for a living, but we’ve found that our customers like it so much that they come back repeatedly to do business with us. For the purposes of this article, I’m renaming “The Earl Stewart Code”, “The Car Buyers’ Bill of Rights”. Try showing this to your car dealer and find out what he thinks.  


(1) Do whatever the customer asks if they believe they’re right. If the customer believes they're right, and you don’t take the action they ask, that angry customer will tell dozens of others, and they will probably believe the customer. This is a domino effect that will ultimately cost the dealership more in lost business than the cost of satisfying the customer immediately 


(2) Do what is right for the customer even if you don’t have to. Do what is right for the customer whether or not it’s required by law or contract. Choose the path that is, not only legal, but ethical and moral.  


(3) If your supervisor isn’t available, do what is right for the customer. Nothing frustrates a customer more than not being able to bring their complaint to someone who can take the required action. Your supervisor should empower you to act when they can’t 


(4) Always answer all phone calls, emails, texts, and letters ASAP. There’s not much that frustrates anyone more than when they don’t, in a reasonable amount of time, receive a return call, text, or email. If you’re too busy, at least let the customer know that you understand their complaint and will act ASAP.  


(5) Customers must always be treated with respect and courtesy. You can do everything else right with a customer, but if you show any signs of discourtesy, impatience, or lack of respect, you’ll lose that customer. 


(6) ALWAYS tell the customer the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. If you make a mistake, your company will likely give you a second chance, but NOT for being dishonest.   


(7) Your first loyalty is to the customer, not your dealership or the manufacturer. If your company or their manufacturer suggests that you act in some fashion that you know isn’t right and in the best interest of the customer, ignore your company or manufacturer and do what is right for the customer. You might also have to find a different company to work for, but that’s a good thing in the long run 


(8) Personally, take ownership of a customer’s problem. Even if satisfying a customer means that action must be taken by others or even another department from yours, you owe it to the customer to be sure they're happy in the end.  


(9) Promise your customer less that you deliver. Under-promising and over-delivering is a sure way to keep a customer and have that customer send you more customers.  


(10) Trust your customer as much as you hope they will trust you and your dealership. Trusting someone you don’t know can be dangerous, and you will occasionally be taken advantage of. But customers can sense that you trust them and that will inspire them to reciprocate.