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Study: Luxury car buyers don't always get luxury service from German dealers

Lexus and Porsche are rapped in study; Mercedes praised

Bad Homburg, Germany. The huge Mercedes-Benz sales center near Munich's central train station is an architectural showpiece. It is also a landmark in the way it serves potential car buyers -- and a model for other dealerships.

The center was praised in a study carried out by management consulting firm MSU Consulting for Automobilwoche.

MSU Consulting sent 14 undercover customers around Germany from April through June to scrutinize 54 luxury-brand dealerships.

Mercedes dealers clearly beat those representing Audi, BMW, Porsche and Lexus. Toyota's luxury brand, in particular, had shortcomings in all areas assessed during the study. The current dealer-network restructuring of Lexus shows that it has recognized the problem.

Porsche rapped

The study praised Mercedes' Munich center for keeping its sales and service departments open longer than most German dealerships. The center is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and its service department is open from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m.

Most dealerships in Germany close at 6 p.m. and the service departments shut their doors at 5 p.m.

The center's manager, Ulrich Kowaleski, constantly motivates his 519 sales and service staff to go on the offensive, based loosely on the motto, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."

While Mercedes sales people had strong interpersonal skills, Porsche's reception and sales employees need to greatly improve how they deal with customers, according to the study. In some cases, the customer wasn't even offered a seat.

One of the test shoppers criticized the Porsche staff at one dealership for "evidently not categorizing every customer as worthy of a consultation."

But customers deemed worthy of that classification usually received a "highly emotional" and extremely informative presentation from sales people intent on closing a deal.

Saving costs

The shoppers said 40 percent of the dealers they visited do not do enough to present cars in a way that will encourage potential buyers.

Showroom space was configured attractively in 60 percent of the dealerships, said the study. Only 37 percent of the dealers visited positioned cars well, the survey found.

Like high-volume manufacturers, luxury brands are saving costs on publicity material, said the study. The test shoppers usually had to ask for brochures.

Only two-thirds of the sales people collected customer information. And in 85 percent of the cases, there was no follow-up. In one out of five dealership visits, there was no conversation with the customer.

Researchers visited five Volkswagen dealerships to see how the brand's premium model, the Phaeton, is presented to potential buyers.

The result: Vehicle presentations and the level of professional competence missed the mark for the premium image that VW is after. In the VW showrooms visited, the Phaeton was usually parked behind Golf and Polo models.

The MSU shoppers evaluated dealerships' customer-service quality using a comprehensive checklist. They also judged the stores' appearance and evaluated their sales performance.

MSU's conclusion was that the quality of selling and customer service in new-vehicle sales is only slightly higher for luxury brands than for the high-volume manufacturers.

On May 23, Automobilwoche published results of a similar MSU study of volume brands including Peugeot, Renault, Ford, Opel and the Volkswagen group. VW and Peugeot dealerships were praised while Opel and Renault were criticized.

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