DONNA HARRIS

Dealers resort to guerilla tactics … and customers suffer

Donna Harris covers automotive retailing for Automotive News.
Dog-eat-dog competition between car dealerships for vehicle service contract business has some finance managers practicing guerilla marketing tactics. I just heard this complaint from a high-volume Toyota dealership that is a top seller of Toyota Extra Care plans.

Here's what these “guerillas” do: They get on Toyota enthusiast sites like ToyotaNation.com and look for prospects with questions about Toyota Extra Care on the user forum. They answer the questions and offer a service plan cheap, say, at $50 over dealer cost.

Normally, I would applaud creative and unconventional marketing tactics, and this actually might win some dealers incremental business. But raiding the online forums seems like a desperate attempt to boost sales and might increase a dealership's business at the customer's expense.

To understand what they're purchasing, customers deserve a clear and accurate presentation of available coverage by an honest and trained professional -- not a pitch from some finance guy out to make a quick sale.

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