KEITH CRAIN

In reality, it's just 1 car at a time

COMMENTARY
Keith Crain is editor-in-chief of Automotive News.
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Once you leave the big auto shows, where everyone talks about global plans and discusses sales and production and recalls in terms of hundreds of thousands or even millions of units, you quickly get back to reality. The auto business is made up of independent retailers who sell and service cars one at a time.

Obviously, this is no great revelation. But after attending a major motor show such as New York's and hearing all the companies' grand plans, it's refreshing to talk to a dealer focusing on his individual customers or possibly hundreds of them.

There has always been a disconnect between the part of the industry that deals in gigantic numbers and the part in which an individual buys a car, trades in an old one and needs service. It seems like they are a million miles away from each other. Being able to address the problems and opportunities of both is a big challenge indeed.

By and large, the customer cares about his or her vehicle and doesn't care about the big picture.

And it's hard to get overly concerned with a single customer when you are working at a manufacturing company and have to worry about marketing and selling to thousands or millions.

I always marveled at the designer who toils over a vehicle in the studio and then has to wait years before seeing that very personal creation in production and out in the real world. By the time it's on the road, the designer has been working for years on other projects, so the vehicle in production probably looks old. That produces a disconnect between the designer and the retailer.

Considering the size of the automobile industry, it is amazing that all the different points of view are able to blend to create a viable business. But from time to time, everyone working in the industry should take in what the other people in the business are doing.

For example, an automotive engineer should spend some time in a dealership's service department listening to customers as they arrive with problems with their vehicles. That sort of sharing just might make for better executives who at least understand the entire chain of events.

You can reach Keith Crain at kcrain@crain.com.


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