Returning a leased vehicle to a dealership can be a ticklish transaction, with name-calling and angry customers, said Tom Barenboim of Clark Chrysler-Plymouth in Methuen, Mass.
Now Chrysler, Jeep, Plymouth and Dodge dealers are getting help rolling customers from their old leased vehicles into new vehicles.
DaimlerChrysler Financial Services (debis) North America is instituting a plan developed by Mercedes-Benz to handle what is expected to be a flood of off-lease vehicles in coming years.
An outside company, Intermodal Transportation Services Inc. of Parsippany, N.J., conducts pre-inspections and coordinates customers' drop-offs at the dealerships. Customers are forewarned about return procedures and can clean up vehicles beforehand.
After the inspection, a report is tucked in the vehicle's glove compartment. When the vehicle is turned in, the dealership just checks the mileage. Because there are fewer conflicts with dealership employees, chances of repeat business are increased.
The company performs similar services for Honda and Mercedes-Benz across the country, said David Parton, a company spokesman.
DaimlerChrysler is mailing letters to dealers March 1, telling them about the program, called the Gold Key Advantage. Dealers will have to sign up during the coming year. DaimlerChrysler Financial pays for the service.
At Clark Chrysler-Plymouth, about 70 percent of customers who turn in a leased vehicle pick up a new one, Barenboim said. The new program should boost that number to about 78 percent, Barenboim said.
Paul Steel, general manager of Southfield Chrysler-Jeep in Southfield, Mich., has used the program for five months. He says 61 percent of lease customers now move into new leases, a 5 percent increase.
Customers say they feel less threatened by the intermediary, Steel said. 'They're trying to be the good guy for the customers.'
Intermodal Transportation Services gets information about leased cars directly from DaimlerChrysler Financial, then contacts each customer up to six months before the lease ends. The customer is told about upcoming lease and sale programs. A pre-inspection is scheduled for one month before turn-in.
LEASE RETURNS TO TRIPLE
The inspection program is part of a broader change in off-lease methods, said Tom McAlear, COO of DaimlerChrysler Financial's automotive division. Another recently enacted change is designed to speed off-lease vehicles off dealer lots after they have been turned in.
'That car sitting on the lot is costing us money,' McAlear said.
Marshalling yards are being set up in regions such as New York and Boston to get the off-lease vehicles into the used-car market quicker. Vehicles are taken there from a dealer's lot, then trucked to an auction. DaimlerChrysler Financial is considering whether to streamline the process further by holding sales right at the marshalling yards, McAlear said.
The number of off-lease Chrysler, Jeep, Plymouth and Dodge vehicles is expected to triple over the next year to 18 months to 350,000 vehicles per year, said DaimlerChrysler spokeswoman Melinda Wilson. She said that with that kind of traffic, the existing off-lease system is essentially crippled.