DETROIT -- Six franchised BMW dealerships are within a reasonable drive from my home in Michigan.
But I chose to lease my next car from a store 2,355 miles from my front door.
No slight against the stores in my region. They are well-rated on digital portals such as DealerRater and Yelp. And, as someone who has had two BMWs in the past, I've had fine sales and service experiences from three of these local dealerships.
So what gives?
Here's how an Internet-savvy salesman won my business.
While browsing the 2addicts.com message forum last winter for info on the 2-series convertible, a message thread called "POST YOUR DEALS" caught my eye. Actual customers posted every aspect of their transactions: sticker price, negotiated price, incentives, residuals, etc.
Then I noticed that one of users posted information on BMW's monthly incentives, financing programs, lease residual percentages for 10,000, 12,000 and 15,000 miles, and the base money factor -- the interest rate -- for leases.
"Wait," I said. "Is a dealership employee posting this?" Turns out it was. An employee at Steve Thomas BMW in Camarillo, Calif., was active on the forum. A photo icon on the user's profile reads, "No matter what state you live in, we can sell to you!" The post had the salesman's name, email address and phone number.
Never had I seen this much information made free for consumption. Sure, monthly incentives and financing are easy enough to find online, making it easy for people who finance to calculate a monthly payment. But for leasing customers such as myself -- and for customers in the lease-driven luxury market -- residual and money factor figures are also needed to figure out your payment. In my experience, those numbers are shrouded in mystery, at least until you ask a dealership salesperson directly for them.
Having all the numbers allowed me to run scenarios through Edmunds' online lease calculator before setting foot in any dealership. For the first time as a car customer, I felt empowered.