While many dealers have made strides in creating greater price and process transparency in the traditional auto retail model, some still have a long way to go.
That was my thought after my mom texted me the terms of her latest lease deal -- because they didn't make sense.
For a Chevy Cruze, which had a sticker price that was but a fraction of her last vehicle, the dealership was asking for $50 more per month, excluding F&I products -- with more than $1,800 down. Yes, the average transaction price continues to rise. But there are still deals in the market, and this wasn't one.
To me, it felt like a trap. My mother's credit score is high and powered by numerous, long-standing credit lines on which she's never defaulted or been even a day late. There were thousands of dollars in incentives available on her car, according to the report Automotive News publishes on a weekly basis, not to mention she qualified for other deals by switching vehicle brands and qualifying for the A Plan, a vehicle pricing program for family members of manufacturer employees.
After going through the available incentives, I urged her to go to another store. I could hear the saleswoman in the background trying to persuade my mother to stay. She told her that I didn't understand the deal they had put together, that I didn't know what I was talking about.
My mother walked out of that dealership and into a second. And then a third. Each store gave her slightly better terms, but none could match the prices advertised online.
At the third store, my mom thought she was getting somewhere. The deal included a down payment that was $500 less than the first dealership, at $129 less per month. She was excited, but after the test drive, the offer was recanted because she wasn't a current General Motors customer. The terms changed a few more times. The process stretched into the evening.
The lease deal she ultimately signed at the third store cost $2,839 less than the first offer for the same vehicle. But by that point, she was fed up with the entire process. Later that night, she was still getting messages from the first store offering discounts they had said were impossible when she was there in person. Even though the third store offered her a much better deal than the first, she felt the six-hour process intentionally wore her down. The numbers on the page began to blur. She just wanted her car.
It's not just millennials who want a more straightforward dealership process. The traditional retail model isn't going away anytime soon, but many of the tactics borne from it deserve to go extinct.
By developing processes that allow a store to operate profitably and transparently, many innovative dealers are challenging the Machiavellian stereotype the industry has garnered over the past century. But there are plenty of dealerships operating today that keep those negative stereotypes alive. If a dealership relies on customers to be confused, exhausted, frustrated or fooled to sell cars, it's a store that puts the entire dealership reputation at risk.