It was the kind of accosting that makes the hair on the back of your neck rise, and the uneasy tension able to sneak in. Almost a drubbing, as if we had done a misdeed, and truly overstepped our bounds. All of this, over a visit to test drive a Honda Accord.
Trevor and I are real car geeks. Not motorheads or spark-plug-wingnuts, but enthusiasts on a practicality, design, and industry level. We both subscribe to car magazines, inquisitively read the many auto blogs drifting around the web, and chat about the state of the car industry, which is a mess, these days. All the more reason we thought a visit to test drive a car on a Sunday afternoon might be a lesson in dealer groveling.
Instead, when I inquired into the Accord Coupe, which is a handsome and fun-looking car, I was met with indifference. When I asked if the car came in a manual (which it does), the tall, stocky dealer shifted from standoffish to outright rude. He discounted why anyone would want a manual.
“Listen, no one drives those things anymore. This is automatic. You aren’t ever going to find one, buddy.”
First- I drive one of those things. Not only is a manual transmission not a dying thing, it’s the only way an enthusiast would ever really drive. Second, a term like “buddy” is only okay when it’s meant in the friendly-banter kind-of-way. His demeanor was one of hostility and indignation, and I wondered for a minute if I had done something to offend him. Perhaps his approach to selling cars was usually one of talking down to customers, like an overly-knowledgeable scholar. The problem is, I could tell pretty quickly that Trevor and I knew more about his industry than he did. Which is to me, pitiful. My hopes for getting behind the wheel were collapsing, and Trevor glanced at me nervously, as if to say “Um, what next?”
From there, the conversation devolved into an uncomfortable exchange consisting of me sticking to my ethics, and the dealer trying to make me feel guilty for not wanting to purchase the one Honda Accord coupe he had on the lot.
At one point, he looked at me, his gel-shocked hair glistening, and said “I know your type. I know you’re not here to buy. I can just tell about you.”
Since when has it become a bad thing to be an educated consumer? I wasn’t going to the dealership for any kind of immediate purchase. I was going to get a sense of the cars, how they felt, how they drove, and probably nothing more. But in the eyes of this jerk, I wasn’t a flashing dollar sign, so he needn’t treat me like a real customer. I am tired of people that can’t take the time to indulge in some conversation, some acknowledgment that I went out of my way to investigate the product. If the status quo for buying a car is to show up, take a glance and sign on a dotted line, count me out. I’m a smart consumer, I’d like to think, and part of that is knowing the $25,000 product you’re about to own. So, no, I wasn’t there to buy. Not right then.
I countered, “well, that may be true, but I can certainly tell you I’m not going to buy from you!”
So, the trip was a failure. No test drive, no encouragement to come back in when I was more in the market, nothing. In fact, the guy turned me off so much, that I will probably not consider a Honda in the future, let alone this Ron Tonkin Portland dealer. We left a little shocked, at how an exercise in Sunday exploration could have become such an unpleasant, hostile situation. I’ll spare you the dealer’s name, whose card I have, but suffice it to say, You Fail, Ron Tonkin!
Sad story. Then again, maybe this is just the expected backlash from people working in a broken (and failing) economic sector. What with the massive layoffs and post-Cash-For-Clunkers slump, it’s no surprise that car salesmen are getting a little irritable.
On a related note: my granddad still goes to car lots every few months – not to buy cars, but to keep up his negotiating skills…