Buying a Car Step 3.0 Dealer Visit 1

Buying a Car Step 3.0 Dealer Visit 1

I have now reduced the candidate list to five. They are, in alphabetical order:

Fiat 500
Ford Fiesta
Ford Focus
Honda CR-Z
Kia Soul

Having researched, read, pondered, and eliminated, the time has come to actually set foot in a series of dealer showrooms. Oh the places we’ll go, the things we’ll see!

I needed to run an errand to a store three blocks from a Fiat 500 dealer, so why not stop by and see? Why not indeed!

The dealership is an older large dealer, or what used to be large, crammed uncomfortably into a space. It was a challenge to find a parking spot, and I drove around several rows of new cars feeling like James Bond in the scene in Las Vegas in that wretched overbloated Mustang with Jill St. John. Fortunately, I eschewed putting the Focus up on two wheels and found a small space next to a large pickup truck with a man sharing his lunch with a little yappy dog. What is it about some men who insist on a truck larger than anyone could possibly need, shared with a little towser that weighs 10 ounces? What does that all mean?

The Fiat 500 they had out by the curb had the stick shift and the red color I was looking for. Alas, it was the only one they had, and with Michigan plates it was clearly a promo model to be used for test drives and not to be sold. OK, as I was not going to purchase today anyway. I walked inside and around until someone who proved to be a sales manager said hello. I announced my intent and he led me to the actual salesperson without introducing himself. Oops – bad move.

The salesman was a nice fellow by the name of David who knew very little more about the car than I did, which was perfect for me. At that, he knew several features that I had not noticed, and patiently showed them to me. I handed him an information sheet I had printed up beforehand with gave the particulars of who I was, what I wanted, what models I was considering – pretty much everything I have posted here in the first few articles reduced to one page of large type. I have not used this technique before, because I had not thought of it, so it will be interesting to see if it helps the process. My thinking is that any salesperson would want to know as much about the client and what he or she wants as possible – why not make it easy?

David and I, once he had retrieved the keys, spent an enjoyable time looking at the various features of the car. I did not want to test drive it today, but just to get a “feel” for the car to see if it deserved to remain in contention. The results are mixed.

1. Great ergos and seats. With a tilt steering wheel and an amazing length of travel for the seat track, a comfy and control oriented driver position should be easy. A telescoping wheel, ala the Honda CR-Z, would be nice, but this is a basic car. Then again, save the semi-hybrid techy stuff, so is the CR-Z.

2. A right armrest was a surprise, until later when I figured out that the model I was examining was loaded to the gills – which makes sense. Not sure the armrest would be there on the spec I want.

3. Surprising amounts of storage space, cubbyholes, pockets, slots, shelves, etc.

4. The wheels are dark silver with big enough openings to ease cleaning.

5. The entire car is so short it might be possible to park it and both motorcycles on one side of a standard two car garage.

6. The sliding sunroof would be nice, but I do not think it comes on any but the loaded version, and when slid back it looks a little flimsy. It sits above the roof and appears to be insufficiently supported. Not sure if I really do want it, but it is neither here nor there to me except for the listed $850 as an option.

1. The dealership is still building the showroom for this car, and may in fact not have any to sell for months while the building is completed.

2. The red color is sort of – merely red. Not a Porsche Guards Red or a Ferrari red – a red that says “This IS red!’ Like the Honda shade, this one is merely – red. This car will also be available (when?) in a yellow, and I love yellow cars. (Why?) But can you purchase an Italian car in a color other than red?

3. Here we have a dealer new to Fiat, used to selling large barges for decades, with an unfinished building, as part of a new dealer network and supply system. Could there be problems? Ya’ think?

4. Since there are already lists of customers who want to buy the car, is it likely than an American car dealer will affix “Market Adjustment” second stickers, boosting the car’s price by $2,000 – $3000? I have no argument with this practice, by the way, as dealerships are there to make a profit, and nobody comes to them screaming to purchase the last few examples of a discontinued model at full MSRP. I am simply not that keen to pay the going rate to be the first on my block to have this car with the competitors for sale at MSRP or, as the fall deepens, much much less.

Over MSRP is an interesting practice worthy of someone’s doctoral thesis, and probably has been. Remember the first Miatas? The first Datsun 240Z cars? Best example is possibly Harley-Davidson in the early 1990’s when demand far outstripped supply. Dealers added on thousands to the price, and the customer had to wait for his model – forget about being able to specify the color. Harley officially decried the practice, which went on in their full view for years.

I was surprised when the BMW S 1000 RR hyperbike came out last year that BMW dealers did not do this – at least the two I know of did not. In fact, the S 1000 RR was priced in the US below where it was in Germany, because BMW wanted to make a big impact in the superbike market – and they did. Long term effects? I don’t know.

Back at Ride West a customer told me the Totem Lake dealer has at least a dozen Fiat 500s sitting in front of it. Hmmmm – perhaps we shall visit on Monday for the test drive part.

On balance, I would say the Fiat slid down a notch or two in my mythical rankings today. The newness of both the dealer, in this case physically, as well as the entire dealer distribution network, is a legitimate concern, methinks.

If the car I wanted arrives fairly soon, and if it will be sold at MSRP, or with a very liberal trade-in, the Fiat will be a fun way to get to work. In the short run, I think those very “ifs” make for tall odds.

Copyright 2011 David Preston

About david

I am a 69 year old motorsports nut who lives in Bothell, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I have been married forever and have two grown children. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Bonneville T 120 , a Triumph Thruxton, a Fiat 500S and a VW Tiguan. What else would you like to know?
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