Could There Be A Super Bowl of Car Buying? A Negotiator’s Stanley Cup?
It’s the Year-End Sell-A-Thon!!!
… at seemingly every car dealership in America. It’s the annual shout out for attention.
I know this only from the television ads that flash by rapidly and incessantly as we view our pre-recorded sports and holiday shows (that are recorded precisely to avoid such ads, but I digress).
The reason I opened with that bit of “highly engaging” news is the way it relates to what happened this weekend.
It’s a bit of pure American culture that contrasts sharply with an experience I had in Baku not long before I left.
Here’s the scene this weekend:
As all kids are at ages where they don’t need anything for Christmas, and don’t really want to cart UN-needed stuff around over the holidays, we ignored most all the “Come-spend-your-money-here” commercial retailing over the past few weeks.
Instead, we played games like Apples-to-Apples and had a wonderful dinner. We picked some global wines to go with our Standing Rib Roast with Rosemary, baked potatoes au gratin, grilled asparagus and a frozen fruit salad, topped off with wonderful Dark Chocolate-Toffee Brownie Shooters for a light dessert. Yum! (I’ve shared the recipes on our new Global Favorites Page).
By evening we were happy to relax with phone calls to and from family, and a bounty of American college football championship “Bowl” games on television.
Sounds idyllic, yes? (Ok, the red meat factor maybe not so much. But, we did offset with some “healthy” red wine- doesn’t that count?)
So where in this placid evening do the lyrics change from “all is calm, all is bright” to “I think I’ll buy a car tonight“?
There is something about the mind of the American male that says football, a full meal and car-buying are the trifecta of “all I want for the holidays…” Well, that and year-end car discounts that stir the testosterone levels to record highs. Good thing I didn’t have a pre-historic bone through my hair or I might have been dragged into the cave like days of yore.
As it was, instead of going to the mall after the holidays, new husband went car-shopping.
For the past three days I have been getting a diploma in start-stop technology, adaptive headlights, fold flat rear seats that will allow four sets of golf clubs to be carried along with 4 passengers- apparently very important for golf tournaments and for using the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV/carpool) lanes on DC’s crowded oxymorons known as “free”ways (the freeways that are relatively free moving, cost up to US$4.55 per trip to use, whereas the ones that are actually “free” (no cost) don’t move freely at all. Go figure!).
The trade-offs in horsepower, gas mileage or flex-fuel, and cargo capacity have dominated the conversation at dinner each night this week, leading to a crescendo this afternoon, ending a 5 hour negotiation marathon, of which I was oh so happy not to be a part.
I’m exhausted- and I haven’t even set foot in the dealership. It’s his car (SUV) and he will make his own deal, his way. Oddly enough, after looking at all the dealerships of his preferred makes and models, he called this afternoon to see if I wanted to ride and test drive what he thought was the winner (and yes, it is certainly a competition that has a winner!). I was surprised to see an SUV from my dealership pull in the driveway.
I have bought 3 of my car models… all the same… from the same salesman. I call him up and my negotiation goes like this, “Hi Al? It’s me. It’s time for a new TL. Yes, Burgundy or whatever “red” is called this time around. Yes, the same parchment interior. I want the Advance Package. My current TL has (insert number) miles on it. Great. Call me when you have it ready.”
He knows what I want and I know what he’s going to offer me. We both have the numbers and we meet in the middle. I’m not buying pottery like yesterday’s story about bargaining and tea. I walk in, we review the numbers making a few changes, I sign the papers, and leave my keys in exchange for a new set. I have no interest in playing the sliding increase/decrease shell game, but I always come out ok. I’m happy and the experience leaves me feeling competent and satisfied.
Men view this (apparently) as a fight to the death with the collective forces of evil that roam the earth on full moon nights. That’s all I can say.
Why else would it take weeks of researching Consumer Reports, Edmunds.com and all the other rating services for car values, reliability statistics and the like, followed by several days of intense questioning, polygraph tests for each salesperson, and Guantanamo-like interrogation of the Finance Managers?
I’m not certain, but water-boarding may have been involved.
Different styles, different needs. But it all results in a vehicle in the driveway at the end. And we are both happy with our individual deals and both wincing at the way the other goes about theirs. But that’s life in America, where car-buying is a sport.
Now, here’s the flip side. The cultural contrast: Car buying in Baku. You might not think I would know anything about this since I walked most everywhere, or took the Metro or used one of the taxis of drivers I had on speed-dial. But I do have some first hand knowledge from an experience toward the end of my time in Baku.
After 9/11, when M and I were no longer “an item” (read Can I Call You…) we were still in contact, just carefully not dating. He called me one afternoon and asked to see me. We met at the Sunset Cafe, Table 11 as always, and tried to just talk business and not reminisce too much. He asked me if I knew of any expat who had a car to sell, someone leaving post or moving on. He told me he had saved up $3,000 and hoped he could find something small and fairly decent.
M had now gotten a managerial position because he spoke English well- being in class with me for a year and sharing our conversations in English during the year we dated had set him up well, and I was so pleased and proud of his success. He would soon be transferred to manage the Turkmenistan office and would like to have a good car before he left all our contacts in Baku.
One of the gentlemen I had worked with in private lessons had become a friend, and he happened to have a car distributorship, so I thought this might be a good place to start. M and I went to see my client, and after appropriate introductions and tea (of course), I asked my friend if he could recommend where M might buy a late-model car for his $3,000. My friend spoke in Azerbaijani with M and they covered the specifics between themselves. At the end, they shook hands. My friend stood, shook hands with me as always, and told me in English that he would call me in 3 days.
When my friend called as promised, he said simply, ” Your car is here.”
I thought maybe I had misunderstood or he had chosen the wrong words in English.
I soon learned that I needn’t have doubted my success as his teacher. He said exactly what he meant to say.
When M and I arrived at his office, a beautiful white Nissan Sunny was standing nearby. We admired it on the way in, never dreaming that was about to be M’s new ride. I had thought we would have some to choose from and would have to do things the American way.
But M was thrilled that it was all done and that such a fine vehicle had been chosen for him. It was a 1-year-old demo model, very few miles, polar white with grey cloth interior and charcoal carpet.
Now, I know that this vehicle was not anywhere near $3,000. In fact 5-year-old models are still more than that one was. But that’s the way deals were done there. You ask for what you need, and contacts find it, rather than finding what you can live with or settle for.
It was a lovely gesture from a client I am pleased to know as my friend. I was grateful that I could assist another former student, one I cared about, find his way to a new position. A totally positive experience.
To me, the way they did it in that emerging market beats the heck out of the frenetic blood-sport that is the real life, grown-ups version of Grand Theft Auto.
But, as I said earlier, they all result in a vehicle in a driveway. Who’s to say which is right?
Unfortunately, that discussion will have to wait.
Right now, you’ll have to excuse me, I need to get back to the football game (to be followed shortly by tonight’s hockey match-up, Washington Capitals at Ottawa).
Now those are contact sports! I don’t recall ever seeing a Car Buyer’s Super Bowl or having a Stanley Cup for Negotiating.