Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Totally Honest Car Salesman--Honest!

Selling cars for a living is one of the hardest, most stress filled things I’ve ever done. Straight commission. Monthly minimum quotas. Oh yeah, if you don’t earn enough in a given month to cover your time, you get paid “hours” which means minimum wage for your efforts (at least here in California). At many dealers that’s also when they “blow you out”, which is a euphemism for getting fired.

When I first moved to California, I went to work for a Ford dealership almost, but not quite, on the border of Mexico. It was an interesting environment for a middle aged white guy who had just moved from Iowa.
But enough of the “background” In the late 90’s SUVs and pick-ups were all the rage and Ford was a good brand to sell because of the popularity of the Explorer (also known as the “Exploder”), Expedition and F-150. And, we were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the new mega-SUV, the Excursion.

People wanted big, bigger, biggest and the Excursion was the biggest and baddest. Customers were interested in the most massive SUV they could get. They equated it with safety (kind of like the idea of an M1 tank rolling over and crushing lesser vehicles).

I was one of the first to sell an Excursion (late 1999 for the launch of the 2000 Excursion). A customer came on the lot interested in the vehicle and wanted to order one to fit his exact specifications. It was a 4x4, XLT, 5.4 liter V-8, all the whistles and bells and leather interior. It was the first $40,000 vehicle I ever sold. And I would make a whopping $200 commission on the deal. Wow!
As I was discussing the process with the buyer he told me, “I want one with zero miles on it, that’s why I’m ordering it.”

“Well sir, that’s not going to be possible,” I replied.

“Why not?” was his question, just a little bit miffed.

“Well, they all have a couple of miles on them. They drive them off the line, and then for a couple of miles to make sure everything works, then load them on the transporter.”

“So, how many miles will it have?” he asked.

“Well, no more than 5 or 6”, was my response.

“OK,” he said, “just make sure that it’s no more than 5 or the deal is off.”

Well, I was just a bit nervous because I had seen new vehicles come in with more miles than that but I was still excited over the prospect of the “status” of selling one of the first of these big SUVs that none of us had even seen yet.

It took about a month and one day I got word that the vehicle would be coming in on the transporter the next day and I should get hold of my customer. When the transporter arrived, I had already made an appointment for the final paperwork and delivery of the vehicle.

I watched the transporter pull onto the dealership and saw the brand new, olive green with tan trim, special factory order Excursion perched on it. I had already tipped off the guys in the back that this vehicle was for a special order, was being delivered that evening and that I needed it PDI’d right away. (PDI means Pre-Delivery Inspection where all the fluids are checked, etc. to make sure the vehicle is ready to be driven. Then it’s detailed.) I went back and checked the odometer reading and breathed a sigh of relief. Four miles on it. Good.
The customer arrived at 6 p.m. and I grabbed the keys and went to “fetch” his new Excursion. He was excited and so was I. I came cruising around the side of the building sitting up high in this huge SUV, window down, elbow out, grinning. The buyer was grinning too. I parked it and climbed out.

“How many miles are on it?” he asked.

I handed him the key, and said “Take a look. It’s got 4 ½ miles on it.”

He checked the odometer, and poked around for a bit inside obviously liking what he was experiencing for the first time. His very own “testosterone-mobile”.

I got just a bit brave. “So, why was it so important to have virtually no miles on it?” I asked.

“Well, I wanted to make sure that I was the first one to fart in it,” he responded still smiling.

My smile disappeared, replaced by a look of surprise. “Man, I wish you had told me that before,” I managed to stammer.

“Why’s that?” he asked.

And with total honesty, I responded, “Because, it’s too late.”

He bought it anyway. And that’s what happens when an “old fart” sells a new car.

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