Driving Customer Satisfaction Down the Road to Extinction

Today's guest post is by Steve Bauer, television journalist and writer.

Car-dealerI'm a still wreck and it's been several hours since my terrifying car incident. I have sweaty palms, glazed eyes, a rapid heartbeat and I'm gulping for air. Yes… I have been car shopping. When I'm looking for a new vehicle I usually end up feeling like one of those poor cobras being attacked by a mongoose. Hours of dancing, nipping and bleeding before I'm finally grabbed by the neck and throttled. MSRP, list price, dealer prep, tax and tags… it goes on and on and on. And customer satisfaction does not.

In my family we name all of our cars. Don't ask me why. We just do. And every one of them we name Betsy. My wife Trina has been driving a Honda CR-V for a while. A long while. We believe in running the wheels off a car before trying to trade in what's left of the rusting carcass. We thought about buying a new car last fall when the 2012's went on sale. We decided Trina's 2004 still had plenty of life left in it. Since then, we've replaced the drive shaft, both front axles, two tires- and that's just the major stuff. Trina and I suddenly realized it was time to gently drive old Betsy onto an ice floe and push her off to auto heaven. And that meant we were heading to auto hell.

There was a time when you could go to a dealership and say, "I want a blue Chevy automatic with the Barney Rubble trim package". You were out the door faster than Fred Flintstone could down a DinoBurger- your chrome-plated ride depreciating exponentially before you hit the end of the driveway. Ah, the good old days.

Trina and I wanted to buy another CR-V but it's no longer an option. Sure, they still make 'em. But we both enjoy driving manual transmissions. And sadly, the stick shift has gone the way of Tyrannosaurus Rex- smoked by the flaming asteroid of modern driving habits. If you want to drive a new CR-V then you have to get the automatic transmission. So we set our sights on a Honda Accord LX 4-door. Plain old reliable transportation.

We were pleased to learn that you can still buy an Accord with a manual transmission. That is, if you can find one. Checking the internet we found just three Accord LX 4-doors with manual transmissions within a 100 mile radius of our Pennsylvania home. I hear there are lots of people clamoring for manual transmissions- but car makers just aren’t producing many of them. We still had to enter the pit of despair- the first dealer showroom.

Henry Ford was the automotive giant who invented the assembly line. Ford famously said customers could buy his cars in any color they liked, as long as the color was black. Honda must be channeling Henry- because 4-door Accords with manual transmissions are now available in just two colors; "modern steel metallic" (which looks like black to me) or silver. Trina and I love cars with racy colors- red, blue, green. I once even owned an orange car. Hey, I got a deal on it! To top it off, no matter which color you choose you have to take the black interior. I love sitting on a black seat that’s been baking in the July sun! So, Trina and I, by now desperate to get a car in a decent color, went to Plan B. We went to the Toyota dealership to look at a Camry. The smiling Toyota sales agent told us we could get a Camry in lots of great colors- even Barcelona Red Metallic! But we can’t get one with a manual transmission- don’t make ‘em anymore.

Isn’t the customer king? Why is it so hard to get a manual transmission? If I want Rallye Red or Dyno Pearl Blue- why not? Why are we being stuffed into a one-size-fits-all black box? Maybe this is a gray area…

Trina and I do have one word of advice. When the salesperson asks, "How much do you want to spend?"- don't answer.

I'll spare you the details of our daylong stint of “negotiating” with florid faced sales managers. (I think they must get these sales guys on loan from Guantanamo Bay.) Trina and I are now the proud owners of a spanking brand new 2013 Honda Accord LX with a manual transmission. It's silver. Yes, we caved on the color. The car has blue tooth hands free link, SMS Text Message Function, Illuminated Steering Wheel-Mounted Cruise, Audio, Phone and i-MID Controls, Pandora® Internet Radio Compatibility, USB Audio Interface, MP3/Auxiliary Input Jack, i-MID with 8-Inch WQVGA (480×320) Screen and Customizable Feature Settings and Chrome Door Handles.

So far, I know how to use the door handles….

3 thoughts on “Driving Customer Satisfaction Down the Road to Extinction

  1. Steve, I understand your love for stick shifts. The American buying public doesn’t share them. Perhaps you should join up with Car & Driver editor Eddie Alterman’s “Save The Manuals” crusade: http://www.caranddriver.com/features/save-the-manuals-official-headquarters
    It was easy when most people bought from the Big Three. You could order what you wanted, wait 6 to 8 weeks, and they’d get it mostly right.
    Today it’s different. The manufacturers and dealers have only one goal: MTU (move those units) and today!
    I worked for several years in automotive marketing and even did a few stints in the lowliest profession of all, even lower than PR pro or journalist: car salesperson. And I can safely say that it was as bad as being the stable boy in the eight circle of Hell.
    The good news is that the dealership model is being put on the run. Do you know what the best way to buy a car these days is? Costco. Really…three friends have made out their order, gone in, done the paperwork with no hassle and gotten out in under two hours.

  2. Thanks for the comments PeteNYC- you have some unique insight. I did check out the link and it’s interesting to see how many people want to keep their stick shifts. I am astounded to hear that you can buy a car through Costco- I may try that next time!
    Steve

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