The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Sunday, May 24, 2015
Economics/Business ... Society ...

My brother has been living in hell lately. At least some of the time. His old Chevy S-10 pickup is on its last legs, and he has to get some new wheels soon. His finances might allow him to get a new pickup or SUV (he’s not a Honda Civic or Ford Focus kind of guy, given that he is a drummer in a local band and has to lug drum kits around); so, he’s been doing his homework on-line, and is now ready to enter the dealers showroom.

Actually, he already had his first encounter, with a Nissan dealership here in northern NJ. His experience was not good. He got all of the usual dealer tactics and was pressured to buy something different from what he wanted (more expensive, of course). He had the good sense to walk out, but not before experiencing a lot of macho angst and being made to wait and then having the “wizard of oz” (i.e. the manager or someone pretending to be the manager) come over and try to smooth the situation out. He definitely needed a glass of wine – or three – after that encounter. But he’s gearing up for his next battle in the upcoming week.

He and I have been talking about this, wondering what percentage of car salesmen are decent people who work to balance the interests of both the customer and the dealership, who try to be helpful to the potential buyer (and not set out to confuse and wear you down, so that in your exhaustion and despair you finally give in and buy the bigger model with all the do-dittys that you really don’t need). We concluded that there are a few, but it couldn’t be more than 1 in 4. During our conversations I asked him “did you ever wonder why all car sales people are men? Did you ever see or hear of a female car salesperson?” He hadn’t, and neither had I.

Hmmm. Interesting. Is that just a Jersey thing, or is that a national trend? With all the demands from feminists regarding job equality and all the push for women to assert themselves in the workplace, why aren’t women tearing down the barriers around those floor desks in the big glass-windowed showrooms? Are the dealers successfully keeping women from making it in the car sales world, or are women just not that interested in the profession overall? According to a car dealers web site, only about 7% of car sellers are women (and that must be even lower here in northern NJ). The site goes on to recommend that dealers should try to have at least some female sales people, as to expand their ability to serve those potential customers who get turned off by the usual male high-pressure approaches to car buying.

Supposedly the car showroom wall for women might be starting to come down, but it probably won’t happen overnight. I’ve heard a lot of feminist talk saying that when women get to the top and start controlling the levers of power, the world will become a better place. Well, here is a great place to prove that! I hope that women will push for change on the car lot, especially since I might have to buy another car in a few years (my Corolla is about to turn 10, although it only has 70K miles on it . . . I hope I can get another 5 years out of it). I would definitely like to see a kinder and gentler auto buying environment, where you tell them what you really need and want, and they respond with honesty and do what they can to get you a decent deal.

My second item of note for today is from a book review in the May, 2016 Atlantic Magazine. The book being reviewed is called “World Beyond Your Head” by Matthew Crawford. It sounds like a book that I wouldn’t be interested in. I like the world within my head just fine. The interesting thing about the review was that the author, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, gave the best and most concise definition of the Enlightenment that I ever read. According to Newberger Goldstein,

only certain kinds of justification for beliefs would be countenanced—namely those that were, in principle, accessible to all humans relying only on our shared cognitive capacities. Insisting on this standard was the Enlightenment’s revolution. There could be no privileged knowers who appealed to special sources of knowledge—available to them by way of heavenly revelation, or authoritative status, or intimations to which their group was privy. Even tradition couldn’t stand merely on its longevity but had to justify its right to continue to exist . . . The Enlightenment, in short, amounted to an assertion of epistemic democracy. Whatever can be known by one person can, in principle, be known by all, as long as they master the techniques for knowing that are relevant to a field.

Yes, that does sound like an idea worth defending, especially given that it is under attack in many parts of today’s world. You can find plenty of religious groups or secular powers that believe that they should rule the world, or at least some significant part of it. Some of them are doing very dangerous things to achieve that goal. I hope that the US and the other western democracies can somehow “keep the torch burning” in defense of the lofty ideal of the Enlightenment.

But on the local scene . . . hmm, car dealerships sound like places where Enlightenment values have yet to take hold. The car dealership thrives on privileged knowers with special sources of knowledge asserting undue power against the masses. Despite all of the car buying web sites available today (, etc.), the whole internet revolution of the past 20 years, has not been able to topple the hold on information power which the car dealers continue to assert against their customers.

For those who still believe in an enlightened society, there are enemies without and enemies within. Despite all the reassurances of free market economics, car dealerships have become more and more of a monopoly, given the industry trend towards larger and fewer dealers, many of whom sell more than one major car brand. Even in a densely populated region like northern NJ, you really only have two or three dealers available within a reasonable distance for any given car manufacturer, and they all seem to know each other’s tactics. Given that the world has plenty of other problems that are more important and immediate, it looks like buying a new car will continue to be a major headache and unnecessarily severe economic drain for the common citizen long into the future.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:32 pm      

  1. Jim, A couple of things immediately come to mind about sales people of any kind; so I’m going to start with the first that comes to mind. I have basically only had respect for one salesperson – and here I’m prejudiced, I admit. My husband (now dead some 23 years) was a salesman; I respected his approach to selling. He worked on commission, and I have to admit that he never was the type who came home with bundles of money – as some of the people in his field did. He’d find out what the person wanted, show it to them; if they wanted it, he sold it to them/ If they did not want it for any reason (wrong color, wrong size, etc.), he simply say he couldn’t help them, maybe tell them where they might find the item. As I say: He never came home with huge bundles of money; but I had to respect his approach to selling.

    I noticed that there were sales people who would manage to sell something to an individual, almost whether or not the person really seemed to want it. They’d either plain out lie about what it was they were busy trying to pass off on a buyer or talk the person into something he/she didn’t want. (This last always seemed a mystery to me.)

    I noticed one time I went to buy a car where a group of people were talking loudly about the big something or other they had bought; they were having so much fun! The person I was with had chosen the car she could afford to buy. But I could see that had I not been there, she would have easily been influenced to buy a much more expensive car based on the fact that the group was having so much fun talking about the new car they were in the process of getting. I began to wonder if the group was a plant of some kind to influence our buying; it seemed to take them an awfully long time to sign papers (which they never did while we were there). Meanwhile, as time went by I noticed the person I was with was having a really terrible time knowing that the car she was getting was a simple car that would take her where she needed to go and get her back – no “look at the car *I’m* driving” aspects to it.

    Vehicles are the second most expensive thing most people buy; houses being the first. (Maybe I’m making that up; but so it seems to me.) I never understood how it is that someone would actually buy something in the vehicle line he/she didn’t want; but it seems people are unconsciously influenced by the “look at what I’m driving” approach to vehicles our society seems to have.

    For instance, I’ve caught myself picking a brand name item off the shelf in the grocery store rather than a generic brand. I catch myself and ask myself, why did I do that? Almost invariably, I find the answer has to do with my having seen an ad recently regarding that item and the “automatic” response was to pick up the brand name thing. (Got to figure out *why* one buys what one buys.)

    Then too: Different people have different ways of shopping, it seems to me. Only one time I went shopping with my sister (now dead too long). She wanted a winter coat. We went to one store and found the perfect coat. I said, “take it; it’s perfect.” But she insisted that she wanted to “just see what else might be available”; so off we trudged to several other stores. Of course, we went back and bought the first coat she had seen. Then there were people like me who saw the item and would buy it as soon as it was found. Just different approaches to doing the same thing, it seems to me. My sister would enjoy just the “looking” even while she probably knew she would return to the first thing. Others, like me, simply buy it when they see it and don’t’ spend a lot of fuss with looking around. Depends on the person. Each person knows what is wanted; just goes about it in a different way.

    So, it seems to me that the buyer must know what he/she wants before going shopping, go for a specific thing (in this case a specific car/truck/van), stick to the plan of getting what the person wants, and not allow him/herself to be influenced either by ads and/or what other people think of what it is they have (or want).

    As to women in the automotive sales business: There’s no doubt almost all the people working behind the scenes in car dealerships as “helpers” are women (filling out forms, taking in money for payment on repairs, etc.). I’ve never seen one man doing that kind of work in a car dealership. But I’ve only seen men selling vehicles in car dealerships. I find your question (was it implied or stated outright; I don’t remember) about why there are no women selling cars to be an interesting one.

    I have noticed over time that the attitude toward women in car dealerships has changed. Back in the 1970s when my husband and I bought a car, I remember a salesman saying to me: “Now *you* have to decide the *color*”, when it seemed obvious to me I was the one writing the check in the situation. I think I gave him a look that said, are you blind?

    Then over time I noticed that car dealerships took notice that women themselves were buying cars not only for themselves but had a big influence on which automobile was bought for home use. Women had been doing this for who knows how long before; but finally, the car dealerships caught on. So more attention was given to what women wanted.

    Sometime after my husband died I went to buy a car, knew what I wanted, how much I wanted to pay, and would not change my mind about it. I went to a dealership and was approached by a very “macho” type man. He insisted he knew what I should get. I was astonished at his attitude and did not take much time to walk out. I just went to another dealership, got a more respectful salesman, bought what I wanted, at the price I wanted. Perhaps I should add that to me all I really require in a car is that it start when I want to go someplace and get me back home when I want to come home. I do *not* need a car that says, “Look what *I’m* driving”. Perhaps I am the odd woman out in this situation. The “macho salesman” from the first dealership called me more than once insisting I could not have got what I said I got – a deal he would not give me. The gentleman did *not* sell me a car.

    I would venture a guess that women do not wish to be bothered with all the “macho” approaches to car selling that pervade the business, they may not care much for the competitive “who sold the most cars this week lists on the wall for all to see” either. I know I would not; but then again, I’m likely the odd person out.

    For anybody (not just your brother) looking to buy a car, I’d say, know exactly what you want in the car, figure out what you can afford to pay for the car (either per month or in cash on the spot), look for the item you actually want, and approach the salesperson from that standpoint. I also am very aware that buying a car is enough to make a person’s knees start knocking, realizing how much money is flying out the window. But “knees knocking” is not the same as knowing what one wants and looking for that thing exactly.

    I’ve also bought a used car from CarMax which amazed me. It was a very good used car – surprisingly. (It met the “Consumer Report” standards for the car I wanted.) I told the salesperson what I wanted, he pulled it up on a computer, I said, I’d look at it and drive it, and I ended up buying it. It turned out to be a good car. Dealerships for new cars should adopt the same approach to cars. Yet . . . I’ve also sat at a desk while a salesman took a phone call from a person (must have been a woman) who wanted a *purple* car. I noticed the salesperson went running for that deal. Now that person is ripe for getting her to pay much more for a car than she ever wanted; I found myself wondering just how long she would have the car before it was repossessed. (Unless someone else was buying the car for her, and she was just placing her “order”.)

    If one does one’s homework on what one wants to buy (especially have a good idea of the range such a vehicle usually costs), sticks to the plan, is willing to walk out should the amount the salesman wants is not near the generally recommended price, it may take going to more than one place, but one will always find what he/she is looking for. It is always essential to know that one’s knees will always be “knocking” when one sees money flying out the window. It’s part of the process of buying a vehicle, not to be confused with what price one is actually willing to pay for the automotive item. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — May 25, 2015 @ 2:19 pm

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