While this site usually brings you news about new models and the LA car scene, we also from time to time, bring you a story about the experience of purchasing a new car in the city we call home. And such is the case now, a story of a simple girl, deception, and ineptitude.
I have a friend, Gianna, whom I helped purchase a 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan from Santa Monica Volkswagen. Recently, she received a letter in the mail from the dealer inviting her back in to have her current car appraised under the guise that the dealer needed used cars, that her Tigaun was in demand, and that they could offer her up to 127 percent over the Kelly Blue book value. And, the letter goes on to state, they would offer this whether you purchased a new VW or not. Gianna’s car is in excellent condition, but after two years, she had grown a bit bored with it, so maybe this was an opportunity to switch things up and get something fresh. She showed me the letter. Now of course we all know, these dealer come ons are usually bullshit – a marketing tool designed to lure people in for the ole bait and switch, but, at the very least, she would get a written appraisal and know what her car was worth to the dealer. We went to the Kelly Blue Book site online and figured out what that number was, then did the simple math to see just what exactly 127% would look like. They number was really good, so we knew that the dealer was unlikely go that far. We also went to her VW Financial account to see the payoff on the car, and found out that not only was she not upside down on the car ( owing less than what it was worth ) but she was in a pretty good position, and now, if she wanted to switch things up, was a good time.
We met at Santa Monica Volkswagen at 5 pm on a Monday. It was pretty empty. A white used Passat sat on the sales floor, and Gianna noticed the front rims were pretty beaten up. I shrugged, ” its a used car.” Although earlier, walking in I noticed a new 2015 red GTI outside with a scraped rim on the rear passenger side. Who is their porter? Note to new car buyers – check your rims. The bad signs would continue…
An affable salesman approached us, and asked what we were interested in. Gianna produced the letter and he brought us to his desk. Before getting started, he said they really needed used cars, and asked if she wanted to replace it with a new Tig. Gianna is not sure what she she wants, she explained, but being bored with the Tiguan greatly diminishes her chances of getting another. She just wanted to know what kind of deal she could get with her current car, and after all, she was invited in to get that information. In addition to helping my friend, I jumped at the chance to go to the dealer because my husband and I have been thinking of a new car as of late, and I was considering a new Golf R or the new 2015 updated Touareg. So I asked the salesman about those, figuring while he was working on the appraisal, I could see one and get some info. The salesman told me that the 2014 Touaregs were currently being offered with a sixty something month o% financing,which sounds like a good deal. But since I do not finance cars, I was really interested only in the 2015 updated model. He said,” Well, there really isn’t any change – just cosmetic”, at which point I told him I was in the automotive press, and was aware of the substantial changes after the Berlin press conference. He got up to find out what his inventory was on the 2015 Touaregs.
We waited about ten minutes, and the salesman returned to us, and handed Gianna her invitation back. He said they didn’t have any 2015 Touaregs, and didn’t know when they would. Ok….. There was an awkward silence. ”What about the appraisal?” I asked. He was surprised. Oh, you wanted that? Yes, the one thing we made clear about when we walked in the door. As expected, he was more interested in making a new car sale, and with that perceived prospect gone, the appraisal posed no value to him. I explained that we weren’t “together”, and that my interest in a new car was separate from hers. He apologized and went back to his managers again…. this time he took her key. 20 minutes down, and nothing had been accomplished.
Ten minutes more, and Chris the manager comes over. He tells me that he has no idea when the Golf R will get there. He says that they regularly wait in the dark for new models, their introduction continuously getting pushed back. He can’t even order one. As for the new Touareg, they can order one for me. It will take between four and six months to get it. Gee – I kind of would like to drive one with my husband first – not much to ask, I figure for a 60K vehicle, before purchasing. “Well,” he said,” we haven’t even ordered one ourselves. We have so many 2014s. Another dealer might have one.” He offered to look one up at another dealer, but at this point, I just wanted to focus on Gianna’s reason for coming. Note to automobile manufacturers: Your dealers are your first line of defense. They are the outreach that deals most with the public. Shouldn’t they also be the most educated about your product? Isn’t a shrug and a “We are always the last to know” a Fail in communication?
Finally, the salesman returned after more conference with the manager. “$13.5″ he said, no written statement. I was incredulous. The Blue Book value, for a car rated as good was 15K, and Gianna’s car was excellent. The salesman said so. Low mileage, and not a scratch. I asked what that number was based on. How could that be when we knew the Blue Book value ( 15K)? He nervously explained that the dealer has to spend 1500$ to certify the car as a used car, so that is why they could only offer that much. I pushed back. This was bullshit. Why would Gianna pay for the dealer’s cost to certify her car ? And wasn’t it duplicitous to make an offer in the mail of getting more than Blue Book value, and here, they hadn’t even reached the Blue Book number. Then he took great pains to say it was ” up to” 127 % over blue book value. “Up to” he kept repeating. He asked for Gianna’s letter back, so he could underscore the fine print. “Yes,” I told him, “we know what it says”. The subtleties of the english language do not elude me. But that isn’t the point. He hadn’t even gotten to 100% of the Blue Book value and I want dto know why. He nervously kept saying that it was ” up to 127 %”. Simple math was proving not to be this man’s strong point. Let’s stop here a moment and point out that when your sales strategy is to point out fine print in an offer, you have lost the battle. It is Bait and Switch. It is duplicitous, and it is just shoddy business practice.
The salesman was nervous, He kept repeating himself, and he was in over his head. He couldn’t explain how the number he was offering was achieved, and he wasn’t listening to my questions. Then he let it of the bag. “But this is her pay off” What? At what point did Gianna authorize the dealer to go to VW Financial and look up her account to get the pay off? Apparently, they don’t need her authority. Apparently, a customer’s account information is not private, and VW Financial makes it available to the negotiation process. This is shocking on so many levels. What he was saying, is that if Gianna’s pay off was 11k, then that is about where they would have come in – the Blue Book value is meaningless, and the invitation letter an outright joke. This experience at Santa Monica Volkswagen just went from bad to horrifying.
Again, the salesman ran off to meet with the manager. The same one who told me that they were always in the dark about their new inventory. Long time readers, will know, that this is the point when you get up, and get the hell out of there. As Gianna mentally figured out what she should be writing on Yelp, Chris the manager approached. He calmly explained the 13.5K number was based on the Blue Book’s 15K number, but that it cost him 1.5K to turn the car over as a Certified Used car, so he could only offer 13.5. This was Bullshit pure and simple. His dealer cost to certify Gianna’s car after she no longer owns it, has no meaning to us. So why was he making her pay for it. Isn’t it presumed that he will pass that cost on to the person who purchases Gianna’s car? The person who specifically choses to buy a Certified Pre owned knows that costs were incurred to qualify that car. The dealer passes this cost on. And here, in Gianna’s case, he wants to charge her as well.
Nevermind, we know the real reason he is at this number. I am too dumbfounded and in shock to even address the fact that they looked into her account to get the payoff without permission. “She can do better somewhere else” I say to Chris. He agrees, and says she could take the car to Carmax and get more, but he warns, their costs to turn around a car are less because they merely do a safety inspection. What the fuck this has to do with Gianna, I am not sure. Why she should bear in mind the ins and outs of what happens to her car after she gives the keys away are a mystery to me. Why the dealer thinks she should pay for that process is just stupid. I tell him this, and he repeats his story of costs ( really? this is a sales technique? to repeat bullshit? Apparently this must work with people…), only this time he adds that if she wanted to trade it in for a new car, they might be able to do better on the number,”I’m not the used car manager, and I could have him take a look at it.” Translation: “This has been a waste of your time, and if you wanted an expert to look at your car, you will need to buy a new one from us” Gianna tells him that she very well may be interested in another VW, but she just wanted to see what her status was on the car she had. And here it comes… this is where it gets really good. The manager incredulously says ” well, we’d love to earn your business” !!!!?????!!!!!?????? What the Fuck? Can you believe the audacity? Normally I would say it takes a lot of balls to say that with a straight face, but sadly, the opposite is true. This was a contrived, autopilot, scripted response. A “fuck you” after an embarrassingly unprofessional exchange that bordered on the unethical.
Gianna may go on to get another VW. As might I. But I can assure you it will not come from Santa Monica Volkswagen. If this experience hasn’t destroyed VW in our eyes, and we do chose to get another in her case, or a first for me, we will go to a dealer that treats customers fairly and with respect. I have written this so many times before – you owe it to yourself to find a dealer with good business practices. One that knows about the product it sells, and one that wants to work with you. I know that they are in a business to make money, an that to operate they must make a profit. I do not expect dealers to make no money on a transaction, but they make money from a lot of places – rebates and incentives to name a couple, but I do expect them to be fair. Those dealers are out there. Find them. Know your numbers going in. It is easy to find, and to figure out. It doesn’t take a degree from MIT, just simple math. Do not fall for tricks and double talk. When the dealer stops making common sense, leave. No matter how much water or coffee they offer, no matter how big the smile nor firm the handshake, pay attention to the signs. A dealer will tell you when they are starting to disrespect you. You just have to listen. They will show you numbers. When they don’t add up, that is your time to leave. Don’t get lost in the “game”. You won’t win when the dealer isn’t playing fair. We all have access to the same information, and it is up to you, the consumer to keep the playing field level. The certainly dealer won’t.
So, in conclusion, should you “fall” for one of those letters we all get offering a good deal on our current cars? I don’t know. I know of some people who have taken advantage of it, and gotten a good deal. But this was our experience, at one dealer. I am still shocked and horrified that they went into Gianna’s VW Financial account to get her pay off number, unauthorized, and got information that should be private. I do not know if that is even legal, but I do know that it isn’t ethical. No one should have access to private financial information without your consent. Period. The dealer is not a financial or credit institution. and to use that information in an appraisal is wrong. Period. Shame on you Santa Monica Volkswagen.