Does the Dealer Association seriously think Tesla is doing a disservice to buyers?

Model S 70D at the Tesla Store in Dedham, MA [Source: @Teslaliving]

Tesla Motors filed suit in the US district court against Michigan state officials after having been rebuffed in its quest to sell cars directly to customers. The suit asks the court to declare that Michigan’s franchise dealer law violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as well as the Commerce Clause.

At the time the suit was filed, a spokesperson for the company said, “Solving this legislatively always has been and continues to be Tesla’s preferred option. For the last two years, Tesla has pursued legislation in Michigan that is fair to everyone and that would benefit Michigan consumers.”

Now Jeff Carlson, chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) has responded to Tesla’s legal action. Speaking to the Automotive Press Association, Carlson said policymakers should consider what customers want above all else. He is convinced that buyers want lower prices first and foremost.

As quoted in The Detroit News, Carlson said, “They can continue to support the franchised dealers who discount up to $700 … or … they can offer the consumer a vertically integrated model that prices vehicles at retail. The public policymakers are going to go to the consumers and say, ‘Which one do you want, the discounted product or the product at retail?’ I think they’ll make the right decision.”

In support of his position, Carlson cited a 2015 Phoenix Center study that found competition among dealers often results in discounts of hundreds of dollars. He is convinced that, given a choice, car buyers would prefer to do business with a dealer rather than a company that sells direct and does not negotiate prices.

Carlson seems to think that people love to drive from dealer to dealer to haggle over prices like rug merchants in a bazaar. He thinks they enjoy the games, the gimmicks, and the gymnastics buyers have to go through in order to get a dealer’s best price. Endless shuffling back and forth to manager. First pencil, second pencil, the full panoply of tricks and cajolery designed to do one thing and one thing only — avoid discounting the price of the car any more than necessary to make the sale. In the business, it is known as “holding gross” and it is the holy grail of the car business.

Decades worth of data show that people usually buy from a dealer located within 25 miles of home. Nobody wants to drive 100 miles to save a few hundred dollars. They want to buy from a local dealer who will give them good service. Dealers know this and use it parry any suggestion by a customer that they are going to go “shop around.” Some do but most don’t. They do the dance for a little while, then buy the car from the nearest dealer.

The favorite expression in the business is, “It’s not the deal you got; it’s the deal you think you got.” Car dealers negotiate prices every day. Customers negotiate prices once every three to four years. Who do you think is going to win the battle most of the time?

Studies show that most customers hate to haggle. They would rather have a root canal than arm wrestle with a car dealer. Mr. Carlson wants to offer people a choice — negotiate the old fashioned way or pay the price on the sticker. And he thinks the majority of people will choose haggling? What universe are you from, Jeff Carlson?

The arrogance of the franchise dealers is astonishing. They actually believe they are performing a valuable community service and are loved by their customers. In reality, they are an illegal monopoly that is conspiring to keep prices as high as possible.

If dealers only demonstrated a sliver of interest in promoting electric cars, perhaps they would have some credibility. But they don’t. They park their plug-in hybrids and electrics out back. They never charge the batteries and they try every trick they know to switch people away from an EV and toward a conventional car.

Dealers and manufacturers make their living building and selling conventional cars so they have no interest in making less money. They can’t be bothered with plug-ins and electrics. Jeff Carlson is dead wrong when he says customers prefer being raked over the coals by dealers. Ask people what they want and they will tell you they prefer never to have to haggle with a car salesman ever again in their lifetime.


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