Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’ve all heard it before.
‘Most cars depreciate 20-30% during the first two years of ownership. Why spend more, when you can let someone else take the hit by buying the same vehicle used?’
This tends to the be the go-to battle-cry of anyone trying to pitch the upside of used cars. From dealerships, to industry bloggers, you’ll find it repeated over and over again. And while I have no intention of arguing the validity of the argument, I find it funny that it has become the de facto slogan to advocate on behalf of the used car marketplace.
Why? Because it was refreshing when it was new information shared on financial advice sites, but those days are long since past. It’s a bit passive-aggressive when used by somebody within the industry. If your endorsement of used cars begins with this statistic, you’re not touting the positive attributes of a vehicle; you’re down-selling the alternative (knowing that the alternative is your own product).
Not unlike a political smear campaign within the same party, the approach generates two by-products: an implied sense of self-loathing, and an inherent lack of trustworthiness. And if there’s one perception that the automotive industry needs to shake, it’s any implication that they’re untrustworthy.
Case in Point
I grew up with a love of classic Dodge muscle cars, with the Charger being my favorite of all.
In the late-90s, Dodge announced that the Charger was being re-envisioned, and I started saving my pennies in the hopes that I’d be able to buy one as soon as they were released. But to make use of the oft-quoted John Lennon, ‘Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.’ Flash forward to the release of the Charger for 2006, and I found myself with a new baby daughter and far-more important directions to allocate my finances to than my ‘dream car.’
But within a few years, and a couple of short-term beaters, it was time for a new car. Our finances were better, courtesy of a few promotions, and my wife suggested that we take a Charger for a test drive.
Initially, I had misgivings. Mostly because I knew myself well-enough to know that, if I so much as sat behind the wheel of a Charger, I would buy it. That said, I agreed. Because four model-years in, I knew everything about the new Chargers, from manufacturer specs to consumer reviews. I knew my budget. I secured financing. And I knew that I planned to purchase a used model. I was informed, and I was ready to buy.
We decided to start by test-driving a new 2009 “just for fun.” The salesman that approached us seemed straight-forward enough, conveying neither arrogance or insecurity. I searched for any flaw or omission in his candid rundown of the vehicle features, and was impressed to find that there were none. Then came the performance…
As with most dealerships, there was both a new and used lot. It turns out that this particular salesman was employed full-time at the used lot. He had only been at the new lot to fill in for the morning, and was returning to the other lot for the afternoon. Keeping in mind that we were ready to buy, we had given no indication that we weren’t going to move forward with the 2009 we had test-driven. Suddenly, he starts talking about some of the used models that he had available. Granted, we probably would have ended up there anyway, but he started playing the depreciation card trying to compel us to buy a used model.
Knowing that we’d be closing the deal with another salesperson if we moved forward with the 2009, he was attempting to persuade us to buy an earlier model year so that he’d get full commission for the sale. As far as he knew, we wanted the newest model year, but he chose to pander to our budget.
He then began to talk about (what he perceived as) “shortcomings” of the 2009, and upcoming 2010 models. From body styling to available features, he rambled on, losing my confidence more with every word he spoke. What he also lost was the sale.
Had the day gone any differently, we may have hit the used lot first. We may have even had the same salesperson. And had that been the case, he would have received credit for our purchase of a used 2007 Charger.
The added irony? Had he won our trust, I might have come back to him three years later when (after an accident) I was looking to buy a used 2010-11 Charger (then again, he didn’t think much of those model years). He lost two sales because I found a dealership and a salesperson who felt no such desire to down-sell his own inventory in order to close a deal.
Change the Game
Ultimately, what’s the goal of any industry? To move more units. Everyone knows this, and no-one takes the bait solely on the basis of one argument. Yes, we want the best possible deal; and yes, we are well aware of depreciation. Stop pandering to our wallets simply because it’s the common denominator among all buyers. It’s insulting.
Contrary to common belief, the majority of consumers are not fools. And with the accessibility of information made available to us through today’s technology, even those consumers that ‘walk the line’ are empowered to buy with confidence. So here’s some unsolicited advice to used car salespeople and industry bloggers, alike (on behalf of most consumers).
We know what we want. We know what we can afford. We know how serious we are about buying, and we don’t need to be fed lines. And stop the faux-infighting between model years. If you’re looking to build consumer confidence, making us constantly question your offerings and tactics are not the way to go about it. After all, I might decide to delay my used car purchase for two years. Am I really going to want to buy (used) the new vehicle that you just down-sold in order to get me to buy a used model today?