Monday, August 17, 2009

still grating after all these years

We're on the market for a new car--my '98 minivan has 170,000+ miles and doesn't qualify as a clunker, I'm sure, only because of the same plot designed to destroy Medicare and substitute Arabic for English in our schools. We're leaning toward a Prius or another Subaru, but being a fair-minded person I thought I would take a look at the comparable GM offerings as well. What I saw was, well, not exactly encouraging.

The good news is that the car in question (the Malibu) doesn't seem far off the mark of other Japanese or American companies. It looks nice, has decent ratings, and offers a hybrid version that's behind the Prius but ahead of most other brands. The price is the same or a little bit lower than the competition.

The problem is how they try to sell it. One would think that a company that was close to going, or had actually gone, out of business would think about changing its way of doing business. Instead, the moment I walked in, I remembered why I had stopped buying American cars more than a decade ago. Whereas a Toyota dealer can't wait to show you the product (if indeed there are any left), here they seemed anxious to talk about anything but. I was asked my name, address, "time frame," and price range and regaled with incentives and option packages before I was allowed to approach the car. When I asked how it compared to other models--the answer to which, as I said, is not too badly--the dealer shifted the conversation to how expensive the others were, as if only someone who couldn't afford a Japanese car would even be there.

It's easy to be critical. I would get testy too if I worked in a showroom where no one came in all day long (only two other people showed up, both for service, the whole time I was there). But if this is how they are doing business it's hard to see how they will turn things around. It is an overused term, but there really is such a thing as culture: national, regional, and corporate. It's a very hard thing to change: and first, you have to try.


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