Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
I haven't bought a car for a while.
It's rarely been one of the more pleasant experiences. A little like going to a fish market staffed by failed Wall Street traders.
I've also heard about the internet.
I understand that many people like to buy their cars on it these days. Or, at least, largely on it.
Once upon a time, humans used to visit many car dealers to choose their new cars.
Recently, that number has dropped to 1.6 dealers. (I know that 0.6 of a dealer. You can't trust him.)
So I did some research on the internet. I'm not a vast car lover. I told myself that, like many other people, all I need is a small, nice-smelling SUV that has an engine big enough to propel it uphill.
But I could have easily been sold on something else.
My method was to turn up with my girlfriend at a dealer, inspect the cars, hopefully test drive them and see how we would be treated.
Here, then, are my experiences at five car dealers of the more, well, luxury brands.
I won't name the brands. I don't want to get the individual employees into trouble.
I'd also like you to guess which brand was which. (Anyone who gets all five right, I'll buy you a drink the next time I'm on your city.)
The whole thing was, though, very odd.
Luxury Brand Number 1. Or Let's Get This Over With, Shall We?
I knew which car I wanted to test drive. The dealer got the keys and off we went on a test drive. He was quite an entertaining man. The test drive, however, was over very quickly. He didn't suggest we take the car on the freeway. This was odd, as the dealership was right next to the freeway and you might imagine that if you buy a nice car, you might want to see what it feels like on the freeway. He asked for my phone number. I explained that I don't really answer calls. Telemarketers have seen to that. I prefer email or even text. Despite the fact that I liked the car, I never heard from him. I did take his card, however. It didn't have an email address on it. Oh.
Luxury Brand Number 2. Hey, You Want To Do Some Business? No, Forget The Car.
It took mere seconds before a dealer came out. He was much younger and very personable. He was very happy to let us go on the freeway. The car was enjoyable, even though we got stuck in traffic. Unlike at Luxury Brand Number 1, he wanted to know who we were and what we did for a living. Soon, he explained -- are you ready for this? -- that this was just a side-job and that his real thing was his startup. Did he try to offer a spectacular deal? Oh, he seemed to feel we weren't all that interested, which wasn't entirely true. But he really wanted to keep in touch in case I could help his startup. And he wasn't the only young salesman who seemed to be looking as much for personal contacts as a sale.
Learn how to network! Become a car dealer!
I'm beginning to think this is the car dealers' thing these days. It's all about not trying to (hard-)sell you the car. Which is, in its way, very enjoyable, if entirely perplexing.
Luxury Brand Number 3. We Will, We Will Bore You.
We wandered around the dealer lot, staring into the car windows. No one came out to talk to us. After a few minutes, we gave up. However, the car looked quite pretty. So I went on this Luxury Brand's website and made an appointment for a test drive. I got an email back, agreeing to the time. When I arrived at the dealership, the person with whom I'd made an appointment wasn't there. So another dealer said he'd take me. He was about as enthusiastic as a polo player at an ice rink. He had all the charm of an undertaker's cabinet maker. He offered less information that a White House press secretary. No, he didn't let us go on the freeway either. But I quite liked the car. I explained to him that I didn't answer calls. The next day, he called. And the day after that. Finally, there came a three-word email: "You still looking?" Um, this man needed Tinder skills.
Luxury Brand Number 4. We Don't, We Don't Want You.
This is a very famous brand, one that is often held up as the apogee of excellence. Especially by itself. We went to the dealership on a Sunday morning. After ten minutes, no one came out. We left. We did it again the following weekend. Same thing. It became a humorous game for us. The third time a salesman came out. And completely ignored us. I'd heard that this brand might occasionally be a touch on the arrogant side. This, though, only sent one message. I wasn't good enough for the brand. Naturally, I'm hurt.
Luxury Brand Number 5. Sorry, We Need To Get Some Gas To Get The Car Going.
This luxury brand fascinated. It's not the most obvious one and I'd heard the car was secretly enjoyable. A dealer came out straight away. He was young and just about the right level of glib. He was amusing. He listened, too.
By this stage, you understand, we were a little confused by this whole car-buying process. Still, there was the car we were interested in, cheerily parked.
"Can we test drive this one, please?" "Sure," said the salesman. And then we waited. And we waited a little longer. We looked back to where the car had been and it was gone.
"It didn't have enough gas for a test drive," explained the salesman.
The car finally returned, with a little gas in it. We test-drove it and liked it. But the salesman didn't bother to wonder who we were or ask for any of our contact details.
I asked him for his card. He happily gave it to me. It has an email address on it.
Should I? Should I? Is this how it's supposed to work now?