07
May
08

I drive a Minivan. I am Invisible.

We have two kids with one more on the way. I ride bicycles and sometimes need a ride home – broken down, lazy and drunk are fine excuses. There’s a pile of old furniture out in the yard that needs to go to the dump. We can’t go on road tips because our kid won’t sleep in the car seats. I’m nearly forty. My wife has an impractical car. We’ve been resisting for years but finally it is time to succumb. I bought a minivan.

It is the start of a new model year and I want the outgoing model. There’s virtually no change between years and I should be able to save more money than I will lose in resale.

I mail several dealers asking for their internet price on various Honda Odyssey vans. Each dealer has an “Internet Manager” that will likely also deal in Fleet sales and Costco sales. I’m not an expert on current sales value for new vehicles so I rely on market forces by opening up conversations with multiple dealers. I am open about this – I tell each dealer that they are one of several options.

Two dealers – Small Honda and Large Honda – mail me back with a good cheap Internet price. There are few old year models but I get quotes for the new year model. The Odyssey is a popular van and the prices are well below MSRP, around a grand above ‘invoice’. Not bad for a first quote.

One dealer, Hardsell Honda, call me up rather than use email as I requested. They tell me what a great deal I can get, with a great trade in and a price somewhere below MSRP. This is not what I expect; this is the usual car sales talk and not an Internet sale.

Behind The Times Honda wouldn’t give me prices in email. Why not? Everyone else did. I told them so. I relegated them to backup in case I couldn’t get something with the first two. Their loss.

Slothful Honda didn’t reply until a week later, when I had already bought a van. I sent them a happy email. Perhaps they’ll be quicker with the next customer.

Hardsell Honda calls me again. This time a different salesman is calling. He’s way better than the first one and promises to come back with competitive prices in a short amount of time. About two minutes later the first Hardsell Honda salesman calls me, dismissing the previous salesman as filling in for him while he was late. He goes back to the sales patter. He’s a little rude, he talks over me and interrupts. They go to the bottom of my list.

I arrive at Small Honda. I find the Internet Manager, which is easy since he’s the first salesman I see. He’s a gentle sounding guy who doesn’t act like the typical salesman. I like him. He takes me for a test drive, I drive up the freeway and round some city streets. Yes, it drives just as I expect a minivan to feel. This is no SUV – I sit high and look down on cars but I don’t get that feeling of domination that SUV drivers crave. It is easy to weave my way through Seattle’s streets. Years of refinement of minivans have worked – this car is a good tradeoff for its purpose. It is way easier to drive than a real van (one with chassis rails), it has way more utility than a car and it costs a fraction of a Mercedes G-wagen.

The Internet Manager does not know his Odyssey feature set well. He doesn’t know the differences between model lines or between a 2006 or a 2007 model. I spend time going through the car brochure to figure this out for myself.

I need to test stereo quality differences between models. I only brought one cd with me, and it isn’t a good test cd. It is ‘Lipstick Traces’ by the Manic Street Preachers and, although it is a wonderful collection of music, it is a collection of b-sides and live music so there are no suitable reference test songs. I try the cover of ‘Take the Skinheads Bowling’. It fails, as does their cover of Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’. I settle on the b-side track ‘Just a Kid’ as it has some quieter bits.

I’m sitting in the Touring edition with the upscale stereo when I get caught out. Zach is staring at me through the window. Zach rides bicycles and drives a Honda Element, which was in getting a service. He is laughing at me sitting in a minivan in a showroom playing with stereo controls. He gets sucked in to the test quick enough but dismisses the stereo for having no separate control of the subwoofer. Bugger.

So we get to the negotiation part of the day. The Internet Manager seems a little uncomfortable here. It could be a reaction to my manner since I get very focused at these times. I am waiting for him to make an offer on my trade-in. He is asking me for the price I am looking for. I tell him I want his best offer so I can compare it with the other dealers. He doesn’t like this and we waste time. So I pack my bag and head out, telling him we can negotiate over email and I need to visit Large Honda before the day is over.

I get the ‘bring in the Sales Manager’ technique. I enjoy this because it gives me the option of ignoring the salesman. In this case the Sales Manager is a vast improvement over the salesman. It gives the discussions a kick in the butt and we get to what I believe is their final offer. I tell them that I will take that offer and consider it over the weekend and if they improve it by a certain amount I’ll buy it now. It is the end of the month and they are pushing to hit sales targets so they are keen for the sale but they don’t go for the offer. I head out, happy to get a break. I am enjoying this.

At Large Honda the Internet Manager looks like a more typical salesman – larger, stronger, louder, big handshake. I tell him I have a good offer from Small Honda and I want him to see my trade in so I can get a competing offer and then choose. He doesn’t mess around – he shows me his Costco price list, the one they also use for Internet sales and it compares favourably with the collection of prices I have from the other dealers. They inspect my Corolla and we talk price and the overall deal is better than Small Honda with less fuss and pain.

Late in the process I change my mind. I notice that they have a 2006 model on the showroom floor in the model I like and a colour I like. Despite my research and logic, I think I picked it because it had the best colour scheme. We negotiate a deal on that van. I drive it home.

I’m driving home down one of the main cruising streets in Seattle, listening to my one cd of the Manic Street Prechers. I am stopped at a red light. I look at the cars around me, checking out the vehicles and their drivers. It is Friday night and a lot of hot cars are out. After a couple of miles I notice that nobody has looked my way. I drive a minivan. I am invisible.

Next morning Hardsell Honda calls back. The conversation went something like this:

HH: “So when are you going to be in today to check out our Odysseys? I know we can make a deal!”
BC: “I’ve already bought a van.”
HH: “It must have been a Toyota Sienna then.”
BC: “No, it was an Odyssey.”
HH: “Well you got second best then.”
BC: [losing it a little] “I don’t appreciate how you are trying to make me feel bad…”
HH: [trying to interrupt] “Well you made a big mistake…”
BC: [talking over the salesman] “I do not like how you talk over me, I do not like how you interrupt and I do not like your manner. That is why I did not go to your dealership. I will not be recommending people to Hardsell Honda.”

Hardsell Honda hangs up.

That was enjoyable. It isn’t often I say the right things in the heat of the argument.

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