Editor’s Note: In last week’s newsletter #634 Virtual Shopping Grows Up, we asked for your stories, which you can read below. It seems we started a steamroller. Since the first newsletter, many stories have come out about online vehicle shopping that might be of interest:
- EV rivals Tesla, Rivian unite to target direct sales legislation (Tech Crunch)
- The Sad, Lazy Myth of the ‘Middleman’ (NADA Blog)
- Mitsubishi catering to modern buyers with ClickShop (Auto Remarketing)
- This New Auction Site Will Pay You $100 to Sell Your Car (Gear Patrol)
- Report: Volvo Dealers Respond Negatively to Digital Retail Strategy (The Truth about Cars)
- Podcast: KAR’s Peter Kelly: ‘Digital is at the heart of what we’re doing’ (Auto News)
Enjoy reading all the great stories from our members!
Funny you should send this newsletter because just-yesterday, I had a Carvana car delivered. It’s my first experience with the online car buying process. I’ve been looking and watching for a 2010 Porsche Boxster for a while. Maybe that’s why this worked out better than other buying methods because I had to widen the search window for such a relatively rare model. There aren’t many of these in the USA, to begin with, so if you don’t search nationally, you’re probably not going to find one. I did search “locally” as well and found this to be true. The car I bought came from California, so for me living in Connecticut, this was a bonus.
I agree with the idea that you want to touch//feel the car. I did that with the various models of this one with local cars (986, 987.1, 987.2, and 981—all different generations of the Boxster/Cayman, though I was aiming for the Boxster only). So I got to feel them out and see that I liked the feel of the 987.2 best. I also found one locally that was great, but as usual, the independent dealer refused to budge on the price or trade-in offer, which made the deal unreasonably expensive. I ended up getting the California car for much less, with more features and a better color choice.
These online websites really need to offer a safety-net. Carvana does this via their 7-day any-reason-return policy, which they seem to be VERY good about from what I read. They also seem to be good about providing repairs and service if you find things wrong. When the Boxster arrived, the delivery person and I did a walk-around. She used a tablet to take pictures of the car and immediately reported issues for immediate response to covering defects. Granted, I haven’t actually had these fixed yet since I only had the car for one day when I wrote this, but this was very reassuring, which is crucial. Also, shipping cost me nothing.
In contrast, I had a friend look at a traditional dealer in another state for a Boxster, and the dealer made no such offer or effort. They were happy to ship the car but wouldn’t even support a pre-purchase Inspection (PPI) in their area nor pay for the shipping costs.
Carvana doesn’t do a third-party PPI either, but the company allowed me to do a PPI over the first 7-day period (I have mine scheduled locally already).
In the end, the security of the purchase was vital—a return policy, support for issues, support of PPIs, etc., are all important aspects for me. If dealers don’t get behind this, they will get left behind as consumers move on by finding other ways to purchase a vehicle.
Frankly, I hope those dealers DO get left behind. The days of sales trickery need to be over—it’s a terrible business model.
Last September, I shopped for a used car by doing online research and visiting several new and used car dealerships. With about half the dealers, I visited their websites and made appointments. The rest I decided to visit without calling first. I test drove several cars. Sometimes a salesman rode along, with him and me wearing masks. Some let me do the test drive alone. There was no handshaking. When I decided on a car, I negotiated by telephone. I took the car to my mechanic for inspection. When I picked up the car, the paperwork was done at the dealership. It was all pretty normal except for the masks and social distancing.
Porsche has had some form of online sales for at least two decades. Since 2005, I bought my last three Porsches using the Car Configurator that you can find HERE. Those three cars were:
- 2005 Cayenne S
- 2011 Panamera 4S
- 2018 911 Carrera 4 GTS
Porsche will manufacture the exact car you want in Stuttgart, Germany. The tradeoff is that you cannot be in a hurry. The wait is between a couple of months (the 911) or nearly a half year (the Cayenne). That means you might start making loan payments for a car that’s still in Germany. One of those cars was delayed while they filled a ship with other cars in Kiel or Rotterdam.
One time a ship caught fire and sank. My car wasn’t among them, but that’s a remote possibility when you order a specific car.
The local dealership doesn’t favor the Porsche Car Configurator due to their allocations from Porsche.
I don’t recall exactly how that works, but many times, Porsche dealers are unable to sell all the cars they might otherwise be able to sell. Demand exceeds supply. There’s an upper limit in an allocation system.
When you custom order a car, the dealership doesn’t come out quite so well because it harms their allocation. They will try to steer you towards a car they already have on their lot, or at least from another dealer with whom they can swap allocations.
They especially don’t like it when you take delivery at the Porsche Cars North America corporate headquarters in Atlanta (as I did with the 911) or in Los Angeles because it entirely short-circuits the Nashville delivery (i.e., dealer prep fees).
But they understand why customers do it. Where else can you stay in a European-style hotel overnight, spend the next day driving the same model car on each of its six tracks? (My favorite was the kick plate.) And then feel catered to when they unveil your car?
Eric Berg, Tennessee and NMA Board Member
I bought two new cars recently. The first was a Nissan Van. They lied to me about the mileage. When I returned to the dealer, they had changed all the tags on their vans to read: Under EPA requirements, we cannot disclose the mileage of this vehicle. Nuts.
The dealer experience is a game of lies and deceit.
Just a couple of months ago, we bought a new Subaru Outback. We were planning to move out of California to South Dakota and thought the Outback would be great. If it weren’t for Consumer Reports, though, we would have paid $10,000 over what we paid.
New cars are not easy to buy. The customer needs all the info we can find online and from the dealer. With all the latest computer systems, you almost need a training class, too.
Consumer Reports provided even more information about extras, models, and upgrades. Still, unfortunately, by the time CR figured out one year, the next model year would already be coming out, making the car buying experience even more confusing. There seems to be no way to educate the public or sales folks fast enough.
I must say the Outback is great, though, and very popular. Even the Nissan NV high-top Van works well for a guy in the motorcycle industry. And as long as I don’t drive much and live in SD, I’ll survive on 10 miles to the gallon.
Keith R. Ball, South Dakota
I purchased a new car in December. First, I went to a dealership that I suspected would not be completive on price but had a car to test drive. Then the phone calls started and seemingly never ended.
Rather than visiting numerous dealers to see what their deal would be, I hired a service I used previously to obtain quotes for me (carbargains.org). For $250, I got prices from several area dealers, and yes, the dealer I had visited was not competitive. The deal I ultimately got was less than invoice, and I went to the selling dealer just once to pick up the car. Simple and the $250 was a small price to pay to avoid the calls and get a terrific deal.
David, North Carolina
I’d had a good experience with an Accord. I looked at some Accords, drove one, and didn’t like it as much as I’d liked mine. I checked prices on several years old Civics and Mazda3s. I drove a friend’s Civic, decided I wanted one, called up some shops to see if they had a Civic with a stick shift around the appropriate price point. I went to a dealer that had one four years old with 35K. I drove it, had it checked by a mechanic, and bought it.
If it weren’t for the pandemic, I’d have put 100K on it by now. I’m 3K short of that—one road trip from Boston to the DC area, where my siblings and numerous friends live. Then drive on the backroads to Quakertown, PA to visit more friends. Again, I would drive on the backroads for a couple of trips to Albany, New York, to visit my best friend. I sure miss road trips!
David C. Holzman, Massachusetts