Vol. 12, No. 2,856W - The American Reporter - March 18, 2006

Market Mover

by Mark Scheinbaum
American Reporter Correspondent
Boca Raton, Fla.

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- When it comes to cars, there are very few "elites."

Millions of Americans driving a Ford Focus, a Hummvee, or a Rolls, are just like me: gullible, greedy, and stupid about cars. I've been fighting the same fight for more than a decade, or since whenever Ford took over the famous Jaguar nameplate and turned it into a Taurus with a different hood ornament. At that time there was a marked improvement in frequency-of-repair and reliability of Jaguar. Heck, they turned a notoriously breakdown-prone British luxury car, into a pretty good full sized Ford.

Stay with me... . Like most things automotive, this idea will cost you money.

But maybe not.

When my radio show was syndicated at night to 86 cities, I publicly made a proposal.

I repeated it on local shows in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale/Miami.

I have repeated it since then until I am blue in the carburetor, with the blessings of my morning host, Doug Stephan. My little daily business segment goes to about 300 radio stations, and Doug Stephan's "Good Day" is the 9th most-listened-to radio program in the nation.

Still there?

I have never had a listener react negatively to the proposition:

"I would gladly pay $5,000 more for my next car if I never had to pay a single dollar for repairs, deductible, routine service, loaner cars, etc. Nothing. Never. As long as I own it."

Okay, lots of people probably think this is a crappy idea. But they never called.

Think about it: I didn't say 3 percent or 10 percent or a sliding scale. I implied that the listener with a $12,000 Toyota Echo, a $36,000 Chrysler Pacifica, or a $85,000 Porsche would shell out five grand.

Ford actually tried something like this with the Jaguar. Some "Platinum" after market service contracts which are "bumper-to-bumper" claim this.

In reality, there are exclusions such as "routine wear and service of tires, brakes, filters etc.; power windows and antennae; LED gauges, and, as my favorite and only wife found out twice in two months, "computer chips" in ignition keys, steering column locks, and ignitions. In other words, there are thousands of dollars in exclusions which the automakers count on when they sell you a new car at "employee discount" or "less than sticker" prices.

The closest model for every carmaker is Bob Turner Ford Country in Albuquerque. Bob has a beauty parlor and barber shop in the service lobby, one of the better Southwest Tex-Mex restaurants next to the service bays (often giving discount coupons or free coffee and snacks to waiting customers), a comprehensive free shuttle around the city, and an Enterprise car rental office (well, not free, but where I once rented a "loaner" for five bucks for the day).

Think about your cars and those of your friends.

Why do they still talk about the Corolla which lasted for 12 years, or the Nissan which ran and ran with nothing but a tune-up and oil change for 15 years? Why are most of the auto love stories about a previous generation of Japanese cars?

Americans loved the Maxima, but not the Impala; the Camry and not the Malibu; the all-wheel-drive Subaru and not the Focus.

It always has been, it is now, and will always be about service and reliability.

Talk to people.

When the old car starts running $400 a month in repairs it doesn't pay to fix it. You go back into debt in an "upside down" deal just when you were making your last car payment.

I know people who never hauled a bale of hay or a refrigerator who buy new F-150's and would rather give them to kids, nephews, and charity than ever sell them. Is it possible that the F-150 is the global champion in vehicle sales because it is - forgive me, Lord - actually reliable!

Do you ever see a 3/4 ton, four-wheel-drive GMC Suburban for sale in the paper used (okay, maybe a rusted 1987 from Key West)? Who would get rid of one? No one? Does the owner care if gas is $1.27 or $3 per gallon? No.

At various levels all the big ad campaigns are scams:

  • At a low price, GM will sell you improved cars - which in some cases have had few technological and styling revolutions in a decade. The cars that do, like the Corvette, well, er, sorry: not offered in the sale.
  • Ford, playing "employee discount" catch-up, could not even control their own network on dealers. Moaning and groaning, dealers went to the news media and complained they would have to "sell twice as many units to make a living."


    If Ford had a hot product besides the Mustang, and 60 units went flying out of the shop each month instead of 30, even at half the mark-up it would make the same amount of money. If Ford really has "floor plan" and inventory incentives, the dealers should be happy. Maybe people who aren't state troopers are just tired of Crown Victoria look-alikes, and an almost religious effort to keep the Explorer nameplate even though it has been the career annuity SUV for a generation of personal injury lawyers.

    Now comes Chrysler, telling you you'll get a sales price, minus an employee discount, minus up to another $3,500 in discounts. My wife, who has bought three $30,000-plus vans in a row, and whose brother sells Chryslers in another city, says she will "never, ever" buy another Chrysler product. When her van was towed (by Chrysler) to the "nearest dealer" (not where she purchased it), she was charged a $45 application fee just to file for a reimbursement of her nondeductible, dealer-sold extended warranty. Not only did it turn out to be non-deductible, but when she complained about the $45 fee (for dialing an 800 number and receiving a credit card voucher in 30 seconds by fax while she stood there, instantly reimbursing the dealer), Chrysler couldn't care less.

    This is Daimmler-Chrysler, not Chrysler. This is not a U.S.A "big three" to anyone but the UAW.

    Go and Google Chrysler.

    Find out how the handsome-Aryan-CEO-mit-de-Col.-Klink-accent stood before Detroit microphones and pointed to the top women in management, who had designed cars for the American woman and who represented a no-glass-ceiling policy at Chrysler, promising the tradition would continue.

    Find out how fast he fired all of those women.

    Read the consumer magazines and decide - on your own - whether the Jeep, Dodge, or Chrysler you might buy evolved into something more like a Mercedes-Benz? Or was the best Mercedes your Uncle Charlie ever owned now becoming more like the sickest Plymouth you ever had as a teenager?

    Come clean with the American consumer.

    Let's pick out a nice souped up six-cylinder Malibu, which handles almost as well as a Camry, and instead of buying it for $18,500 financed over four or five years, just soak us up front. Charge me $5,000 more, and NEVER hand me a bill for repairs.

    Steal $5,000 from every fleet owner, rental car company, and individual upfront, and bank the money, escrowed to your balance sheet, to pay for the health and pension services where are your real business these days.

    Let's try it one more time:

    Yes or no?

    Your Honor, instruct the reader to answer the question!

    "Would you pay $5,000 more for a new car in return for never paying for a battery, tire, or rearview mirror that falls off?"

    Finally, if you think this is bizarre, then why do you anecdotally still hear friends say:

    "Gee, you know my Camry is really the same platform as an Avalon."

    "Wow, my mom bought this Avalon, and she saved $20,000 instead of a Lexus, and it rides just like a Lexus."

    "I can''t believe my Maxima seems like the same car as the Infiniti!"

    "If we didn't need more room for more kids, we'd still have our 1976 stick-shift Corolla, which needed one battery in 10 years."

    "My Volvos aren't as good as they used to be, but my Audi was totaled in a crash and I walked away unscathed."

    Could it be that Americans will pay for quality?

    Could it be that they are sick of paying for repairs ... and paying ... and paying ... and paying?"

    Longtime AR Correspondent Mark Scheinbaum is an angry consumer who owns a Ford, a GM, and a Chrysler product, a Polaris ATV, and two old bikes in the garage.

    Copyright 2006 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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