Where have all the dealers gone?
Who killed the retail auto showroom?
Buying a new car is often the second most important financial decision we make, after buying or building a home. It’s a rite of passage for many middle class adults; it shows you have arrived, you’ve achieved a life-stage milestone.
It’s not a decision taken lightly, or driven by impulse. You’ve had a feeling for some time, that you might be getting close, so you’ve been checking out your options. Which models make for a sweet ride, and fit with your self-image?
If you’re at all interested in cars – and many of us aren’t these days, preferring mobility as a service – then you’ve already been eyeing them out in traffic, or stopped for a second look in parking lots. Perhaps you’ve YouTubed some of your favourite or fantasy rides.
Then you do some earnest research among your friends: “What do you think of…” is the usual format, and you consult online friends, and professional reviews. Major brands also let you take the car for a virtual ride, using VR glasses.
But whether you’re scoping out the Tesla, Beemer, Audi or just a Ford, gas hybrid or electric, once you’ve made up your mind, chances are you’ll get the finance and then order online – personalized, of course.
What about talking to a sales person at a dealership? That’s so last century! After all, the choices, deals, support, warranty and upgrades all come from the manufacturer. Why involve a middleman? Like the dodo, car dealers are dead.
In just four short years the well established networks of glitzy showrooms displaying latest models have all but disappeared. The slide started in 2018, when the GM brand reconfiguration saw hundreds of dealers closed across the globe.
There are still popup shops in airport lounges, and holographic displays in malls, but the big auto makers are all following the Tesla model, selling direct to the customer, and keeping them connected to their tech support and user community.
As a new-car buyer, about the only thing a dealer can do for you is deliver the car; but if you’ve sprung for the self-driving model, the car can deliver itself!
Warning: Hazardous thinking at work
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