Car Salesman Confidential: The Two-Hour Delivery


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Back in the day, when you finished buying a new car, all the salespeople had to do was congratulate you and “toss you the keys” (back when keys were simple pieces of metal without computer chips, pushbuttons, or remote start). You and your salesperson shook hands, and off you drove into the sunset in your brand new Pontiac Catalina. That was it. That was all there was to delivering a new car in 1967.

My, how times have changed.

In today’s world, the delivery process, like everything else in our lives, has become digitized. Hooray, you say!  Digital is good, right?  Well . . . maybe.  The modern delivery process bears little resemblance to the way cars were delivered in 1967. It has become a lot more complicated and a lot more time-consuming. No matter where you go or what brand you buy, a new car delivery will most likely involve an iPad or tablet of some kind and be highly interactive, requiring the customer to answer dozens of questions, watch videos, and give the dealership one final signature after all is said and done. Think of it as a master class in your automobile, in which all the new technology of your vehicle is explained to you. This process, if it’s done the way the manufacturer wants it to be done, might take up to two hours.

Wait . . . what? Two hours?!

Yes, two hours. (Unless you’re buying a Mercedes-Benz S Class, in which case it’s two days.) Now, mind you, that’s if your salesperson does everything they’re supposed to do, like show you how to set your clock and go through the multilevel menu between the tach and the speedometer that allows you to control intelligent cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, forward emergency braking, rear cross traffic alert, lock phasers on target, and fire photon torpedoes, and find out how many miles you’ve got left on a tank of gas.  He’s also required to explain the principles of ABS, ANC, AWD, CVT, DOHC, EBD, VDC with TCS . . . [DEEP BREATH] . . . pair up your cell phone, download your address book, enroll you in On-Star or Zorch Connect, show you how to program your memory seats, reset your TPMS light, engage Eco Mode, program a destination into your nav system, go over a few of the 3,000 available voice commands, introduce you to the service department and, oh yeah, show you where the button that opens the gas door is.

For every one of these things there is a little box that must be checked on the tablet.  And for half of these things there is a video for the customer to watch. These little videos explain in excruciating detail what a feature is and how to operate it—and they can be anywhere from two to 10 minutes long. Are we getting the picture yet?

Imagine you’ve just spent three or four hours at your local dealership. It took you two hours to select the car and hammer out the price. Then there was an hour and a half wait to get into finance. It’s now 7 p.m., and you’re finally done with paperwork. You haven’t eaten since noon, and you’re hungry, irritated, and exhausted. The kids are screaming. The only thing you want to do is get the hell outta there. That’s when your smiling salesperson appears with an iPad in hand and tells you there’s only one more thing left to do. The delivery. You groan. You thought you were almost free. But the truth is you’re still miles from the finish line—if your salesperson does it the way he’s supposed to.

But you know what most salespeople do? We’re ready to go home, too. So we shortcut the process. While you’re in Finance, we go through the delivery for you. We check all 135 boxes, answer all the questions, play a few videos, and skip to the last page, the one that requires your signature. Once you come out of F&I ready to leave, all you have to do is sign and then drive.

At this point you might be wondering—why in the world would any manufacturer want to put their customers—and their salespeople—through this nightmare?

There are several reasons. The first is safety. Say you’ve just bought a new car and you’re driving home at night in a pouring rain. The interior of the car is unfamiliar and you’re fumbling around in the dark trying to find the windshield wipers. In your last car the control was on a stalk on the left of the steering wheel, and you rotated it to turn on the wipers. But that’s not where it is in this car. You can’t see a thing through the windshield, and you start to curse: “If only the darn salesperson had shown me how to work the wipers before we left!”

It is every salesperson’s responsibility to familiarize their customers with their new car.  But because most salespeople are more concerned with catching their next “up” and selling another car, they don’t bother to show the customer where the wipers are. By creating a mandatory process the salespeople must follow, the thinking goes, we can at least make sure the customer doesn’t die on his or her way home. But the larger reason behind the digital delivery is . . .

The annual J.D. Power & Associates I.Q.S., or Initial Quality Survey.

The Initial Quality Survey, which has been around for 30 years now, measures problems experienced by owners of new cars, trucks, vans, and SUVs during the first 90 days of ownership. Manufacturers really sweat this survey’s results because they know that 80 percent of consumers base their buying decision in part on what J.D. Power & Associates says. Of course, everyone wants to be at the top of the I.Q.S. survey.

The way the delivery plays into I.Q.S. is this. Many, if not most, of the problems people typically report with new cars aren’t actual defects or mechanical problems with the car.  They’re a result of the consumer not knowing how to operate a feature because the feature was never properly explained to them.

Imagine you’ve just bought a new car and can’t get the cruise control to work. Who do you blame? Do you say “Gee, I must be stupid?” No, human psychology being what it is, most people say “This car is stupid!” or “It must be broken.” And when they’re asked on the I.Q.S. survey if they’ve experienced any problems with their car since they took delivery, they say: “The cruise control doesn’t work.”  Every time a buyer reports a “defect” such as this to J.D. Power, it drops the brand’s score and hurts sales. For that reason, one of the primary goals of the digital delivery process is to make sure that only actual defects are reported to J.D. Power, not those due to customer misunderstanding. And if enough people report a problem with a particular feature year after year, that feature gets redesigned to make it simpler to operate.

The delivery is extremely important to your salesperson, your dealership, and the manufacturer. In fact, it’s so important that some manufacturers are now requiring a second delivery within 60 days after the first one. Yes, you heard right: a second delivery. So if you don’t feel like going through all the rigmarole right after you’ve bought a car, schedule a time to come back later and let your salesperson go over your new car with you. They’ll appreciate it, and you’ll come away knowing a lot more about your car than you ever thought possible.


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