There is a sequel to the story of me buying the HHR – basically me doing the homework I should have done to make me feel better about the chose I made. Or at least convince me that I made the right choice. And who better to tell sequels that Paul Harvey (http://www.paulharvey.com/)?
Hello Americans, this is Paul Harvey with the The Rest of the Story:
As you may have read on Joel Scheuer’s blog post dated Saturday, March 24, 2007, he bought I used Chevrolet HHR. He did not intend to buy an HHR. An HHR was not even on the list of cars he considered. He drove to Norman Frede Chevrolet looking for a Chevrolet Malibu Max, assuming that any Chevrolet dealer would have a Malibu Maxx, and in three hours was sold an HHR. He knew he did everything wrong for a used car buyer, but he felt no buyer’s remorse that night, the next day, or up to Friday, April 6, 2007.
Then on Friday, April 6, 2007, after hearing how well thought out his brother, with his father’s help, bought a Toyota Prius at less than dealer cost he shared his own story. It seemed in sharp contrast – one doing online research on who had the car, what was it selling for, and what add-ons, warranties, and insurances made economic sense. The other making false assumptions and being shoehorned into buying a car without knowing, “is that a fair price?” Joel had no cash, no competing quotes, nothing to use as leverage for negotiating. He took the Red Tag price as the dealer’s best price, non-negotiable, and signed the paperwork.
But was the $14,500 asking price really the best price? His father encouraged him to do the research on whether or not it was a fair deal. Was the dealer really offering a low price or manipulating him to pay more than the car was worth? Joel went to the Kelly Blue Book website, kbb.com, and entered the information for his car – the trim, the engine, the mileage and the features. What he discovered was the suggested retail price according to Kelly Blue Book for his car was around $16,000, the private party sale price around $14,000, and the trade-in value of $11,000. To get a private party sale price from a dealer without haggling, with no negotiation, was a very good deal indeed.
The week April 16 Joel did some future research on the price of the HHR. He went to Yahoo’s cars page and he could not find an HHR for sale within a 50 mile radius of his home in southeast Houston for less than the price of his HHR at the same trim level. Even when searching for all HHR’s, LT and LS, he only found one LS with a lower asking price in the $13,000’s. The LS was the higher trim that his LT, and had the 2.4 Liter Ecotec four cylinder engine as an option. His had the standard 2.2 Liter engine. Joel called the dealer to ask what engine the car had, and the dealer said that if he was to take a guess it was the smaller engine. Joel told the dealer he paid $800 more for an LT HHR with 10,000 less miles than his LS HHR, to which the dealer replied: “It was probably worth it,” a statement worthy of Captain Obvious or the O RLY owl.
Joel never drove the two cars he thought he wanted most, the Malibu Maxx and the Volkswagen Passat wagon. So for kicks he looked to see if there were any Malibu Maxxes or Passat wagons for sale. There was, the Chevrolet in the far north side of town and the VW in the far west side of town – an hour by car from home either way. Joel called both the dealers and made appointments the next day to see these cars in person.
Wednesday morning Joel set out at 8:00 AM, navigating Houston rush hour traffic, to see the Malibu Maxx up close and personal at Munday Chevrolet. He arrived there ten minutes early for his 9:30 AM appointment, and talked to the receptionist. The receptionists asked who his salesman was but Joel couldn’t remember. So he patiently waited for about ten minutes while the salesmen had a morning meeting, perhaps plotting how they would coerce customers to buy their cars to meet their aggressive sales goals.
After the meeting a husky African American male met him and took him out to the lot. They walked up to the Malibu but before getting in the salesman asked him if he had any intention to buy the car. Joel told him the truth, and a minute long verbal altercation erupted as the salesman told him there was no way he was going to let Joel into the car for just a simple test drive. The salesman took him back to the receptionist, irritated, and told the receptionist the truth.
Joel told the receptionist his side of the story and that his purpose was basically accomplished by looking at the car. The Malibu Maxx is *not* a station wagon but a hatchback. The increase in cargo space from the Malibu sedan is only equivalent to a gym bag, and it would not be desirable to use it because it would block the view out the back. Ironically, Joel saw a Malibu Maxx on his way home, and a half dozen more within 36 hours, each one verifying that the Maxx is not a wagon.
Joel left, angry, and decided one thing: if he was in the market for a used car again in Houston, one dealer he would *not* go to is Munday Chevrolet.
Joel was now developing second thoughts for going to West Houston Volkswagen and Subaru to see the Passat up close and personal. What would Renia think when she knew he didn’t want to buy the car? Would there be another altercation? Perhaps the dealer was justified for not letting a person test drive a car if they were not going to buy it. After all, no Ferrari dealer is going to let the average Joe walk in and drive a quarter million dollar sports car. But then, who drives a hatchback or a station wagon hard like a sports car?
Joel felt it was time to come clean with Renia before he stepped on the lot. He told Renia the truth, hedging it with the *potential* that it might be a second car “someday” – if he decides to get married. Renia, unexpectedly, was still open to the idea of him test driving it.
Now Joel was suspicious. Will she turn around and act like the other salesman did? Well she give him a hard sell to get him to trade in his HHR and take the Passat, even before he makes the first payment on the loan for the HHR? Why does he even want to look at the Passat anyway? What if he ended up liking the Passat more than the HHR? Could he deal with nearly a decade of buyer’s remorse, every day thinking I could have had the Volkswagen if I only did more research? But if he didn’t like the Passat he would be more sure of his decision to take the HHR. Much to gain, much more to lose.
The next day Joel parked his Chevrolet in front of the West Houston Volkswagen Pre-Owned car office. He asked a salesman for Renia, and he pointed out that Renia was right outside. Joel was shocked to see her. He was expecting some Hispanic woman, nice looking but not extraordinary attractive. What he saw was a woman who could have been a fashion model in German. She was tall and slim, her hair done up and wearing an outfit that met at intersection of professional and provocative.
Her demeanor was almost the anthesis of what Joel expected from a car salesman. She was not pushy or fast talking, in fact she was relatively silent. Even though she knew Joel had already bought a car he was content with she showed him the Wagon anyway. She did make a little sales pitch about the condition and price of the car, the Certification, and the extended two year warranty. Then she let Joel walk around the car, and no, he did not kick the tires. It was low to the ground like he wanted, but had a wider track than what he felt comfortable with. The storage space seemed comparable in volume but wider and lower than the HHR. The car had a technically advanced semi-manual transmission. It was an automatic but the driver could override the car in changing gears.
Then Renia let him take it for a spin in the parking lot. She came in with him describing the car. “A Volkswagen can’t compare to a Chevy.” Joel confessed while he liked American cars he knew German cars had better engineering and manufacturing. Joel wanted to take it up as high as it would go to see how it performed at typically highway speeds, but it never got above 30 miles per hour in that parking lot. As far as he could tell it was a nice car, but the mileage on the odometer, age, and 1.8 liter turbocharged four cylinder engine would have prevented him from buying it even if he was still looking for a car. Renia still encouraged him to think about it, since she claimed that many people buy one car and soon find out it was not the car they wanted and buy a Volkswagen.
All day Joel was mulling over the contrast in experiences at Munday Chevrolet and West Houston Volkswagen. He pictured himself as Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade, bound to the chair. He could see Renia saying “This is how we sell a car in Germany” and giving him a kiss. Then the salesman from the other dealership said “And this is how we sell one in America,” and punched him in the face. Yes, Joel liked the German way much better.
But why? Could it be that salesmen of American cars realize they are pushing an inferior product? Yes, it may have high *initial* quality, but what about one, five, ten years down the road? They create slick marketing campaigns and offer a plethora of rebates and financing deals, then try to forcefully shoehorn you into the vehicle they want to sell you at the price they want you to buy it at. Then they have the never to ask, “Are you completely satisfied?” You say yes, but only because they met your low expectations for car salesmen or they have convinced you that they did you a favor.
Perhaps Volkswagen dealers know the car sells itself. They don’t need to shoehorn and coerce somebody to buy the car they want them to buy. The car is so well built it does the hard sale. The salesmen ease off so that the customer feels confident about their decision and can honestly say, “Yes, I am completely satisfied.”
So, does Joel have buyer’s remorse over the HHR? Is he kicking himself, saying that he could have had a Volkswagen? Dose he feel cheated for paying too much? Not really. He got the best deal in town. Plus, the HHR is covered by a five year, 50,000 mile extended warranty. If at the end of the warranty period Joel realizes that his HHR is a lemon, and finances permit, he will look for a new car. A Volkswagen will be on the top of his list, and a Volkswagen dealership will be the first dealership he sets foot on. He prefers being “kissed” over “punched in the face,” so to speak.
And now you know… The Rest of the Story.
Joel aka Paul Harvey — for this blog post