Saturday, May 16, 2009

Car Dealerships Slashed -- Good Riddance!

So Chrysler is pulling the plug on a quarter of its car dealerships. And GM is doing the same to about one-sixth of its dealers.

The Chicago Tribune yesterday ran a dewy-eyed story on their demise, lamenting the loss of these veritable pillars of their communities.

They sponsor little league teams we are told. They gave opportunities to thousands of returning WWII vets. They hire thousands and pay millions in state and local taxes. Their loss is a sad thing, we are told.


These are car salesmen we are talking about here.

I say, Good Riddance!

Their passing is no more a cause for sadness than was the slow syphilitic demise of Al Capone.

Scarface sponsored soup kitchens during the Great Depression, too, you know.

The whole rickety dealership franchise system is a dusty marketing vestige of an era when there were 200 American car manufacturers, each eagerly trying to ply their newfangled horseless carriages.

In the 1920s South Michigan Avenue in Chicago was the site of storefront after storefront of hawkers of Reos, Packards, Stutz Bearcats, Mercers, Oldmobiles, Fords and the like.

As the dealership system boiled down, it ended up being a cash cow for the con-men left standing who used their government clout to safeguard their privileged market status. They used government to restrict entry, crowd out competitors and screw consumers.

No wonder organized crime began to move into the auto dealership game in Chicago during the 50s and 60s. Anyone remember Pete Epstein Pontiac on Lincoln Avenue? How exactly was a little provincial Chicago car dealer able to get Frank Sinatra to do his radio jingles?

For decades, the car dealers fought like cougars and barracudas to legislatively keep "unauthorized" replacement parts off the market. They wanted to keep their monopolies on parts and service.

And thereby screw the consumer.

For decades, they tacked on needless, high-priced extras like undercoating and extended warranties to jack up prices and profits on popular models.

And thereby screw the consumer.

The dealers leaned on their wholly owned state legislators to kill state "lemon laws" designed to protect buyers of hopelessly incorrigible Detroit concoctions. (Remeber the Chevy Vega, whose aluminum block engines would spontaneously burst into flame?)

And thereby screw the consumer.

Don't get me wrong. I am sure there are car dealers who are not crooks.

Maybe some day, I'll meet one.

After spending my summer break during high school, slaving away in a little factory that made Weinman furniture polish (this was back before the illegal alien invasion, when American manufacturers would actually hire American students during the summer at good wages,) I had saved up enough to contribute to my prep school tuition and to buy my first car.

I wanted a VW. This was after all, not too long after the summer of love and Woodstock. So I went to a Volkswagen dealer -- Nugent Volkswagen, on Waukegan Rd. in Glenview.

I picked out a clean, shiny, used Beetle, within my price range, excitedly test drove it and plunked down the cash.

A few months later, while working on the car, I discovered an old service tag on the battery, which recorded 129,000 miles on the odometer at the time of service -- not the 29,000 miles on the odometer when I bought it.

I went back and confronted the salesman (who actually had a German accent -- immigrants came here from places other than the 3rd world back then) and he and his manager gave me some lame explanation. I really had no recourse.

The dealership had clearly turned back the odometer.

They had screwed this consumer.

Many years later, over breakfast in Lake Forest, my then girlfriend's father told us how when he had traded in his Cadillac to a dealership owned by one of his country club pals, he was asked to sign a transfer form, verifying the mileage on the odometer. The form misrepresented the mileage by about 100,000 mi.

These car dealer sharpies never miss a trick.

So I am shedding no tears over their demise.

There is no reason why in this technologically advanced era, we should not be able to buy cars direct from the manufacturer, on-line.

There is no reason why the manufacturers can't authorize a large number of independent mechanics to service their cars and honor their warranties.

And as for the displaced car dealers, don't cry for them.

They'll easily be able to find work running rigged games of chance on the travelling carnival circuit.

1 comment:

Comments invited, however anonymous commentors had better deal directly with the issues raised and avoid ad hominem drivel. As for Teachers' Union seminar writers -- forget about it.