Fantasy loses to cold reality on car dealer's showroom floor


February 10, 1991|By ROGER SIMON

In my fantasy, I walk into the auto dealer and buy a new car for next to nothing.

The timing is perfect. Car sales are down 20 percent around the nation. Last year, 100 Ford dealers went out of business. Honda, which produced America's No. 1 selling car last year, is cutting back production this year to match reduced demand.

So car dealers should be desperate.

And it should be like how our fathers and mothers used to buy cars. They would go in and look at the sticker price and emit a low whistle and turn to the salesman and say: "So how much you gonna knock off that sticker price?"

And then they would dicker. And the price would come down.

I have never been able to dicker. The last car I bought was a popular Japanese subcompact, and the guy laughed when I asked him how much he would knock off the sticker price.

"You have to pay over the sticker price," he said. "Everybody and their cousin wants this car."

I asked him what color I could get it in.

"Whatever color we got left," he said. "And you better hurry or we won't have that."

Today, however, very few people want to buy a new car. Which means this is the time to buy one.

And it's not just that I need a new car -- I am getting tired of being stopped by cops who ask me if I know that I don't have a passenger door. Of course I know I don't have a passenger door. I'm the guy who feels the breeze, aren't I? -- but also because buying a new car might save civilization as we know it.

Consider this: If we don't buy cars, car dealerships will fail. If car dealerships fail, they cannot place ads in newspapers. If newspapers don't get enough ads, they won't be able to afford essentials like newsprint and columnists. If columnists stop writing columns, your life will be bleak and empty and without meaning. The world will descend into chaos and madness. And civilization as we know it will end.

Which is why we should all go out and buy new cars.

So in my fantasy, I go down to the car dealer and the showroom is deserted. I go up to the car and read the sticker price and emit a low whistle. "So how much you gonna knock off the sticker price?" I ask.

The salesman, who has been sleeping, awakes with a start. "Are you a customer?" he says. "Really? Don't go away. Don't move. I haven't seen a customer in six weeks."

Of course, you haven't, I say. Nobody is buying cars. And I might not buy one either unless the price comes down pronto!

"I'm taking $10,000 off the sticker price just because I like the cut of your jib," the salesman says.

Hmmm, I say. But what about my trade-in?

"I'll give you $10,000 for the trade-in," he says. "And I don't even want to see it."

It doesn't have a passenger door, I say.

"Then we'll say it's 'environmentally air-conditioned' and I'll give you $12,000 for it," he says.

Lemme get this straight, I say. You're giving me $10,000 off the sticker price and $12,000 for my trade-in. But that means I won't have to pay anything for the new car. In fact, you'd owe me money.

"Exactly," the car dealer says. "We just want you driving around in a new car. People will see it and they'll want one, too. So what do you say? Here are the keys, here's a check, drive it home today."

I liked that fantasy. And in that fantasy, they not only give me the keys and a check but let me have the color of my choice.

Never in my life have I gotten a car in the color of my choice. I have always been forced to take what's been available, and that has always been brown. They call it Bronze or Earth Gold or some other fancy name, but it is always brown. I hate brown cars.

So last weekend, I went into a car dealer. The show room was deserted. I was very happy. I looked at a car. I read the sticker. I emitted a low whistle. So how much you gonna knock off the sticker price? I said.

The salesman were not asleep, however. They were all very alert and eager. "Well, maybe we can come down $12.50," one of them said to me. "But I'd have to check with the sales manager on that. And you'd have to take it today. And a heater would be extra."

Are you kidding me? I said. There are no customers in this joint.

"They're all out test-driving cars," he said.

Sales are off 20 percent nationwide and . . .

"Oh, maybe nationwide," he said. "But we're doing fine right here."

You are?

"Oh, yes. People are lining up to buy our cars."

Well, I said, sensing victory slipping away from me, how much could I get for my trade-in?

He took a look. "I think you better try to sell it on your own," he said. "Most of our customers prefer at least two doors."

All right, I said, but I want the color of my choice.

"No problem," he said, "as long as you want Sandstone."

OK, OK, I said. I'll take Sandstone. What color is that?

"Brown," he said.

So I got the car. The price wasn't that good and I have to get it financed through his brother-in-law and I hate the color, but I'm looking on the bright side:

I'm doing my part to save civilization.

Are you?

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