The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

Auto Dealers More Than A Vending Machine

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By Steve Gates
2021 AIADA Chairman
Special To The Auto Channel

For most of my career as a dealer, I’ve been endangered. I’m essentially a woolly mammoth on the plains: big, slow, and irresistible to spear-tossing cavemen. I should be extinct. And I will be. Any day now. At least, that’s what you might think if you believed commercials like this one aired that during the Superbowl.

Wall Street-backed start-ups that think they’ve cracked the code to auto retailing are a dime a dozen – but are they a threat to dealers?

Let me put it this way, I sleep just fine at night.

Despite years of being told dealers are on their way out, I’m still here. And so are you. The Internet didn’t put us out of business. We figured out a way to make it work for us. Our manufacturers haven’t severed our relationships; they’re stronger and more important than ever. No Carvana vending machine is haunting my dreams – I know my customers want a better experience than they get when buying gum. To put it simply: throughout history dealers have always evolved, and risen to every challenge, in order to meet their customers’ needs.

The truth is, there is no code to crack on auto retailing. We’re not Blockbuster. No one can stream a new Toyota Highlander to your driveway. Buying a vehicle is the second biggest purchase, after a home, most consumers will make in their lifetime. They still want to touch metal, kick tires, and test-drive their options. They want to know there is a brick and mortar store where they can ask actual humans questions, look for advice, get their oil changed, and learn about recalls.

In a recent study, Capital One found that 94 percent of buyers are most comfortable purchasing a vehicle from a dealership (82 percent of respondents plan to visit more than one) and 92 percent of buyers say the test drive is an important part of the buying process.

Buying a vehicle isn’t a one and done transaction. Consumers want the security of having someone in their corner for the entire life of that vehicle. And with their local auto dealer, that’s what they get. And unlike the Vrooms of the world, our profits don’t go to shareholders – they go back into our community.

International nameplate dealers alone employ 564,000 workers with a payroll of $34 billion. We sponsor the local Little League and food bank. We pay taxes that go right to local schools and roads. We care what happens in your town because it’s OUR town. And that’s something that no vending machine can ever say.