Gallup poll by auto dealers yields fascinating results
By TONY WHITNEY
For many years, automobile dealers have working hard through their various regional and national associations in the US and Canada to improve customer relations and enhance their image. They want to kill forever that old stereotype of the fast-talking car salesman with his plaid jacket and white shoes. Dealers seem just as anxious as the rest of us to rid themselves of images like that once and for all.
To try and discover exactly what consumers thought about the car-buying experience, the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) in the US recently commissioned a Gallup poll of consumers, dealers and (rather surprisingly) journalists. Evidently, journalists were included in the poll to see how their attitudes towards car buying compared to those of consumers.
The results of the NADA poll were intriguing and could probably be duplicated fairly closely in this country. Seventy-six per cent of consumers said they were (in pollspeak) ''extremely'' or ''very'' satisfied with their dealership, but only 8 per cent of journalists thought consumers felt that way. And 42 per cent of consumers said they felt ''extremely'' or ''very'' positive about their new car buying experience and 41 per cent felt ''somewhat'' positive. On the other hand, 58 per cent of journalists polled thought consumers were ''somewhat'' or ''very'' negative. Even the dealers polled underestimated consumers' positive attitudes towards new car buying. Journalists gave lower scores in almost every aspect of the poll from dealer honesty to pricing policies. Incidentally, there was no indication what kind of journalists were polled, but they appear to have been from a wide range of media (TV and print) and not specifically automotive journalists.
Quite why journalists have negative images of auto dealers is something of a mystery, but there are probably reasons for this. Consumers who do have problems with their new vehicle (and there are bound to be some) often copy media people with letters of complaint to dealers and automakers. I get five or six such letters a year - not many considering the population of Greater Vancouver and the number of vehicles sold annually. This kind of letter might be all the average journalist ever learns about the auto buying experiences of consumers because not too many people write to newspapers and TV networks to say how happy they are with their new car.
Even automotive journalists, who should really know better, tend to have negative images of the retail sector. One possible reason for this is that road test vehicles are invariably supplied to auto scribes by manufacturers through their regional offices or PR representatives and almost never through dealerships. As a result, few automotive journalists ever get to know anyone from the dealer side and, as a result, can have a tendency to hang on to the old ''plaid jacket'' images of salespeople. If they do pick up a test car from a salesperson at a dealership and fall afoul of what NADA calls ''the five per cent who are doing a poor job'' the negative experience is remembered for a very long time.
It's frustrating in any industry when a tiny percentage of retailers earn headlines for bad practices and NADA and its Canadian equivalents are trying to encourage the media to explain that such behavior is not the norm. There's probably still work to be done on both sides to get rid of those outmoded stereotypes.