Tesla is Smarter Than Other Auto Companies – Forbes
“ Car dealers are idiots ” said my friend as she sat down for a cocktail.
It was evening, and this Vice President of a large health care equipment company was meeting me to brainstorm some business ideas. I asked her how her day went, when she gave the response above.
She then proceeded to tell me she wanted to trade in her Lexus for a new, small SUV. She had gone to the BMW dealer, and after being studiously ignored for 30 minutes she asked “ do the salespeople at this dealership talk to customers?” Whereupon the salespeople fell all over themselves making really stupid excuses like “we thought you were waiting for your husband,” and “we felt you would be more comfortable when your husband arrived.”
My friend is not married. And she certainly doesn’t need a man’s help to buy a car.
She spent the next hour using her iPhone to think up every imaginable bad thing she could say about this dealer over Twitter and Facebook using various interesting hashtags and @ references.
Truthfully, almost nobody likes going to an auto dealership .
Everyone can share stories about how they were talked down to by a salesperson in the showroom, treated rudely or like they were ignorant, bullied by salespeople and a slow selling process, overcharged compared to competitors for service, forced into unwanted service purchases under threat of losing warranty coverage – and a slew of other objectionable interactions. Most Americans think the act of negotiating the purchase of a new car is loathsome – and far worse than the proverbial trip to a dentist. It’s no wonder auto salespeople regularly top the list of least trusted occupations!
When internet commerce emerged in the 1990s, buying an auto on-line was the #1 most desired retail transaction in emerging customer surveys. And today the vast majority of Americans, especially Millennials, use the web and social media to research their purchase before ever stepping foot in the dreaded dealership.
Tesla heard, and built on this trend. Rather than trying to find dealers for its cars, Tesla decided it would sell them directly from the manufacturer . Which created an uproar amongst dealers who have long had a cushy “almost no way to lose money” business, due to a raft of legal protections created to support them after the great DuPont-General Motors anti-trust case.
When New Jersey regulators decided in March they would ban Tesla’s factory-direct dealerships, the company’s CEO, Elon Musk, went after Governor Christie for supporting a system that favors the few (dealers) over the customer. He has threatened to use the federal courts to overturn the state laws in favor of consumer advocacy.
It would be easy to ignore Tesla’s position, except it is not alone in recognizing the trend. TrueCar is an on-line auto shopping website which received $30M from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s venture fund. After many state legal challenges TrueCar now claims to have figured out how to let people buy on-line with dealer delivery, and last week filed papers to go public. While this doesn’t eliminate dealers, it does largely take them out of the car-buying equation. Call it a work-around for now that appeases customers and lawyers, even if it doesn’t actually meet consumer desires for a direct relationship with the manufacturer.
Apple’s direct-to-consumer retail stores were key to saving the company
Distribution is always a tricky question for any consumer good. Apple wanted to make sure its products were positioned correctly, and priced correctly. As Apple re-emerged from near bankruptcy with new consumer products in the early 2000′s Apple feared electronic retailers such as Best Buy would discount the product, be unable to feature Apple’s advantages, and hurt the brand which was in the process of rebuilding.
So Apple opened its own stores, staffed by “geniuses” to help customers understand the brand positioning and the products’ advantages. Those stores are largely considered to have been a turning point in helping consumers move from a world of Microsoft-based laptops, Sony music products and Blackberry mobile devices to new iDevices and resurging Macintosh popularity – and sales levels.