Turning Over a New Leaf – or – A Cycling Advocate Buys a New Car

I freely admit that the title of this post is courtesy of a few of my Twitter friends who like to turn a phrase and are better at it than I.


Earlier this week, my wife and I leased a new Nissan Leaf from our local Nissan store. At my age, I’ve bought and sold many cars during this life and the sum total of those experiences suggest that the process is unpleasant at best and horrible at worst.

We knew what car we wanted, having done a bit of research into quality, reliability, range and so on and we were directed by our local plug-in electric car guru to the salesperson he knew and trusted. All in all the process was fast, smooth and we are delighted with the first days of driving our new silent machine.

The purchase and delivery process was remarkable for how similar it is across the industry and for how it defines the customer by lowest common denominator standards. At delivery we started with a meeting with our sales guy. He gave us an overview of the closing process – nowadays more complex than a real estate closing.

After some small talk he informed us that there would be a survey we would be asked to complete several days after delivery. He made sure that we were aware that his, and the dealers’ compensation was tied to the results of that survey. His words – and we’ve all heard these before – “If you can’t give me the highest mark, give me a call”. I’ve often wondered what that meant. If I could only score an 8 out of 10, would I be compensated for raising the score? Maybe a free tank of gas?  That won’t help.

Then he told me that we would meet their “Delivery Specialist”. This is the person we thought would take us through the labyrinth of steps involved in driving, charging, and managing the new (to us) technology. More on this later.

Then we were told we would meet the finance guy to sign the papers and after that step, we could take our new car home.

What went right

The car is very cool. Silent, fast (enough), well handling if a bit homely. Our salesman was knowledgeable, not pushy, friendly, and made eye contact equally with me and my wife, who was responsible for more than ½ of this buy decision.

What went wrong (I use this term loosely)

The presentation of what we needed to take away from the presentation by our sales guy had a distinct “teach to the test” feel to it. “The survey will ask if I went over a, b, and c. So here, I’m going over a, b, and c.”

Am I an idiot?

When we were turned over to the Delivery Specialist, we were treated to a pitch intended to scare us into buying all kinds of “security” extras. Think of the tru-coat scene from Fargo. “This diamond shield (or whatever it’s called – I tuned out very early) windshield protection….(protection and security were used many times here.) would allow us to see things better and avoid an accident. “ He went on, “Did you know that you travel 90 feet every second at 60 mph? Think how important it is to see things better and faster.”

Tru-Coat scene from Fargo

To protect the inside of the car, he pitched rubber floor mats. Seal coat (tru coat?) for the paint, vinyl for the bumper. Etc. To be fair, we quickly said no to everything and he didn’t push.

Then on to the finance guy. He was friendly enough and we were presented papers to sign quickly and efficiently. However, he looked only at me for the entire meeting. My wife notices this very quickly and he failed that test.

Back to our sales guy who, as it turned out, would show us how to manage this new technology. He gave us the basics – when much more was warranted but I’m savvy enough to figure it all out.

Before we left, he informed us that the car had been charged incorrectly the night before and had shut the charging process off during the pre-delivery top-off. They were delivering the car with a 70% charge. We had a 10 mile drive home where we would immediately charge it up again so it was no matter.

Here is the rub: The dealer made that mistake. Should I mark them with a “10”? If I can’t, and I won’t, should I call the sales rep to receive my gift in exchange for the 10?

They are so close but at the end of the process, it’s clear that they don’t truly understand what customers want. They get trained by industry professionals who are largely informed by bogus surveys. So as consumers we are left with an unpleasant experience so that, at times, we are loathe to repeat it.

We’re all familiar with the statistics. Fewer miles driven each year since 2005 and continuing to decline. Millennials buying cars at rates that are smaller than any of the three generations that preceded them. Do car companies and their dealers really want to use antiquated methods and customer service models to move product?

Larry David the Car Salesman – Youtube

There is  a new career in here somewhere.

Tony Desnick

About Tony Desnick

Tony Desnick is an architect, urban designer, and bicycle activist. He has worked in the bike share industry since 2013. He has ridden a bike for the last 56 years and commutes year 'round by bike today. He serves several local and int'l non-profit boards of directors. In May 2016, he presented a TEDx talk about how bicycles can change us and our communities. It can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTT7i3SKpMQ