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FEATURE: The Lost Art of ‘Selling’ a Car

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A while back I got a call from a research company that wanted some insights into the ‘super-luxury’ segment of the local car market, insofar as what constitutes the said segment. It got me thinking about an aspect of car buying that well, quite honestly, is beyond me; financially anyway. I came to the conclusion that once you’re able to afford an uber-luxury car that’s priced past the RM1 million mark, you’re not buying a car anymore per se, you’re buying a lifestyle.

But is the art of ‘selling’ a car well and truly dead? In this day and age of ‘virtually’ tera-bytes upon tera-bytes of digital data flying across a massive information super-highway called the internet, consumers have never been so well-informed and well-equipped to deal with, well, bullshit.

For illustration purposes only, photo has no bearing on article.

Yes, you read that right. Oft times a customer walking into a car showroom to view a car knows a helluva lot more about the car they’re interested in than the sales consultant does, and therein lies the greatest problem with ‘selling’ a car in the 21st century. Let’s face it, by the time a potential customer walks into a car showroom, he or she has already made-up their mind that they’re going to buy a car, and this showroom is probably their first or second stop in perhaps 2-3 different brand showrooms that have models which they’ve shortlisted.

They’re going to buy a car today, the only question is which one. They’ve done ALL the research that they need to, and this might have included reading both local and overseas reviews, talking to friends, scoping forums, looking for shortfalls as well as praise about the brand, looking for the best warranties and interest rates, and they’ve probably even gone as far as to check the classifieds to gauge ‘resale value’. Yup, they’ve done all their homework and shortlisted just three brands that suit their needs and fit their budget and lifestyle. So it’s time to buy.


Fully armed with all the knowledge about the cars they’ve shortlisted, they know what they want already, so what are they really buying now? They’re buying the ‘ownership experience’ that’s what, and this entails everything that happens the moment they step into the showroom forthwith. And this is exactly what I did recently.

I decided to visit three car showrooms in one day, and the results could not have been more varied if Hollywood had scripted what was about to unfold. Sadly, visits to the two showrooms selling European brands yielded the same result, but one of them was particularly bad.

As I walked in, I proceeded directly to one particular model, a mid-size in its stable, and this should already have sent alarm bells off with any sales person who should have been watching the door, by way of “This customer knows what he wants!”. With feigned ‘genuine’ interest I studied the car from all angles, walking around it, even caressing its panels at one point. Sales reps should have been on me like vultures on a day-old carcass, but they were nowhere to be found. Glancing up occasionally, I was stunned to see that most were just sitting at their desks, some were lounging around the coffee machine, chatting.

AlamiProton (19)
For illustration purposes only, photo has no bearing on article

I went a step further. I opened the driver’s door and got in. This should have immediately summoned at least one sales rep, if not security, to come to meet me, but no. It now became a challenge, a vendetta of sorts; how was I going to get someone to come talk to me, short of leaning on the horn? So I decided to pop the bonnet. As it stood there on its gas struts, gaping for the world to see, and me hovering around it, I really expected to be thrown out anytime soon, but still no. Would you believe that no one approached me to ask if I needed any assistance? So I left, without even a brochure or price list to show for my efforts.

My next ‘mystery shopper’ stop at its closest competitor produced pretty much the same result, except this time I received a brochure, and only because I asked for one (I had to walk to a sales rep’s table to do so). I came to the realisation that most ‘sales reps’ at car showrooms have become nothing more than order-takers, and that’s because cars in a certain bracket pretty much sell themselves, with little human intervention or ‘convincing’ needed. And that’s why up to that point I firmly believed that the art of ‘selling’ a car is well and truly dead.

Until of course, I visited Lexus

Lexus Melaka
Not for illustration purposes only, photo does have bearing on this article!

As I entered the doors of the Lexus Centre (opened for me by a bowing guard) I was greeted by two personnel who stood up from behind a desk, politely bowing and greeting. I was then ushered to a café-like waiting area where I was offered a beverage and snacks. It was only after I was comfortable that I was asked if I would like someone to speak to regarding the cars, but only when I was ready. It was only then that I was introduced to a Consultant. What followed was textbook ‘proper’ sales technique. Neither too pushy nor too lackadaisical, and with just the right amount of attention, I was actually amazed just how well-versed this consultant was on the car I had (again) expressed feigned interest in. I’ll be honest with you, if I was able to afford the GS at that point I would have bought it…

And that’s exactly what people in this segment of the spending power are looking for; the experience of buying their first up-market luxury car. Hand on heart, if I was really going to buy a new car from one of the three places I’d visited that day, I’d be driving home in a Lexus. Is it because the car was so much better than the other two? Absolutely not. But it was the overall experience that captivated me, from start to finish. Let’s face it, cars in this segment are all good, so what’s left to set them apart if not the experience of buying one and the subsequent joy of ownership? Lexus knows this all too well, and other carmakers would be wise to pay attention.

Lexus believes in the spirit of omotenashi, or good hospitality in Japanese.

All is not lost though, for there are still some car companies out there who really do take the trouble to train their sales reps or sales consultants on the finer points and details of the cars they’re selling. Yes, the buying public is getting a lot smarter these days, but that’s no reason for complacency. As someone once put it so eloquently “No one walking through the doors of a car showroom should know more than a sales consultant about the product they’re selling. Period.”. Ok, I admit, I just made that up.

I’m reminded of the time I asked a sales rep what the ‘HOLD’ button on the automatic gearshift was for, and his reply was ‘Oh you press that and the car will hold the road better’. I kid you not. Truth is often stranger than fiction isn’t it? As I said, thanks to the information super-highway, the days of car buyers having to deal with blatant bullshit like this are well and truly over. – Chris Wee.

Alia says…

I can totally relate this opinion piece based on my personal experience. About a year ago, I was searching for the best B-segment car to replace my Perodua Viva. After doing all my research, I’d narrowed down all the car brands into just three choices that comprised  2 Continental brands and 1 Korean brand. I won’t spill all the details of my shopping experience here but I did notice that both of these continental brands, although there are not selling  luxury cars didn’t seem too keen to help me with the whole buying and selling (existing car) process. However, when I visited a Kia showroom, the moment I entered the door, I was immediately assigned to one of their sales advisors who fastidiously attended to me throughout the whole process. The SA knew that I needed to trade-in my car and even offered me to help sell it to a used car dealer – without me asking first. I’m not asking to be treated like royalty seriously, after all I’m just buying a RM80k hatchback, and not a Rolls-Royce, but with all due respect, those other sales advisors should not make me look like I’m desperate to own one of their cars. – Alia Zaharin.


Do you have a story to share about your car buying experience? Good or bad, hit us up in the comments section below!