If you are here at The Garage, chances are you love cars. And we share your passion for them. As a car journalist, I consider myself a pretty lucky guy. I have a brand new car at my disposal every week. But that’s me. My wife’s 2010 VW Jetta’s lease was coming to an end, and we needed to find a replacement. I won’t mince words-I do not like the new Jetta, which has been cheapened and dumbed down for the American market. Needless to say, the current Jetta, which is selling well, was off the list.
Shopping for a new car is a daunting experience. Apart from your house, or your child’s college education, it is one of the largest financial commitments you will make in your lifetime. Personally, I prefer to lease. Yes, you can argue that I never actually own the car, and you are right. But, like most people, I do not have $25,000 under my mattress to buy a new car.
My requirements were simple. A 36 month lease, 12,000 miles a year, nothing down. Also, I had two things working in my favor. I sold new and used Hondas before I went away to college, so I know how the system works. But the biggest weapon I brought to the table was you, our readers. And I made it perfectly clear that I would be naming names, and fully documenting my car shopping experience. You might think this would have them scared straight, right? Think again.
My wife loves the TV series Hawaii 5-0, and on that show one of the lead characters drives a Chevy Cruze, in a pretty Crytal Red paint job. She fell for the car, and the Cruze was one of our early candidates. I’d driven a Cruze Eco, and came away impressed. I have never owned an American car, but I deemed the Cruze good enough to be the first.
As a member of the auto media, I do have access to employee pricing. Yes, it is a perk of being in the business, but when you are a car journalist, people do ask what car sits in my driveway. And that answer has enough gravity that the car companies are willing to extend that discount to me.
And so, I contacted General Motors offices in New York City, asked, and received, the discount. Authorization code in hand from my printed e-mail, I marched down to Chevrolet of Milford at the end of July. I was given pricing. I said I was not ready to buy, since my lease did not terminate until the end of August. Come August, I requested new pricing. Amazingly, with the 2014’s on their way, Chevy of Milford added $500 to the price originally quoted days before.
The story gets better. Because of my employee pricing, GM gave me a link to see what my discounts would be. For a 2013 Chevy Cruze, I was entitled to a $2,000 discount. Also, since I am a member of USAA, I was eligible for an additional $500 discount, for a total of $2,500 off sticker price. I study the paperwork from Chevy of Milford. My discount is nowhere near that amount.
Frustrated, and feeling like I am being jerked around, I e-mail my contact at Chevy of Milford. I tell him I have physical proof of the discounts I am entitled to, and ask why he is not honoring them. He asks if I can e-mail him the documentation, which I was more than happy to provide. I scanned and e-mailed seven pages of print outs showing the pricing I was qualified for. A day passes. His boss e-mails me, wanting to talk about the benefits of buying a car over leasing one. Not a word of honoring the discount GM promised me. And nevermind the fact I never wanted to buy, I wanted to lease.
Since I was having trouble at Chevy of Milford, I contacted McDermott Chevrolet just outside of New Haven, CT. They had a Crystal Red Cruze like we wanted, and I had requested pricing, again explaining that I would be writing about my buying experience. As with Chevy of Milford, I provided McDermott Chevrolet pages of documentation of the discounts I was entitled to, but the dealer was not allowing. After sending McDermott the documents, three days pass without a word, until the sales guy asks if I am still interested in the car. The answer was a curt ‘no’.
So, Chevrolet of Milford and McDermott Chevrolet refused to honor the pricing General Motors promised me. And I warned both dealers if they did not cooperate, I would call them out. Which is exactly what I did. And, this is the part that breaks my heart. Chevy has never built a compact car I would ever consider owning, until now, with the Cruze. It’s that good a car.
But this is where my world meets your world-in the showroom. I am not at a fancy catered event in Manhattan, or a car show, where the car company has total control over their message. It is the dealership that for the car buying public is the face of the company.Yes, Chevy likely spent a few hundred million dollars developing the Cruze, with thousands of hours of development to make it as good a car as it is. All that money, and all that work was for nothing, because Chevy of Milford and McDermott Chevrolet failed to agree to the terms General Motors themselves had offered me.
I threatened to rat both dealers out to General Motors, and I gave them clear warning. It made no difference. So I followed through with my promise. I let GM’s corporate communications office in New York City know exactly what happened. Horrified, my contact asked if it would be ok if one of her superiors were to contact me. I said that would be fine, and within hours I get a call from the head of Northeast Chevy dealers, stating that the dealers must have misunderstood the discounts. Excuse me? SEVEN PAGES of documents show I was owed $2,500 off of list price. And GM tells me that two dealers did not understand? Do they really think I am that stupid?
Knowing that I am about to disclose these two dealerships and how they were screwing me over, I continued to get phone calls from GM, begging me to reconsider. I think the unreturned phone calls said enough. This could have been very simple, but over the matter of a few hundred dollars profit, both dealers shot themselves in the foot. And the crazy thing is, I told them if they did not honor the discount and screw me over, I would tell my thousands of readers, and the corporate leaders at General Motors about it. And, sadly enough, both dealers proved to be so arrogant and ignorant, they simply did not give a damn.
Fast forward a couple weeks later, and I am sitting on a sky top lounge overlooking Chelsea Piers in New York City. On my right is the Hudson River, to my left, the Manhattan skyline. In front of me is the drop dead gorgeous Cadillac Elmiraj concept car, fresh from its Pebble Beach Concours debut. But GM brass wants to talk to me about the Cruze disaster. I am frank, and honest, and explained that as a journalist, this is my story, and I am sticking to it. In GM’s defense, I said I would mention that the company tried to do good, but in reality, is that only because they knew I was a car journalist? With connections to their superiors?
Thanks for reading, and be sure to tune in for Part II for the conclusion of my car buying experience.