As East Coast Editor here at The Garage, I spend a good amount of time reading other auto blogs and magazines. I came across a post from Autoblog where Viper mastermind Ralph Gilles indicated that Dodge/Chrysler dealers would need to be certified to sell the Viper. There’s been plenty of hype surrounding the 2013 Viper, but what many may not realize is this is NOT a Dodge. Rather, the car will be sold as the SRT Viper, a brand all its own. And not just any Dodge or Chrysler dealer will be able to sell it.
Back in 1997 when I had just started as an auto journalist, I was fortunate to be loaned a stunning black Dodge Viper RT/10. During my loan of the Viper, I drove to the local Dodge dealership, where a client of my father’s worked as a salesperson. On arrival, the car was swarmed by Dodge salesmen, and I was happy to offer a test drive to my father’s client. On the test drive, I was intrigued at what I was told. According to him, no one ever saw any Viper the dealership sold. He continued, explaining Vipers were delivered and presented to customers after hours with no sales staff around, just the dealer principles. After dropping him off, I was stunned a Dodge salesman had never so much as seen one of the cars of the very brand he made a living selling.
With the new SRT brand, that will change. Mr. Gilles wants a Viper in the showroom. He wants a dedicated technician who knows the Viper front to back. And, most importantly, a sales staff who knows not only about the Viper, but understands the buyer. If you’re selling Dodge Avengers, Mr. Gilles understands that does not automatically qualify you to sell an SRT Viper, and that makes perfect sense to me.
And it is high time American automakers understand how to sell and service their clientele, an area they have been deficient in when it comes to a car outside their comfort zone. In the 1970’s, Buick salesmen were selling German Opals, and how did that go? A guy shilling Buick Century’s and LeSabre’s is not going to know how to talk to a buyer who wanted what was know as a mini-Corvette, the Opal GT. Ford repeated the same mistake in the 1980’s with Merkur, putting European sport sedans on a showroom floor filled with salespeople accustomed to people selling Crown Victorias. It didn’t work.
At this year’s New York International Auto Show, Lincoln revealed the production version of their new 2013 MKZ. While the car looked impressive, Lincoln spent more time not talking about their new car, but how they were overhauling their dealerships, and improving how they cater to their customers. It was like a light bulb had finally lit up. Gee, a luxury car buyer stays at luxury resorts, eats at gourmet restaurants, and expects a high standard of service. Why wouldn’t they expect similar service for a purchase as significant as a luxury car? Toyota knew this from the get go when they debuted Lexus in 1989. It is almost unbelievable it took Lincoln 23 years to come to the same conclusion.
Better late than never, I suppose. But all signs point to an awakening of where the actual car buyer lays down his hard earned cash-the dealership. As a car journalist, I only see the car. It is you, the reader, that does the shopping and makes the deal, and interacts with your local dealer. Even in my own town, I can see the changes. Our Lincoln dealer just completely overhauled their showroom. A longtime Chevy dealer who had a decent reputation but was looking shabby was pressured to renovate, and the owner sold it and closed its doors.
To sum, I find it encouraging that SRT and Lincoln are understanding they need specialists to sell their products. For all the flash that surrounds high-end cars, the end goal is still selling cars, and to do so, you need the right people and environment to cater to your customer. With the Viper and Lincoln, you cannot sell cars where Big Macs are the main seller while you are attempting to sell filet mignon. With SRT’s and Lincoln’s adjustment in how they sell their cars, I can only see success.