Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Dichotomy of Car Dealers

Bought a car last night. With my doctor moving further away and more traveling to be done for business, I wanted better mileage than I was getting. Also wanted a sedan, not another van. Wanted high odometer, several years old, good condition, Lexus ... yeah, I am addicted and I wanted another car like I got in Ireland years ago...really loved that right hand drive LS 430.

But, I KNOW I have to look around, search the web, compare prices, find models, and...oh with a sales person of some type.

So the loins must be girded, the mind must be focused (fully oxygenated blood coupled with a high dose of anti-cancer steroids really was a plus!!!) Set my mental budget, went in admitting to no more than 2/3 of that and looked for a deal that was only 1/3 ... miracles do happen.

Also remind myself this is no trade in (we keep the van for real hauling and Linda likes it) and a cash sale, no note. I hope that gives me a bit of price leverage, but really, these days, they don't care much about that...I just do not want a car payment. Have not had one for several years now and have totally changed my perspective on such things.

I had a list of must haves and wanna haves...not a big list, but specific...older, around the 100K mile mark, auto climate control, power seats ... and memory seats were a big want to have. The car had to 'fit' both of us comfortably and be in good condition. Looking for a nice older car I can drive into the ground over a few years.

I ultimately searched the web for 2 weeks, and then went to 7 lots, both big dealers and small used car lots. And I ultimately found a deal I am pretty happy with.

2004 Lexus ES 330, a soft grey (millennium they call it) with just over 100K miles. New brakes and fully inspected...we made that a condition of sale to cover lots of mechanical bases. The Texas emission controls inspection can be a real pain.

Came in right at my 2/3 budget mark.

But the GAME, the GAME, the GAME.

Car sales people have no people skills! They do not know how to treat people with any respect. For instance:

After 2 hours of test driving a bunch of T's, I 'meet the manager' of course. First he looks like some wannabe mafia Texas (maybe it's Cosa Nostra here...used to be)...ill fitting pin stripe suit when everyone else was in T-corp Khakis and he had this slicked back hair like it  is to impress me. Yuck!...nearly made me walk away just to shake his hand.

He spins a story of how his used car lot is being demolished on Monday and "ALL THE CARS HAVE TO GO" ... so he want to make me a good deal. I tell him I am pretty sold on a Camry, but I need an hour to think about it and he needs to come up with a firm out the door price.

I psyche myself up to buy the car while at dinner (and discussing it with Linda, of course) then call back in an hour as I promised and the sales person (lowest on the leader board, by the way) acts like he does not remember me, doesn't have the price figured out (any price) and says he'll call me in an hour.

That was 6pm Saturday night ... he calls me back on Thursday afternoon to see if I am still interested in his Camry. THURSDAY! And he seems miffed when I tell him I bought a Lexus on Wednesday!

T Used Cars are still there...have no fear...the lot is full of nice used overpriced cars.

So we keep looking. I was impressed by a 2010 Buick LaCrosse and came VERY close to a 2011 Ford Fusion, but they were both right at my budget limit and I was still leery of an American car...much burned in the 1980's and I have a long memory.

New cars like the Elantra, the Civic, and the Sonata, all right at the budget limit, but do not offer the features I want.

There is pressure to buy a new car. It would seem sensible to buy a new car if the price is only $2K over a 2 year old used model, but depreciation and insurance just make it a sick deal.

We test drive an Elantra (doesn't fit) and a Sonata hybrid ...very interested in the hybrids... but the sales person tells us he is specifically not a hybrid lover and does not like to sell them ... no real reason, he doesn't even know how the engine works, exactly (neither did the Toyota sales person). No, this guy just doesn't like them. Oddly, the T sales dude had a similar attitude about hybrids.

The Sonata is a good car and the hybrid was great...enough power and smooth transition ... just beyond my max number...we will wait.

 I tell the Lexus salesman I want a 6-8 year old sedan with near 100K miles and he says he doesn't have any and lets me drive a 2011 LS 460..Sure, If I had that kind of budget, nothing beats an LS ... I would take another over a Merc, a BMW, a Jag, or even a Bentley...they are just superb cars. (The Hyundai Equus looks very Lexus LS like too...and is valued so). But Lexus is best.

Today when I happen to see him at the Lexus dealership (having new keys made) I mention I bought an ES from another dealer and he switches off immediately...that's OK, I am no longer a prospect, I understand that...but then he tells me he had a 2004 LS with 30K miles for right at my 2/3 number...and that he sold it to a friend.

Now, why did he tell me this little story. It might be true, it might not be, but was he deliberately telling me that he chose NOT to contact me with the perfect car when it came in and that instead he 'sold it to his friend'? Was that just to sort of establish that I was NOT his friend, not even on his contact list? I found it weird behaviour.

After 6 other dealers, looking at N's cars (which NEVER fit head hits the headliner in every model)...we had come across a 2004 Lexus ES 330 at just about the right price. Needs a brake job and some work to make it inspect-able...that's what we set as a contingent and agreed to pay a certain amount of overage if needed...of course it was.

But when we came to collect it, our sales rep was flitting about, not with other customers, but just running from his empty office to someplace else even as he told us the car was being brought 'round. Then, suddenly, his partner, mentor, super, whatever shows up, shakes my hand and says, let's go look at it and get it closed. OK...but this guy has not been involved in the sale at all.

We look at it, drive it a bit, with a new dealer plate on it, then adjourn to the cashier's office area to pay the final piece. I had paid several thousand via Amex as a deposit already to hold the car and get the work done, no problem, and then our new sales guy makes us wait at a table in the lobby, runs back with my credit card (whole car paid for via Amex ... gotta get the points!) and returns saying we're done.

He presents me with an Amex charge sheet where he charged the agreed overage. He's about to let me out the door with this car, signed and sealed (although no one EVER asked me to sign an Amex charge authorization) for several thousand dollars less than the agreed price. Like more than half the agreed price. I looked at the slip and thought, "what if I just drive off with all this documentation saying I've paid, everything is done?"

I presumed they would discover the problem, call me and/or call the cops ... but thoughts of taking advantage of this idiot who inserted himself for no reason of value to me into my sale did, indeed, flit through my mind.

I showed the credit card receipt to him and said, I think I owe you rather a lot more than that. He looked surprised, confessed he knew nothing about the prior sales process, deposit, payments or anything, then ran back to his 'Cashier' and showed up with a NEW bill for the residual.

But there is a wrinkle. He wants me to pay the 2% AMEX merchant charge in addition to the agreed residual amount for the car. Or I could write him a check.

I suddenly realized this was a scam to extract a little more money out of the deal. Just a little more, just a bit, just 2% of half. I told him that if he did that I would just go file a complaint with AMEX since it is against the rules in the US Merchant agreement to force your customer to pay the fee as a surcharge or to direct your customer away from using the card.

He sullenly said he didn't know about that and then thanked me and shook my hand.

Looking into the sales person's eyes, I knew what the problem was. His eyes were totally dead, devoid of emotion, reptilian or snake like. He's a sociopath. He's high functioning, and it may be a learned sociopathy, but he has no sense of community, his place as a member, empathy for fellows, or even a sense of people as person. He also has no social skills.

It has been said that most successful high end executives are high functioning psychopaths. I suspect that middle tier, barely making it car salesmen are on the sociopathy or ASPD scale.

This guy interrupted me three times as I was using my iPad to bind over my insurance for the car, then when I said, I was doing that, he gets startled and says,"Oh, I haven't given you my friend's card...he'll get you set up with insurance..." I just looked at him and said, "no", hit the button on my policy site and got the message that I was covered. It IS the 21st century, after all.

He thanked me and shook my hand an hour he shook my hand four times and told me he would follow up with the missing paperwork the next day and wanted to "stay with me and the car" to be sure everything was right. I, of course, never heard from him again.

I went to the service folks today and collected the inspection report...the work order for the repairs was "not in the computer yet" ... we'll see if the title and plates show up without another visit. Probably have to go to the DMV myself.

The man is an IDIOT!!! He actually thought I would stop using my regular insurance company and switch to his 'friend'? He thought we were so stupid as to even WANT to do that?

What is wrong with these people? I don't mind the tactics, the good sales guy, bad sales guy routine, the  make you wait and sweat a deal out of you. But they have no subtlety in their con, no finesse, not even social engineering. When I first showed up alone, every sales person tried to play the macho man card..."you can make this decision, right? You don't have to ask anyone else?"

Of COURSE I have to consult with my life partner, wife, lover, best friend, and the saint who has seen me through more medical crap than you can shake a stick at. And, frankly, these guys could play THAT card more subtly than they do...some are so blatant (the T guys) that you could swat flies with their rhetoric!

These N guys are also amazingly blatant about bending or edging the law.  They put an inspection sticker on the car, but Texas law says they HAVE to give you the inspection report. I was very suspicious that they had not really inspected the car...after all I received the car with a new inspection sticker and the first thing the car did was report a dead tail light to me on the dash (good info system on this car)

We did encounter one sales rep who really did earn our business with a good, friendly, non-manipulative style. I wanted to do a deal with him, but we could not come to terms on the price. But he was not miffed, not dismissive, nor condescending when I said no. He was a pro. HOPE HE DOES WELL.

Which brings me to the dichotomy: Service

I went to Lexus this morning to have new keys cut ... old car, one key, held together with tape. This is non-trivial at Lexus as new keys are about $200 each  .. .they carry an immobilizing  security transponder and the remote control is in the key head. No master key, no car start...period.

I saw someone online asking if anyone knew where you could get such keys cheap...the best answer was, "you own a Lexus and can't afford a $100 key?" Good answer!

The service rep was polite, professional, helpful, not pushy about other services, which we did discuss. he was prompt with answers and did not try to hedge  amounts or mislead. When I declined something he did not become miffed or anti-social, nor did he keep coming back to something trying to sell it.

Two keys took an hour and I was made very comfortable with good espresso and plenty of TV.

He was NOT a sociopath, nor ASPD. He had people skills and he won my business and will win more with that attitude.

I went back to the N dealership, but straight to service and the service people were very concerned about why the light was out. They pulled the inspection report, then opened the light bulb compartment, but the light was not was dead in their driveway and working in their garage. Loose connection apparently and they tightened that.

No upsell, no pressure, no resentment, serious concern and then a solution. No charge. And they said to watch it and bring it back if it happens again. Slick and pro and restored my faith. They DID do an inspection, the sales dudes (2 of them) had just not bothered to pull the report and give it to me.

So why is service attentive and sales repulsive?

Why is this so? Sure, they may make more money with a good service department and one reason I just acquired my 4th Lexus is the service..amen to that!

But a calmer, more attentive, more interested sales person would go further toward closing a sale at least with me. Oh yeah, car sales are just booming aren't they? Used cars are so in demand that the prices are almost as high as new.

But with deceptions, lies, misleadings, weird stories about closing the lot and all else, it would appear these tactics are not working.

But interested service with full disclosure and professional attitude, non-condescending rhetoric and punctual results pulls customers back...I wonder why?

Service at my local mechanic is much the same. He's helpful, punctual, doesn't try to oversell me, and is happy to help as he can. Of course, good service is his bread and butter...he has no cars to sell. But the tactics work and work better than the traditional sales tactics seem to.

I think that is because the sales people and their management and their management are sociopaths...the business seems to attract them. I don't really mean to criticize; sociopaths need work too. It is a character trait, a brain chemistry thing, probably augmented by social environment and then being able to find a culture where they can be anti-social as instinct dictates while still being part of a weird, competitive, dysfunctional community. And the weak do not last long. Low man on the leader board is probably gone quickly.

Service, on the other hand attracts people who like to solve problems, understand problems and enjoy interactions...or at least the dealerships seem to architect their departments this way. And it works; I WANT to go back and spend money with a good service department. If I could open a hole and have every sales rep sucked into the hell-mouth, I would.

Why does it perpetuate? Surely, with so much info online, so many comparisons to be done, so much intelligence to be garnered about the products, silly, manipulative stupid sales people must be at a disadvantage? Aren't they? Or are they perpetuating a tradition as a last dying scream since they will have little place to go if buyers reject the tactics and buy what they want, as they want, for a price they want, without the histrionics.

CARMAX is making a dent there, and I researched with them a lot, but most cars fell outside my budget because they were too new or they were too far away and the transport cost would add more to the cost. But the no haggle price (plus the no haggle fees they barely disclose) is a step in the right direction.

Someone needs to do a serious, perhaps longitudinal, study on the psychology of car dealerships and their business models, ethics, tactics, and style in both sales and service. I have been unable to find anything very much in-depth or academic...a few popular magazine articles, but not much more.

But I do like my new car...excellent condition, very smooth and drives like the bubble bath I enjoy. A bit smaller than the LS, but not so much I care.  Much better gas mileage. I'll get an LS hybrid when they become common in a few more years. If they ever do...yeah, they will.

Thoughts anyone? Am I just letting off steam after a memorable and not totally pleasant experience?

By the way, buying my LS 430 in Galway, Ireland was totally different...very pleasant, none of the manipulation...sales and service felt as one..of course, the dealership went bankrupt later...what does that say?


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Little Touch of Heart

As many of my friends know, I have had severe breathing problems for several years. I could not walk far or fast, could not climb stairs, and was often huffing and puffing after the mildest exertion. This began, in earnest when I was working at Adobe systems in the 2004-2005 timeframe, even as I was walking 3 miles a day to work and back in downtown San Jose. After a bout of pneumonia in 2006, I was severely restricted as my colleagues at DERI in Ireland may recall.

I want to thank all the friends and colleagues who tolerated my disability and my slowness. I also want to let everyone know that those days are behind me now.

No, it was not my lifestyle or my weight..I am the same 280 lb or 129 kg now that I have been for a dozen years. No it was not my Myeloma which I am still living with and undergoing treatment for.

No, I had a hole in my heart. A little hole which I have had since birth. A minor congenital birth defect. And I have had it repaired. As I say, I have been darned like an old sock!

A Patent Foramen Ovale or Atrial Septal Defect is a remnant from the womb. Everyone has this little hole while gestating. But it is supposed to close up upon your first breath, when your lungs take over the job of supplying oxygen to the blood.

In 25%-30% of people it does not close. un-oxygenated blood from the venous side of the cardiovascular system is forced under pressure into the oxygenated arterial side, thus lowering the percentage of oxygenated arterial blood flowing to muscles and organs.

For most, the hole is so small, the effect so benign that it causes no impact. This is the current medical line. However, as we age and our heart's stiffen, it can become a possible site for clots and can lead to stroke. Protocol at many hospitals now is that once you have a stroke, a special type of sonogram is performed to see if a PFO or ASD is present.

In May I had two strokes while on Myeloma meds which increased the thrombophilic properties of my blood. Fortunately, they were minor, left no impairment, and pushed me into this protocol.

The 'bubble' test, where microscopic bubbles are dissolved in your blood while a cardio echogram is performed, was very positive, showing a literal stream of bubbles flowing from my right to left ventricles in just the way that is never supposed to happen. I have it on DVD. It is the most compelling video of myself I have ever seen. The test is not dangerous or painful and took less than 15 minutes. It needs a nurse to assist (she mixes the air with the sterile saline and shoots it into a vein through an IV). microscopic bubbles pose no threat and dissolve rapidly into the blood.

There is also a TTE test which I had that is a bit more involved (tube down the throat so the sonogram transducer is in the esophagus. Also safe, non-painful, but requires a bit of sedation for 15 minutes or so. 

On Monday, July 23, I went in for robotic open heart surgery for an ASD repair at the Baylor Heart Hospital in Plano, Tx. On Wednesday I went home feeling ten years younger.


The robot is used to penetrate from the right side in four or five small incisions where catheters, cameras, drains, and any other tools can be inserted. The chest is NOT cracked as in the old days and there is no long scar.

I do look as if I battled a samurai and the camera went in through a slit at the base of my right nipple...that was a bit of an ouch for a few days. But only thin scars remain and they will fade in a year or so. Even the neck and groin incisions where the bypass catheters went in (had to stop the heart, so a little pumping help was needed) are soft, thin, and fading already. It has not been 2 full months yet.

The pain was virtually nil. I was standing Monday afternoon, walking Tuesday and Wednesday I went home. The folks (Nurses, PTs, OTs, Admins, Doctors, Dietitians, etc) at the hospital are a) wonderful, b) impressed, c) amazingly well trained and helpful, and d) did I mention wonderful.

My surgeon was friendly, conversant, articulate, and wonderfully competent. Among the best in the world as the Plano Heart Hospital has just been recognized. Thank you, Robert Smith!

My cardiologist is also friendly, articulate, competent, and very, very impressed that this returned me to such energy and stamina as I have not had in years. thank you Kevin Theleman!

But I have to thank my oncologist/hematologist for sticking with me and being smart enough to NOT make it all about the Myeloma. When we met I told him better breathing was a goal and we had to find out what was wrong there. He never wavered from thinking about that and helping me even as he also fought the Myeloma aggressively as he had to do. He has moved his offices somewhat further away now, but is worth the drive (and possibly a new car with better mileage) to stick with his treatment and his wisdom. Thank you Lee Drinkard!

I spent a couple of days and nights on the living room couch, then climbed to my bedroom with virtually no effort by the end of the first week. Today I carried a 100 pound piece of granite chess set down the stairs. I was huffing a bit, but my O2 saturation never fell below 96%...before, a 30 foot walk would drop me into 70% "go to ER immediately range".

Now, walks, stairs, lawn work, swimming, even scuba are once again no-fear activities. I literally feel like I am back in my mid forties. Doctors all agree; no cardiac restrictions, and I can resume my normal activities as I wish.

Which, of course, now includes Myeloma treatments. I was off all treatment for 4 months to get the heart and breathing thing fixed. That did give the Myeloma time to regroup and to start coming back...but now I am MUCH, MUCH more capable of tolerating the treatment and seem to be doing so quite well.

Six years! Six years of heavy breathing, tiredness, avoiding stairs, not going to conferences, and many other restrictions I put on my life. Six years of asking doctors why I did not have enough breath for normal activities. Six years of looking at my lungs and my blood, but never seriously at my heart. I had an Echo done in Ireland and was told my heart would last 100 years. And well it might...but THAT Echo was not the bubble test Echo and so did not reveal my little birth defect.

Fifty-seven years to find and repair a congenital heart defect. Fifty-seven years. Is this why I never could excel at sports? I tired very easily even at my peak in high school...running laps and bleachers was the world's worst for me.  I could hit softball homers repeatedly, but could not rapidly run the bases. Who knows?

But that is all over. I feel fantastic and, as I said, the normal activities of a middle aged man no longer hold fear and trepidation for me. I don't carefully plan my walks to the curb or my trots up and down stairs in our house. I know longer worry if I need to walk up a flight of stairs at a client site.

Twenty-five to thirty percent of you have this defect, too. You may never notice it. But if n ot found and treated, it can lead to strokes. Unfortunately, it is not typically tested for until AFTER the first stroke. But you CAN talk to your cardiologist about it and ask for it.

So life continues, work continues, and I continue. Looking forward to a vacation next year where I can get some downtime in a pretty lagoon or on a nice drift dive. It is GOOD to be back!