Browse through any new car tech specs and, in all but the more budget-oriented ones, you’ll surely find a list of driver assist systems.
The thing is, the implementation varies from one manufacturer to the other, so while one lane departure warning might, for example, turn the steering wheel automatically for you, another will just issue a warning – and so on and so forth.
Factor in the semi-autonomous technology and things become even more complicated. Not just for customers, but for dealership personnel, too, who are not always up to speed concerning what each feature can or, most importantly, can’t do.
Head of advanced engineering at Continental, Ibro Muharemovic, was working on a lane-recognition system for an American manufacturer that he won’t name. When the company launched the system, he took his mother to a dealership to show her his work. “I asked the dealer what the car could do, and then he kind of scared me”, he told Autonews. “He told me the car could drive itself. I knew for a fact that it couldn’t.”
A more serious incident occurred on May 10, 2014, when Donna Lee, who was test driving a Mercedes-Benz GL450, was told by salesman Desmond Domingo to not touch the brake pedal as they were approaching a line of stationary cars in front of them. Domingo was confident the Merc’s Distronic system would apply the brakes itself and bring the SUV to a stop, which it didn’t, resulting in a collision at 40 mph!
The National Automobile Dealers Association has already announced, since April, that it would launch a “My Car Does What” campaign to educate consumers about the various features in each car. Yet, this might not be enough as it doesn’t tackle the other side of the problem, namely the salesperson.
NADA’s own data show that U.S. dealerships had an average turnover rate of 65 percent for salesmen and 88 percent for saleswomen in 2015. Thus, it will be very difficult to hang on to experienced staff, who can educate the prospective buyer as he/she should.
AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson describes the whole situation as “a mess” and states that it won’t be resolved until fully autonomous cars come online. He also suggests that dealerships should seriously consider changing their attitude towards salespersons, who are mostly judged on closing a deal by negotiating on the price.
“A lot of people who love talking about technology, the last thing they want to do is talk price”, he said. “It’s an oxymoron. They don’t go together”.
What he proposes is moving to a non-negotiation model that is based not on commission, but a fixed salary, in order to attract the right kind of people. Somehow, we can’t see that happening anytime soon, though…