Confessions of a Car Man


Pulling A Jacobi

I was saddened to hear today that my old friend and fellow Car Man, Ron Jacobi, died recently. I first met Ron back in 1976 when I went to work at Hayward Datsun. We worked together on and off for the next dozen years or so.

I’m not going into a big thing about Ron. You would have to have known him to appreciate him. Suffices to say he was a warm and funny guy and like most Car Men—a little nutty.

Ron had a little quirk. Well, actually he had a lot of quirks, but this is the one I want to tell you about. You would be talking to him about something. The conversation would end and later in the day, or maybe even a couple of days later, he would come up to you and begin talking about the subject right where he left it off without missing a beat.

This was always strange, because for a few seconds you would have no idea what he was talking about. Ron did this all the time. He just assumed that if he knew what he was talking about you should too. And if you stopped to inquire what the hell he was talking about he’d look at you like you were crazy!

Another thing Ron would do: He’d start talking to you the moment he saw you. He might be thirty feet away and you may not even know he’s there, so by the time he got to you he’d be half way through a story, and you wouldn’t have a clue as to what he was talking about. He did things like this so often I coined the phrase, “pulling a Jacobi”.

Over the last thirty years I have accused dozens of people of pulling a Jacobi. I’ve done it so often it’s become second nature to me. My mechanic, Tim, does it all the time and each time he does it I say, “You just pulled a Jacobi”. Now the saying has a new meaning for me. It’s kind of a verbal memorial to a great guy.

So the next time someone does something like this to you, try and remember Ron Jacobi. Tell them, “Hey, you just pulled a Jacobi!” You’ll be honoring a great Car Man. A guy you would have honored to call a friend.

Talk to you later,


Throwing An Indian Off The Lot

I threw an Indian off the lot today, and boy, did it feel good! Now just so we have things straight, I’m not talking about a Native American here, I’m talkin’ about a guy wearing a turban with the last name of Singh.

This wasn’t my first encounter with Mr. Singh. A few days back he came in with his brother. I showed him a ’03 Camry that was still in recon. Nice car. He asked me what the price was. I told him $9495. Now my boss happened to pay book for this car. Well, he paid a nickel back, but by the time it hit the lot the new Kelly Bluebook was out and it had taken a substantial hit. The point is I didn’t have a lot of room in the price.

Mr. Singh asked me the question that makes all Car Men’s blood run cold. “What’s your last price?” Now I don’t know about you, but that question makes me consider violence, but for some reason I decided to go along with him for a while. I mean times are tough, right?

“I’m going to put it on the Internet for $8988 plus fees,” I replied. “That’s my “Last Price”. This asshole looked at me and said, “I will give $7000 out the door.”

I turned and without a word walked away.

Four days later. The Camry is on the lot, a propeller head’s dream: saftied, smoged and ready to go. I would soon be bracing myself for the calls from idiots on Craig’s List. And on this bright, December morning who comes back to my lot? Mr. Gurjant Singh, that’s who!

I was thinking to myself, I guess I wasn’t rude enough for this guy. If he’d been an American I wouldn’t have seen him again. But since you can’t seem to be rude enough for an Indian, here he was ready for round two.

Trust me on this. I was patient. Even though I’ve had nearly forty years of dealing with unreasonable Indians, I was willing to give it a shot. He asked me once again how much the car was. $8988 plus the fees, I replied. He pretended like he didn’t hear me and asked again. $8988 plus the fees, I replied. We bantered about this for a period of time. Dumb me; I thought I could reason with the guy. Tell him about the high resale on Toyota’s etc, etc. One thing for certain I wasn’t going to let him drive the car until we got this shit settled.

He seemed to relent a little. He wanted to know how much out the door. He explained he could put $4000 down and his brother would co-sign. I took him into the office, figured out the price on my computer and wrote it down on a piece of paper. The total was $9786.61.

Mr. Singh looked at the figure and wrote down $8500. No, I said. The price was firm. For the sake of not boring you, I won’t go into all the gory details, but over the next two minutes I reiterated that that was the price. “I’m not going to discount it one cent!” I declared. My frustration was growing.

Mr. Singh asked me about another car on the lot, a 06 Elantra. I had a little room in that price, and I gave him the figure, but after thinking about it for a few seconds, he once again declared his love for the Camry and said he’d pay the $8988-- if I paid the taxes.

I flipped out.

“Haven’t you been listening to me, you idiot?” I bellowed. “The price is $8988 God damn dollars plus the fees! That’s the price!” I paused for a second and continued. “You know what? I don’t want to sell you the car, how you like that? As a matter of fact why don’t you get your ass off my lot RIGHT NOW!”

Mr. Singh, who by the way was a pretty big boy over six feet and thirty years my junior, looked really pissed. I was wondering if he was weighing beating the shit out of me against the possibility of being deported. The fear of deportation won out, I guess. He bolted back into his aging Corolla and left.

For the first few seconds I stood there trembling, slightly ashamed of myself for losing control. Then a feeling of euphoria flooded my body as I realized that throwing an Indian off the lot could be a very satisfying experience. It feels a lot better than the ordeal I would have had to go through to get this deal down.

So my advice is if you’re feeling low, nothing beats kicking an Indian off your lot. If an Indian isn’t handy, any foreigner who utters the phrase "Give me your last price." will do. In this I am an equal opportunity kicker-outer.

Talk to you later,


Commission Vouchers

I was rooting around in my wallet searching for a two-for-one coupon for Burger King when I came across an old commission voucher. Years ago I developed a habit of saving the voucher on my largest commission to date and stuffing it in my wallet. When I sold a car that had a higher commission, I would throw the old voucher out and save the new one.

Alas, in my current job there are no commission vouchers. It wouldn’t make much of a difference anyway. It’s hard to make a big pop on a Pot Lot, especially when you’re dealing with severe flakes where you have to discount the paper to get the deal down. So I only have my memories of commissions past to remind me how good things can be sometimes.

For me saving the biggest voucher was a great motivational tool. It was a reminder that there truly were Big Dummies With A Way To Go out there, and every once in a while one would make your day. In a sea of shoppers determined to screw you, you can take heart that making a decent living in this business is still possible.

Now I have never made a huge, ball-buster, call the cops, pop. The voucher in my wallet, from early 1995 is $1915.54 on a used Corvette. Not bad considering it was at 25% of the gross. One thing I have noticed is that most big pops are made quickly. Generally, the longer it takes to get the deal down, the lower the gross.

I remember this particular deal well. It started off as an up call about 6:00 at night. The young lady in questions, Viola, called to inquire about the ‘Vette on the front line. Was it still there? Would you take my Honda in trade? It certainly was, and I certainly would, I replied. By 7:30 she was driving. I was beaming. My fellow salesmen, who were not happy that I’d beaten them to the phone, were not. Oh, well. What goes around comes around.

Driving in to work today I was thinking about vouchers in general. At my old Mother Ship, Shellworth Chevrolet, the vouchers were never wrong, and you hardly ever got a charge back. (I think I got two in eight plus years.) It was nice to know that I was working at a place where the managers were honest and the bookkeeping accurate!

This hasn’t always been the case. I worked at a Chrysler dealer where I used to refer to the vouchers as commission suggestions. It wasn’t unusual for you to get four or five different vouchers on one car. They would go up, then down. Usually down. I figured they changed whenever someone in the office figured out a new way to screw you out of a few bucks.

These variations in commission amounts were usually not a not a lot of money. They were more irritating than anything else. But one time, many years ago, I made a $1500 commission on a car that dwindled down to a mini as the used VW fell apart days after I rolled it. Boy was I pissed!

Technically, (at least here in California, the land of fruit and nuts) it’s not really legal to charge a commission back unless the entire deal falls apart. Once you’re paid, you’re paid. Most salesmen put up with minor charge backs as a necessary part of keeping their job. However I have longed suggested that if you’re working in a place that can only be termed an Evil Empire (a subject for a future entry), you can get your best revenge by keeping the highest voucher you received and your monthly washout statement. When it comes time to launch, you can always go to the labor commissioner and get your money back! Ha!

But remember, before you do anything drastic; make sure you have another job first.

Talk to you later,



Yesterday a customer asked me when the best time to sell a car was. I almost replied, “When there’s a buyer on the lot!” But that wasn’t what he meant, of course. He was wondering if like fishing, there was a predictable time when the ups were biting. Oh, if only I could answer that question!

In my many years in this business I have come to the conclusion that there is no pattern to this business. There is no predictable time when you are more likely to make a sale. You can make some general observations. For example, you usually sell more cars in the summer than the winter, but even that is a tenuous guess at best.

When I started selling cars, Saturdays were always a good day. In those days the dealerships were not open late during the week, so the average working Joe could not make it down to buy his new sled until the weekend. Saturdays could be crazy.

When The Others pass a dealership and see the guys lined up outside, he is seeing further evidence that there is no pattern to this business. If we could magically tell when a buyer was going to show up, we’d be able to spend our down times in a bar as God intended!

Further evidence: My worst month and my best month in this business were both in February. I’ve had good Decembers and bad Decembers. No pattern at all that I can tell. Nor can any overzealous manger or cock-sure sales trainer tell you when the best time is to sell a car. That’s why you have to look in the mirror every morning and tell yourself, “Today is the best day to sell a car!” You have to believe that, because if you don’t you’ll go nuts!

Over the years I have discovered a few clues about buyer’s habits. It’s been my experience that the prime time for selling cars is on an overcast day, the temperature about 60, and no wind. It’s too gloomy for The Others to go outside and work in the yard. It’s kinda cold (at least by California standards) but it’s not too cold. “I’ve got an idea, honey, why don’t we go out and check out new cars!”

Women, especially older women, do not like to come out to the car lot when it’s windy. It screws up their hair. So selling a Buick to an old lady on a windy day is a risky proposition at best. Overcast, slightly cold, no wind; that’s the ticket!

While I’m on the subject of weather, there’s something else I’ve noticed. Any abrupt change in the weather will cause the buyers to stay away. If it starts to rain, they will say to themselves, “I’ll wait until tomorrow when it clears up.” It’s only when the rain lasts for a few days and they’ve gotten used to it that they will ignore the weather. Conversely, if the weather suddenly turns sunny they will do the same thing for a couple of days until the weeds are pulled and the lawns mowed.

It is my hope that technology will eventually come to the rescue of Car Men. For years I’ve touted the idea that someone ought to develop a computer chip that can be easily implanted in the earlobe of The Others that would let us know if they’re buyers. These “go, no go” chips could be activated by a handy device easily clipped onto a car salesman’s belt loop. Aimed at the prospect’s head like a cop with a radar gun, one could easily determine who’s a buyer and who should be beat about the head and shoulders.

I just hope I’m still around when the computer geeks work it out.

Talk to you later,


12 Signs Things Are Not Right At The Dealership

12. Your pens have been replaced with crayons.

11. Grief councilors are on duty in the break room.

10. The shop doors have been removed to prevent carbon monoxide “accidents”.

9. The sales managers are going on dealer trades.

8. The shop is fixing twenty-year-old cars “under warranty”.

7. Your draw check is postdated with the note, “Cash after the bail out.”

6. All the used cars have suddenly disappeared, replaced by portable spas.
5. All the radios are missing from the new cars.

4. The parts department manager is selling radios out of his trunk.

3. All the liners have side jobs at McDonalds.

2. The finance guys are trying to sell extended warranties for $10,000.

1. The dealer is speaking in tongues.

Action '72

One Sunday last fall, my son, Joe, my friend, Tim, and I went to the San Francisco International Car Show. The Sunday trip was actually just an excuse to see how many microbreweries we could hit up without getting arrested. I planned on six, but as it turned out we only had the stamina for four.

While sitting around a table at the Gordon Biersch brewery across from AT&T Park, home of my beloved San Francisco Giants, I started reminiscing about the lavish new car shows Ford Motor Company used to put on for its dealers and salesmen in the city when I was a young and dumb green pea.

What I remember most about these shows was that they were always the same, nearly an identical event each year. It went like this. Everyone would meet early in the morning at the Alhambra Theater on Geary Boulevard. Before the show began we were entertained by a quartet of guys wearing straw hats in long-sleeve white shirts with a garter on one sleeve. The group featured a stand-up bass, guitar and banjo and sang songs that were older than a Model A.

At 9:30 the show would begin. Each year Ford produced a movie to showcase the new models. It was a full scale, wide-screen, Technicolor production. Each year had its own theme. The one I remember best was “Action ‘72” (I still have a souvenir money clip with the words engraved on it.) Film star Leslie Nielson narrated the extravaganza.

“Action ‘72” started off by showing a variety of thrilling sports spectacles: the Kentucky Derby, a Grand Prix auto race, and a hard-hitting NFL game. Very interesting actually until the thrill of the sports gave way to the introduction of the new line of Fords “Hey, get a load of that new Maverick! What a beauty!”

The movie lasted about an hour and a half—about forty-five minutes too long for my tastes—pouring over the exciting details of the new models. When it was over, we were escorted to the front of the theater where chartered buses waited to take us to our ultimate destination, the Fairmont Hotel over on Mason Street. There, Ford Motor Company had taken over a couple of floors to wine and dine the salesmen who would spend the next year trying to take customers into buying one of the new beauties.

Ford would have the exact car you saw in the movie on display in one of the ballrooms. If it was a green Pinto in the movie, they’d have a green Pinto for you to gawk over. The models were presented on rotating displays with sexy models standing beside them fending off the suggestive comments of Car Men who fancied themselves as lady’s men.

After checking out the new cars you were shown into the chandeliered grand ballroom decked out with a hundred tables draped in fine linen. There a chicken lunch was served. The thing I remember most about the lunch is that at the end there would be a trumpet call and the hall would fill with a small army of waiters holding trays up high each containing a dozen flaming deserts. Very classy, very impressive, very

When it was over you were supposed to return to your dealerships full of selling fire for the new models. Ford timed it so that the first batch of the new cars and trucks would be delivered that day. A nice final touch, I thought. But on the night of Action ’72 we did not go home after the lunch with the flaming deserts. Instead we hit the town for some partying.

Now when you’re twenty-one as I was at the time, going out the town with a bunch of older Car Men could be a magical experience. We headed straight to San Francisco’s North Beach, a beautifully crowded Italian neighborhood filled with the sights and sounds only heard in world-class cities. Broadway, which cuts through its heart, was lined with topless bars with blinking neon signs hawking their wares. Each bar had its own persistent barker determined to lure in unsuspecting sailors and wandering Car Men. The side streets were lined with wonderful restaurants, each emitting romantic candlelight and enticing aromas. From the middle of the afternoon until one or two in the morning we owned it. It was like a Car Man’s New Year’s Eve.

I won’t bore you with stories of our carousing—most of which my young, liquored-up mind does not remember, but one memory stands out in my mind. Midway through the evening we went to Ghirardelli square. The former chocolate factory had been transformed into numerous restaurants and shops. My brother Danny’s favorite was a place called The Plantation Steak House. I thought it was the most wonderful restaurant in the world.

We were seated at a large a table, my brother in charge, of course. When the waiter arrived, Danny pulled out his money clip and handed the guy a couple of twenties. (Remember, this was 1972 money!) He asked the amazed waiter to make sure he took care of us. The result: we were treated like kings the entire evening. I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. Even to this day I look back on that night and wonder how my brother, who’d been raised by the same parents I had, knew so much about the world.

These nights of revelry didn’t last long. I remember only two or three of them before our busy lives dictated that we headed back to the dealership after the flaming desert instead of cutting up the town, but the memories of those evenings have remained dear to me. To be out on the town in beautiful San Francisco without any worries, having a good time and a bunch of laughs, in the company of Car Men is something I will never forget.

Talk to you later,


Hard Times

As many of you know, I’ve been in the car business all my adult life, some thirty-eight years and counting. In my time “on the line” I’ve weathered many economic storms: the gas lines of 1974 and 78, the super high interest rates of the late 70’s and early 80’s, a couple of recessions. I’ve been present at the closures of more than one dealership. I’ve experienced both good times and bad.

But I’ve never seen anything like this.

These are, my friends, evil times for Car Men. I don’t care if you sell Fords or Toyotas; things are tough out there. These are times that separate the men from the boys and the girls from the women. It’s the Storm of the Century as far as I’m concerned.

Now, I’m not one to give advice; it’s against my sensibilities, but I feel that as one of the Grand Old Men of this business (if you don’t mind me saying so), good ‘ol Uncle David if you please, it’s time for me to say something. It’s easy to panic, especially if you’re a salesman. Shit rolls down hill in this business. The dealer grinds the GM, who grinds, the GSM, who grinds the deskmen, who grind the closers (if you work in a T.O. house) who grinds the salesmen. Somebody has got to blame somebody, and unfortunately that someone is often you.

It is my hope that those people in upper management understand that everyone has been caught up in this mess, and that pounding on the troops, although it might feel good, is very counter-productive. If you are a leader, lead. Or as an Iranian sales manager I once worked for would say, “If you want to be pro, be pro!” (I truly hated this guy.) If your salesman is loyal to you, be loyal to them.

So here’s my advice. The rules of this business, assuming you were taught them correctly, are there for good reasons. The steps to making a deal we’re carved out by generations of Car Men. They are tried and tested. They work. And the fruit of their labor has been handed down to you. They can be summed up in one sentence: resist the temptation to shake short cuts.

Like a baseball player who goes into a slump and then screws things up more by altering his swing, you must resist the temptation to alter the way you were taught to sell cars. The buyers out there are the same; there are just less of them. So this means that each “up” is precious. You must work them properly. As I like to say, make those people glad they met you, but take no prisoners.

If you’re fundamentals work, stick with them. Work each buyer the same way every time! Do not alter your swing! Remember that it isn’t what you say to that goofball in front of you; it’s how you say it. A true Car Man has the ability to grind the crap out of someone without them being aware that they are being beat up. Be pro!

Now keep in mind that the crazy people always come out. They are a static population, easy to take when times are good but maddening when times are bad. Learn to recognize these people early in the process so you don’t use your energy on someone who had no intention to buy a car. Resist the temptation to resort to firearms or fisticuffs, no matter how good it would feel!

Now is the time to follow up fiercely and make the most of your owner file. (I must admit to you that this is the weakest part of my sales process.) If you made the people glad they met you once, perhaps they’d like to meet you again.

As the late, great Pete McKissick used to say to me, “Don’t get your dabber down.” Whatever the hell that meant.

It’s time to hunker down as the expression goes. It’s time to trust your training and instincts. It’s time use the talent God gave you. And remember this: if you can survive this, I promise you can survive anything!

Talk to you later,


The Bus From Lodi

The Bus from Lodi is a mythical figure in the world of a Car Man. I suspect that no matter where you go in this great land of ours, every Car Man has his version of it. Whether it’s the Bus from Hackensack or the Bus from Tacoma, the myth of a magic bus has been around for as long as I’ve been in the business, and I suppose it will continue to be long after I’ve got to that great used car lot in the sky.

As the story goes, the Bus from Lodi is always just about to arrive at your dealership. Most popularly, it’s rumored to be pulling up right after the Saturday morning sales meeting. The bus is said to be full of lay downs, all qualified and ready to go. The cash buyers sit on the driver’s side of the bus; the credit customers on their right, filled out credit apps ready on their laps, cash down payments in their pockets. So don’t go to an early lunch. You might lose out!

I often wondered why the bus was coming from Lodi, which is a city about 80 miles from the Bay Area. Why not the bus from San Jose or Oakland? Well, scratch Oakland, too many credit criminals. Out here in the west Lodi has a popular place in our imaginations ever since Creedence Clearwater Revival got stuck there in the 60’s. (If you don’t get this reference, I’m too weary to explain it to you.) Lodi is the “Everytown”, the representation of a typical American city. Instead of a city made of gold, it’s a city full of buyers.

I always imagined the passengers on the Bus from Lodi as a bunch of big dummies with a way to go. They’d all have decent enough credit. They’d all buy something in stock. Throw in a warranty and some snake oil to keep F&I happy. After delivery, they would all drive off, smiles on their faces never to be seen again. (It’s nice to have a car deal without any heat.)

One day in the late 1970’s I was working at Hayward Datsun in Hayward, California. When we arrived to work one bright Saturday morning, there was a big yellow school bus parked in front. On the side it said, “Lodi Unified School District”. The crew went crazy! We got my brother’s Polaroid camera and snapped several pictures of us standing beside the bus. No one was in it. The driver, I guessed, had dropped off a group of kids for a ball game or something and had gone out to breakfast. It sat out there for a couple of hours and suddenly it was gone.

Alas, the Bus from Lodi had finally arrived, and it was empty!

Ever since that time I have always felt a little twinge whenever a bus travels past the dealership I’m working at. Just once I would like that bus to stop and disgorge a couple of buyers. Wouldn’t that be nice? Of, if only this was a perfect world!

Because in a perfect world, it would happen.

Where is your Bus from Lodi coming from? Please leave a comment if you wish.

Talk to you later,


The Golden Circle

If they ever made a hit movie out of my screenplay, “Car Man”, I think I have a great idea for the sequel. It would be called, “Car Man II: The Golden Circle”. The idea came to me the other night when I was thinking about my mother ship, Shellworth Chevrolet. During the eight plus years I worked there, I sold 75 vehicles with a commission of $1000 or more. I lovingly dubbed these customers The Golden Circle.

How sweet the memory is.

So here’s the plot of the movie. A salesman at an unnamed car dealership has his own Golden Circle. One day he decides it would be a great idea to get all these people together for a group photo. You know, one of those panoramic, wide-screen jobs usually reserved for majestic landscapes.

The problem is, of course, how can he do it? I mean it isn’t like he can call them up and say, “Hey, I laid you and a bunch of other people away, and I want a photo of you all sitting on the bleachers at the high school like the football team.” Well, I guess you could, but if it were that easy it wouldn’t be a very good movie, would it?

Instead of telling you my version of how things might go—you’ll just have to wait and see the movie--I will leave it up to your imaginations to come up with ideas of getting the people together for the shot. Don’t use midgets or repo men in your version. I’ve got dibs on that!

While running this through my mind I started thinking about my Golden Circle and what those customers meant to me. You see it wasn’t just the money I made on them. It was the fact that there were people out there that allowed me a chance to make a decent living for my family and me.

Now I know that any of The Others reading this are horrified at the thought of a salesman making a big pop. In their conspiratorial brains they conjure images of all the kinky and illegal things I must have done to make such big commissions. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is there is no larceny in my heart. Sometimes I wish there was, but there just isn’t. All my deals are conducted truthfully, and I think I can honestly say that the vast majority of my customers have good thoughts about me.

Do you have your own Golden Circle? I hope you do. Every Car Man needs one to be a success. Because the only way you can survive in this business is to have customers to overcome the mountain of mini-commissions out there.

Always remember that the happiest customers are, for some strange reason, the ones you made the most money on. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. The idiot you made half a mini on is more likely to trash you on CSI than the guy who paid a fair price. It’s one of the true mysteries of the Universe.

So here’s to the Golden Circles! May they continue to grow!

I bet you just can’t wait for the movie!

Talk to you later,


P.S. By the way my offer still stands if you would like to read the screenplay for “Car Man”. It opens with Microsoft Word. Just send me an email at

Saving The Big Three

I’ll be the first to admit that the Big Three: GM, Ford and Chrysler, are a bunch of screw-ups. Yes, they agreed to pension plans that were so lucrative for their employees that they now find themselves at a gross disadvantage against the Japanese. Yes, they were guilty of building trash—or more precisely a lot of trash for many years. Yes, they have made the wrong decisions time after time, but I’m here to tell you---


Television pundits and radio talk show hosts are quick to point out the flaws in the Big Three. Aside from the problems generated by past union contracts and the shortsightedness of their CEOs, they take it as a given that GM, Ford and Chrysler don’t know how to build a car. This is patently false! The Ford Focus is a great car. The Chevy Cobalt is a great car. And the Dodge Neon, well I guess there is always an exception to the rule.

What they don’t want to talk about is the crappy attitudes of a lot of American car buyers. For a large segment of our population, buying a car is a political statement. The children of the 60’s and their minions wouldn’t buy an American made car if their lives depended on it. Why?

They’re sticking it to The Man.

Somehow it’s gotten into the popular imagination that all American corporations are inherently evil. Except for Apple, of course. Yes, American cars were lousy for a long time. Yes, it took the Japanese to wake them up to quality and innovation. But I’m here to tell you that no matter how good an American car can get, a large portion of us won’t buy it simply because it is an American car and it doesn’t fit into their image of themselves.

What was a company like GM to do? Few would give their cars a chance (except for the rental car agencies!). If they had to survive on car sales alone they were doomed. But there was one thing they could do and that was build one hell of a truck.

GM makes great trucks. When it comes to trucks and the SUV’s built off their platforms, no one on the Japanese side can compete with them on a serious level. If you were GM and no one would give your cars a chance, but they’d buy the crap out of a Chevy Tahoe what would you do? If you build it they will come! And the same can be said for both Ford and Chrysler.

The Big Three did what they had to do to survive and prosper. They do make decent cars, and they could prove it if given half a chance. And if given that chance they would be motivated to focus their resources on even better cars for our future. Is America willing to give them that chance? Sadly, I fear the answer is no.

Now I don’t have a problem with anyone buying a Toyota. I’m a Car Man. All I care about is metal going over the curb. But if our American based manufactures are to survive, it is us that’s going to have to give them a break. We are the only ones that can give them a true and lasting bail out. We are the only ones who can save an industry that employs millions of Americans.

I know, it would be a little embarrassing driving up to your save the polar bear meeting in a Dodge Stratus. But think of it this way, you will be saving an even more important species,


Talk to you later,



It was Tony B. who coined the expression “rumpo-bumpo” back in the day at Hayward Ford. It was his term for getting a bump out of a customer. (A bump means to get more money than the customer initially offered to pay for the car.) Tony was one of the most talented Car Men I have ever had the pleasure of working with. I say, “working with” loosely because to use a baseball analogy, Tony was a major leaguer, and I was strictly single “A” ball—at best.

I still remember him hurrying out of the sales office enthusiastically crowing, “rumpo-bumpo!” as he headed up the hallway toward his office. He said the words as if they were a spell he would soon cast over his unsuspecting customer. When it came to a bump Tony B was THE master. So when he generously offered some advice about the process of getting a bump, I was all ears. The advice he gave me was simple, but I have to admit a little enigmatic.

“David,” he said in his lilting Spanish accent. “Getting a bump is like going to the doctor and getting a shot. When you go to the doctor what does he do? He rolls up your sleeve, rubs alcohol on your arm, then he gives you a shot, right?”

“Right,” I replied, unsure where this was going.

“It’s the same with a customer.” He grabbed my forearm and pretended to rub on the alcohol. “First you stroke them,” he explained as he rubbed. He then curled his fingers into an imitation of a hypodermic needle and said, “Then you give them the shot!” As he finished he jabbed me with his finger for emphasis. There it was in a nutshell: the rumpo-bumpo.

This was not an easy lesson for me to learn. My office was near the end of the showroom. The sales office was around back by the parts department. I was pretty good at landing a customer on a car and getting a proper commitment. The trouble started when I got the first pencil from the sales manager.

I can see it now, my brother Danny slashing his red pen through my customer’s offer and writing, “Sorry, below cost!” across the write-up sheet. What followed next was a counteroffer that was not even remotely close to the offer I had worked so hard to get.

Here is where I screwed up time after time: I would look at the pencil and say to myself, “No freaking way! My customer is never going to go for this!” This negative thought would rattle around my mind all the way up the long hall and down to my office. By the time I reached my customer who, if I had an ounce of intelligence in my green pea brain, was probably already expecting the bump, I would manage to talk myself into failure. Ding! Ding! Deal turned to someone who knew what he was doing! Half a commission lost!

One day Tony took me aside and told me what I was doing wrong. “Never look at the pencil,” he said. “When you take it back to the customer, the first time you should see it is when he sees it. Just turn the sheet around and say this is what my manager wants and shut up.”

When he saw the questioning look in my eyes he explained. “David, you are not buying the car, the customer is. So why are you so worried about the pencil? It’s the customer’s problem, not yours! You’re just delivering the bad news.”

So that was it! Get the pencil from the desk. Do not look at it during the long walk to my office. Try and keep my mind blank and present it dispassionately to the customer. Do not assume that he will say no. Just keep my mouth shut, and let the customer take the stress of making the decision, and even if he says no all I have to do is just start would-you-taking again until I got another commitment at a higher offer.

Over the years I began to realize that the most important part of the rumpo-bumpo equation was shutting up. Nothing is more effective than the silent close, and believe it or not sometimes the customer really does say yes to the first pencil. Unfortunately this simple method of prying a few extra dollars out of your customer is one of the hardest things for a Car Man to learn. Silence has an almost palatable power. When you finish presenting the manager’s offer and sit back to await the reaction, you can feel it growing in the room. Thirty seconds of silence can feel like an hour, a minute an eternity. Some guys cannot take it. They always talk first and blow the close. Always remember that the first person to speak loses; so do not let it be you!

Tony B had a trick he would use to get a bump that he had perfected over the years. He was a notorious low-baller. Now a low ball is a great tool until the customer comes back expecting to buy the car for the price you let him out at. This is where Tony was the master. I had noticed that when he spoke with a non-Hispanic customer his accent would become magically thicker. The more a customer objected to his closes, the less English he seemed to understand.

If all else failed, Tony had a secret weapon. It was his ultimate rumpo-bumpo. He had this amazing ability to fill his big brown eyes with tears at will. If things got really bad he would stand before the customer looking like a little boy confessing that he had just broken a window with his baseball. With his head bowed in shame, looking as if he were about to burst out crying, he would admit in barely understandable English that he had lied.

I’m sorry!” he would plead, his voice choked with emotion. “I have a wife and children! I needed the deal badly, and I didn’t know what else to do!”

It worked every time. Rumpo-bumpo!

Talk to you later,


Cold Calls

I believe it’s a universal truth that all car salesmen hate making cold phone calls. It’s one of the great sources of animosity between salesmen and management. Handing out cold call sheets make the managers feel like their doing something proactive. Whether the calls actually work or not is not the point. In my humble opinion it’s mostly just a sadistic power trip.

I have no idea if the practice of cold calls is still prominent in this great country of ours (and I include my friends in Canada here, too). I hope it’s a thing of the past, but I suspect it isn’t.

Let me tell you a story. When I first started selling cars the salesmen in all the dealerships in the East Bay were unionized. (The now defunct Salesmen Local 1095, may it rest in peace.) Apprentice salesmen were not allowed to take an up for the first 30 days of their employment. This rule was strictly enforced. For that first month, I was put under the tutelage of a couple of journeyman salesmen whose job was to show me as they say, “How the cow eats the cabbage”. One of the things they had me do was make cold calls.

In the sales meeting room of Hayward Ford there was a telephone hooked up to a speakerphone. Each day I was taken to that room by one of the salesmen, sat down at the desk, given a script and was forced to make a few cold calls. The older salesman would listen on the speaker and critique me when I was finished.

Let me give you an analogy. When I was a kid I was raised in the Catholic faith. Nothing terrorized me more than going to confession. Here I was, sitting in pitch-black booth talking to the personal representative of God. It scared the living shit out of me. Making those cold calls made me feel the same way.

The irony of it all is that these leads came directly out of the phone book! Here I was calling people at random, in the vain hope that might just happen upon a person who needed a car. Talk about a needle in a haystack! What the hell was the reasoning behind this? At the time I hadn’t a clue. I felt it was some sort of weird Car Man initiation essentially designed to torment me.

My brother, Danny hated to see salesmen standing around doing nothing. (He didn’t understand that standing around doing nothing is one of our God-given rights!) I remember him getting pissed off, taking a telephone book, ripping out a few pages, and handing them out to equally pissed-off salesmen. I love my brother more than anything, but not when he had that phone book in his hands!

For the first five years of selling cars cold calls, or calls to orphan owners (which I’ll admit made a little more sense) was part of my automotive life. It would have been okay if making these calls worked, but I don’t think I ever sold a car off a cold lead. I hated making the calls, but I was always threatened that a manager would check my phone sheets to make sure I had really called the potential customer. For me, it was a demoralizing and depressing situation.

Then something life-changing happened to me.

I first met Tony Taylor when I worked at Elmhurst Ford in Oakland. Tony was a really great, funny guy and a consummate Car Man. He also had the best hairpiece I have ever seen in my life. Tony seemed to take a liking to me and was always giving me advice about selling cars.

A couple of years after I met him we were working together on the used car lot at CST Ford, a mid-70’s incarnation of Hayward Ford. I had been in the business for five years or so. I was a so-so salesman who never seemed to make a lot of money. I struggled each month just to make a living.

One day Tony came into my office. He closed the door and sat down across from me, and crossed his arms.

“What are you doing?” he asked me.

“Just making my phone calls, Tony,” I replied.

“Cold calls, huh?”

I nodded yes.

“Let me see all your call sheets,” he said. It was not a request. It was a demand.

I handed Tony a stack of sheets. He shuffled through them for a moment, looked up at me--and he tore them all in half.

“You’re done with that,” he said. And then he explained the secret to success in the car business. It was simple and to the point.

“Wait on customers,” he said. “Follow-up on them. Ask them for referrals. Those are the people you want call. No one else.”

“But they make me!” I protested.

“Lie,” he said simply. “Everyone else does it. Why not you?”

“But what if they check?”

Tony laughed. “David, do you really think the managers are going to check your cold calls? Do you think they have the time? Do you think when they were salesmen they made these calls? I tell you, son, it’s all just one gigantic stroke.”

In a blinding light of revelation I knew that Tony was speaking the truth. I took his advice, and I soon discovered that when I concentrated on the people I had actually talked to, I immediately started making more money. Great story, huh?

But hey! What’s that I hear? Could it be the sound of cold call sheets being ripped up?

Music to my ears.

Talk to you later,


Demonstrators (Part 2)

At Hayward Nissan we had a finance manager named Bill Cola. Bill was an avid skier, and every winter he’d take a Nissan Pathfinder for a demo. It was the perfect vehicle for his treks up to the Sierras. The problem was he wouldn’t come back to work until the last possible moment and that meant coming to work with a filthy, snow and mud caked demo. My brother used to really get on him about this.

One day Bill was warned that there would be a demo inspection on Saturday morning after the sales meeting, and his demo had better be clean. Bill, who didn’t like to be told what to do, devised a plan. He told no one what he was up to. The element of surprise was of utmost importance.

On that morning, Bill arrived early and parked his Pathfinder at the very end of the line of demonstrators. He slipped into the sales meeting and waited for his moment in the sun. At the meeting’s conclusion Danny announced that there would be an inspection. We all went outside and watched as he slowly walked down the line looking for violations. Finally, he arrived at Bill’s Pathfinder.

The day before Bill had the Pathfinder detailed. After it was clean he carefully taped plastic sheets right down the middle of the truck, completely covering the passenger side of the car from front to back.

Then, he went 4-wheeling in the mud.

The result of Bill’s carefully concocted plan was nothing less than spectacular. Another Car Man legend had been born that day. Here was the 4x4 perfectly clean on one side and completely filthy on the other! I honestly don’t remember Danny’s reaction to this, but all Car Men appreciate a well-planned joke!

In the early 80’s I was working for a large, multi-store dealership in Oakland (where I had my famous test drive with Rudy Henderson). I worked with a young salesman who was a great guy, but he had a serious drinking problem. For the sake of this story, let’s call him Jim, but that’s not his real name. And I’d like to add that he got sober many years ago and is not a successful businessman with a wonderful family.

It all started when we had a Christmas party. (For the record, I did not attend this party.) The showroom floor of the Honda dealership was taken over for an evening of food, booze, and fun. Jim had way too much to drink. Way too much. And the tragedy of it all is that no one seemed to think that he shouldn’t be driving home to Fremont, which was about 20 miles away. He was completely shit-faced and the let him drive!

It was after midnight when Jim poured himself into his black Mitsubishi demo and headed home. He managed to make his way down 98th Avenue and onto the Nimitz Freeway headed south. Remarkably, he almost made it home. But a couple of exits away from the one that would take him to the safety of his apartment, he lost control of the car. Now here’s the thing. There was no one else on the road at that moment. He didn’t hit anyone, but he spun the car around a few times and managed to bang in the front, back and both sides of the car on the guardrail before finally ending up at the side of the road remarkably out of harm’s way. Bill got out and checked the car. It wasn’t drivable. The rear quarter panel was crushed in so much the wheel couldn’t turn.

Jim figured he was screwed. He was drunk and wasn’t going anywhere. He resigned himself that it was just a matter of time before the CHP showed up and arrested him. He sat down to await his fate. But a funny thing happened. Nothing. The cars that passed him on the road didn’t seem to notice the screwed up, black Mitsubishi with the drunk driver.

After waiting for what seemed to be an hour for the police, Jim, who was beginning to sober up a little, got an idea. He took the scissor jack out of the trunk and used it to push out the side panel. Then, he jacked up the car, put on the spare and drove home. All this time no cops came with red lights to arrest him.

Somehow, he had gotten away with it.

Jim knew, of course, that he was screwed job-wise. The next day about noon he drove his smashed Mitsubishi into the dealership. Without a word he went into the sales office, tossed the key to his demo on the manager’s desk and walked out.

One last story.

In the mid-90s I went to work at a small, very screwed up Chevy dealership that I won’t name here. I was the third salesman at the dealership. When I started work I was pleased to discover that the other two salesmen had demonstrators, but when I enquired about one for myself they said I couldn’t have one. Why? Well they wanted to do away with demonstrators, but they didn’t want to piss off the other two guys so decided to illuminate them through attrition. My two fellow salesmen had brand new Chevy’s, I had a 1979 Cutlass.

Is that screwed up or what?

Talk to you later,


Demonstrators (Part 1)

My first demonstrator was an orange 1970 Ford Maverick. A salesman that had been blown out a few days before I started work had driven it previously. It had 3000 miles on the odometer. At the time I was driving a 1962 VW Bug, so for me the Maverick was the height of cool. I had grown up in a household that had only been able to afford used cars, so driving something so new was quite an experience.

The first thing I did with the Maverick was to load it up with my friends and head for San Francisco. I remember tooling around Broadway checking out the topless places with my buddies. It was an evening that is etched in my memory forever. At the time, life didn’t get any better than that.

Demos, at least here in California, are largely a thing of the past. Starting in the mid-80’s the privilege of driving a new car around on the dealer’s dime began to disappear. Rising insurance rates, generations of drunken car salesmen crashing their cars, and the lessening of perks in general, were the chief reasons for the demise.

When I first started selling cars, the salesmen were the kings of the dealership. They were respected, even coddled to a certain extent, by the managers and owners. On the side of the showroom at Hayward Ford they had their own parking spaces. Each morning the spots would fill with shiny new Ford LTDs each decked out with their own dealer plate. No Ford Mavericks for them! They were reserved for green peas like me.

At one time the salesmen even had their own license plate frames. The top portions would have their name, and the bottom would say Hayward Ford. They would put them on every car they sold. This practice had fallen by the wayside by the time I started selling cars. It had become too expensive. But I still have a Danny Teves/Hayward Ford frame hanging on my garage wall from the days when my brother was on the line.

For me, having a demo was great. Here I was, a kid driving around in a new car at no charge, the envy of my peers. I didn’t even have to pay for insurance! And on top of that I even received a $40.00 per month gas allowance. What a deal!

They mostly gave me Ford Pintos to drive. Believe it or not Pintos sold like hotcakes, and it wasn’t unusual for me to have two, three, or more demo changes in a month. As time went on, so did the quality of the demo. Though I never achieved LTD status at Hayward Ford, I did manage to procure an occasional Mustang. When that happened I really felt like I had it made.

I remember one busy Christmas season. It seemed like I was driving a different car every few days. One cold and rainy day I went to the local mall after work for some shopping. The parking lot was jammed. I spent a couple of hours at the mall. When I was ready to leave, I went walked out to the parking lot and realized I couldn’t remember what kind of car I was driving! I had to walk around in a drizzle for twenty minutes looking for a set of dealer plates on a Ford.

One time the dealership held a dinner for all the salesmen at a local restaurant. It turned into a big party. There was a lot of drinking that night. The next morning we learned that three salesmen had wrecked their demos on the way home. One guy, who was driving one of those cool old Ford Broncos you sometimes see in movies, rolled it!

In the mid-70’s I went to work at Elmhurst Ford in Oakland, California. It was there I met my first sales crew that was mostly African American. They were great guys, a hell of a lot more fun then the old white guys at Hayward Ford. Like their counterparts at Hayward Ford, the Elmhurst Ford crew drove mostly LTDs, and they thought I should drive one too. Now these guys were very cool. When the drove they did something called “leaning”. Leaning consisted of putting the power seat as far back as you could, driving with your left hand on top of the steering wheel, and leaning toward the middle of the street as you drove.

They decided it would be fun to teach me to lean. They showed me how to do it on the side parking lot and made me drive up and down the street while they howled at laughter at the sight. I guess it was pretty funny, this young, longhaired Portuguese kid driving like Super Fly!

When the Mustang II came out in 1974, my brother gave me one for a demo. It was one of the first new Mustangs on the streets of the Bay Area. Although history hasn’t been kind to the Mustang II, I felt proud that I was driving a car virtually no one had seen before. On the second night I had it, I went to visit a girl in Alameda. Alameda is an island in the San Francisco Bay separated from Oakland by a wide estuary and is accessible by a tunnel called the Alameda Tube.

Well, I guess I was thinking too much about getting laid that night because as I drove down the onramp that led into the tube, I rear-ended a truck. The car was drivable, though one headlight was out, but the front end was pretty screwed up. The truck and the guy driving it was okay, but when he later found out the car belonged to a Ford dealership his neck started to hurt. What a mess!

When I was seventeen my brother bought me my first car, a 1957 Ford Fairlane. (Cost: $100.) I promptly crashed it. My mother made me go down to the dealership to confess my sin. I was nervous as hell. Danny is ten years older then I and had moved out of the house when I was nine. I really didn’t know him all that well, and I expected the worse. But when I told him what had happened he just looked at me and asked me if I had gotten hurt. When I said no, he said well, that was the most important thing. What a guy!

Well, Danny forgave me for crashing the Mustang too, though I believe that I was demoted back to Pintos for a while. The only hang up was the car was so new there was no body parts available to fix it for over a month!

Talk to you later,


Don't Get Your Dabber Down

My son-in-law, Tom Dillian, and his family have a winery in the rolling Sierra foothills of Northern California. Great family, great wine. (Visit them at A couple of weeks ago they participated in a wine event that involved all the local vineyards. When I entered their tasting room on a bright Sunday afternoon the place was packed with people enjoying themselves, tasting wine, and most important of all, spending money.

This all made me feel good. It was nice to be in an environment where the public seemed to be spending so freely. As all Car Men know this has been sorely missing from our business lately. Seeing the Dillian winery’s success gave me a little boost in confidence in the future. At least someone is making some money!

Years ago I worked for a sales manager named Pete McKissick. Pete, who has since gone to that great used car lot in the sky, was a great guy. When Pete sensed your attitude was down, maybe you were in a slump or something like that, he would say, “Don’t get your dabber down”. Now I never did figure out exactly what a dabber is, but I understood his meaning: don’t get crapped out.

Getting crapped out is a common Car Man malady. As I have mentioned here in the past, when the buyers go away the idiots still come in. They’re not going to buy a car anyway so the state of the economy means nothing to them. This makes our job harder because people we would blow off in good times are sometimes the only people out there to talk to!

Now the common sales trainer response to this problem is that to remind you that had you been keeping up with your customers both present and past, getting a fresh up is not necessary. If you’ve been doing your job correctly you should be able to prosper even when sales are in the dumps. This, of course, is true. But what’s truer is that most car salesmen don’t do much follow up. That’s the reality, like it or not, amen.

I will be the first to admit that I don’t have the answer to our situation, and I suspect that those who would be tempted to capitalize on the financial crisis and try to sell you a sure-fire plan they claim will work are full of shit. “It is what it is, as they say.”

So what is a guy to do when sales are down? Well, don’t get your dabber down would be my advice. When you approach a customer, take a deep breath and say to yourself, “It’s show time!” and go out there and give them your best shot. Another salesmen saying, “Don’t burn them, turn them.” is a must here. Don’t turn crap, but make sure that if there’s any sign of life at all in that up have someone else talk to them before they leave the lot. And always remember this: “If you don’t go to bat, you’ll never hit a home run.” That doesn’t need any explanation at all.

Pete McKissick had a couple of other sayings. Whenever you checked out for lunch he would say, “Bring me back a six-pack of Cutty”. My favorite saying was one that used to piss me off at the time, but I used it many times as a manager. Whenever you’d ask Pete a question he didn’t want to answer, like how much a trade was worth, he’d say, “How long is a piece of string?”

I for one have a solution. I’m going to open a bottle of Dillian Zinfandel, sit on my front porch and dream of a time when all this is over.

Talk to you later,



Something’s been bugging me lately, and I’ve got to get it off my chest. One of the automotive hats I wear is that of a finance manager. (Ironically, since I basically work alone, I don’t have anyone to bitch at if I can’t get a deal down except myself!) When I run the credit on one of my flakes I like to pay particular attention to the inquiries on their record.

Experienced Car Men know that inquiries can tell you a lot about your customer. It tells you where that sneaking bastard has been and what he’s being doing. It serves as a great lie detector. “The Honda dealer at the mall said they’d get me financed no problem!” your customer claims. But when you check their bureau and there’s no inquiry from the Honda dealer.

I know it sounds hard to believe, but sometimes The Others lie.

Just the amount of inquires on a bureau tells you a lot about your chances of selling a car. 112 inquiries from every car dealership in the tri-county area speaks volumes about the goofball sitting across from you with that blank expression on his face. But I’m not here to talk about The Others, I’m here to talk about the my fellow Car Men out there, many of whom appear to be--dumb shits.

Let me give you an example. If your wonderful, credit-challenged customer has a score of 501, chances are Wachovia or Capital One are not going to take them. A 501 is strictly sub-prime, or more precisely sub-sub-prime. Then why are you, the sales manager or F&I man, sending the deal to a bank that wouldn’t even want your customer to be a passenger in a car they’ve financed?

I’ve pondered the reasons for this. Shot gunning a deal is the term. It’s an easy, simpleminded thing to do. Send it off and go smoke a cigarette. But don’t you realize that it pisses the banks off when you send them crap?

When I look at a bureau I’m thinking, what’s the best source for this goof? Who might buy it, buy it quickly, allow me to sell GAP or a warranty and maybe make a point or two. Once I make I up my mind, that’s where I send the deal.

“So who died and made you the finance God?” you’re thinking.

“No one,” I reply. I just like to pay attention to things. It’s one of the reasons I write this blog: to vent my frustrations. It seems unprofessional and frankly a sign of laziness for a Car Man—supposedly an automotive professional—to do things that are so blatantly stupid. Am I missing something here? If you disagree, please let me know!

If I were one of the traitors and writing an advice blog for The Others, I’d warn them about this. If your score is teetering between getting a loan at 10% verses 15%, it serves you no purpose for a car dealer to send you to ten banks at one time. (God I feel guilty writing that!)

Bottom line: I’m all for making money on those suckers, but let’s do it with a little class, okay? Try using a little control and intelligence before you push the “submit” button on Dealer Track.

Talk to you later,


Demo Rides

Probably the most dangerous thing a Car Man does in the course of doing business is going on a demo ride. Everyone who’s been in the business for a while can tell you a harrowing story of a test drive gone wrong. If you haven’t done so, please read my two-part blog entry called “My Ride With Rudy” for a prime example.

Please excuse me if I repeat myself here. I might have mentioned a few of the points I’m going to make before, but they are scattered over 50,000 + words of writing, and I’m too lazy to figure out what I’ve said and what I haven’t!

All Car Men know that a proper demo ride is of prime importance to a successful sale. Not only is it important to build up a buying ether for the car you’re trying to sell, it’s the perfect time to ask your customer’s a few qualifying questions while his guard is down. Since my job is to entertain you, not train you, I won’t go any further with this, but it’s something that has to be stated before we get to the fun stuff.

Back at the beginning of my automotive career (a time when dinosaurs still roamed the earth) goin on a demo drive could be challenging. We’re spoiled today. Most cars run good right off the bat, especially new ones. One Ford Focus drives exactly like another one, but that wasn’t true when I was a kid.

Picture this: I have just taken my up into the back lot of Hayward Ford looking for the perfect LTD to put under his ass. There they are, fifty of them lined up in a row all shiny and new. But here’s my problem: each one drives a little differently than the other. If you drove off in a car and it didn’t run properly, you couldn’t let your customer drive it. No way! You’d have turn around and get another one!

On top of that every car seemed to have something wrong with it. Most commonly it was a squeak or rattle, but anything could happen when you were demoing an early 70’s Ford. How would you like to deal with that?

A case can be made that any test drive that ends with you still being alive is a successful one. Every once in a while a guy will go out out on a demo and end up dead in a trunk. There’s nothing like looking down the barrel of a gun to make you feel that maybe you should have gotten a job at the post office.

I've been pretty lucky with demo rides. No one has ever pulled a gun on me, and as you can tell, I’m not dead. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t had my share of nuts. More than once I’ve demanded that someone pull over because they we’re driving like a crazy person.

When I was a sales manager, I had a salesman who went on a test drive and came back without his customer. He was white as a sheet when he told me his story that is saying a lot since the salesman was black. He told me that once his customer got behind the wheel, he started driving at speeds in excess of 100 MPH, weaving in and out of traffic for miles down the highway. Somehow the salesman got the goof to pull over to the side of the road, and when they changed seats, he locked the customer out and left him there—about ten miles from the dealership!

I’ve had test drives that were nothing more than an idiot trying to catch a ride home. This happened to me a couple of times when I was young. A customer appears on the lot, you take him for a ride. The customer says he wants to show the car to his wife; let’s drive to his house. Once you get there he tells you he’s got to think things over, and no thanks, you doesn’t need a ride back to the dealership!


I once went on a test drive in a Ford Econoline Van. We went to his house to get his trade. As he pulled up he side-swiped his own car with the new one! The guy ended up buying that van and having to get it fixed!

As an ending to this particular scribe, I want to tell you another one of my demo ride screw ups. This isn’t as good as my ride with the late Rudy Henderson, but its close.

One dark winter night in 1994 I was working at Hayward Nissan in Hayward, California. About 7:00 in the evening I uped a young African-American female who came onto the lot on foot. After looking around for a couple of minutes she asked me if she could drive a used Pathfinder we had on the lot. Unlike the ride with Rudy, I made a copy of her driver’s license and left it with the desk. We were good to go—or so I thought...

Now a little geography lesson will be necessary here. Hayward lies on the eastern side of the San Francisco Bay south of Oakland. I used to take customers on a demo route that went east towards the San Mateo Bridge. Along the way the road crossed over Highway 80, the north/south corridor that heads toward Oakland. On my route we would stay eastbound until just before the toll-booth. At this point we’d turn around and go back.

Things started off well with the customer. After a brief presentation we started off toward the bridge with her behind the wheel. But when we reached the point where our route crossed Highway 80, she suddenly veered onto the northbound on ramp going toward Oakland. I was a little ticked off. In my experience if a customer won’t stick to your prescribed demo route, you’ll probably have other problems with your deal. But I gave her the benefit of the doubt. She’d made a mistake, that’s all, I assured myself. I asked her to take the next exit so we could turn around and go back. But instead of exiting she shot into the fast lane and continued north.

I asked her where she was going. She said nothing. She just starred straight ahead and drove. I became extremely nervous. Was she trying to hijack me, or did she just want a ride home? One thing for sure, I didn’t want this lady taking me into the heart of East Oakland in the dark. It was a good place to get killed.

Exits passed by. We were now in San Leandro, the next city up the highway on the way to Oakland. I didn’t know what to do. She was going seventy, so like it or not she was in charge. All my demands for her to get off the freeway were met with deaf ears. This was in the days before cell phones so there was no way to call for help. What the hell was I going to do?

Eventually she exited the freeway just south of Oakland. She blew passed the stop light at the end of the exit. At this point I started to yell at her to stop the damn truck! About four or five blocks later, she turned right, got caught in traffic, and was forced to stop at a light. I didn’t hesitate. I reached down, slammed the transmission into park, and grabbed the key out of the ignition. The lady looked at me with a decidedly pissed off expression on her face, opened up her door, and ran off into the night.

Now who said selling cars was boring?

Talk to you later,


My Most Favorite Conversation With An Up

In 1979 I was working at Hayward Datsun in Hayward, California. I was standing on the used car lot when an Asian gentleman approached me. This is what he said, and I swear on the head of my granddaughter that it’s true.

“Hi! How are you today?” I asked.

“I looking for best price on car.” He replied in a heavily accented voice.

Well, what type of car are you looking for?”

“No, no, no. You give me price, then I tell you what car.”

I argued about this point with him for a moment, pointing out the lack of logic in his request, but he wasn’t buying it. I remember feeling more amused then pissed off. So I decided to call his bluff.

“My best price on a car is $500.” I offered.

“What car $500?” he asked incredulously.

“I have an old trade-in out in the back I can sell you for $500.”

No, no, no. I want $5000 car!”

“My best price on a $5000 car is $5000.”

“Too much money!” he cried.

He turned and walked off the lot!

Talk to you later,


Mother Ships

I get upset when I hear about dealerships closing, so I’ve been spending a lot of time being upset these days. It seems as if a way of life is being stolen from us. The worse part for me is that the Mother Ships are going away and with them the heritage that makes up the world of a Car Man.

A Mother Ship is the dealership that made a difference in your life. It’s the place that you consider home even though many years might have passed since you worked there. I know that every Car Man has a place like this in his heart. Some of them work there for many years, even an entire career in some cases.

Earlier this week Good Chevrolet in Alameda, California went out of business. I never worked there, but I know that it was the Mother Ship for generations of Car Men. It had been in business for fifty-eight years—the same age as me. For many years you couldn’t buy a job at Good Chevrolet. Salesmen tended to stay there for many years. I believe I read that the sales manager had been there for thirty of those years. And now it’s gone.

This tragedy is repeating itself on an almost daily basis all over this country. Some of the dealerships deserved to go, I suppose. As we all know mismanagement is rampant in this business. When times were good, they managed to stay open because of the sheer number of people buying cars. When things tubed they were the first to go.

But it still makes me feel bad.

Personally I have two Mother Ships. The first one, of course, is Hayward Ford, in Hayward California. I have written about this dealership extensively so there is no need to go into it now. Suffices to say, I learned the building blocks of my trade there, and that’s something I can never forget.

My second Mother Ship is Shellworth Chevrolet in Vacaville, California. I lucked into Shellworth at a pretty low time in my life. There were a few things that were a little screwy about the place, but they took me in, gave me the opportunity to redeem myself financially, and gave me a home for many years.

I quit Shellworth three years ago to take my present job. I have often wondered if that was a good idea. When I visit my friends there, or even drive by it on the freeway, I am filled with good feelings and thanks that I had the opportunity to work there. The owner, Tom Shellworth, is a smart and capable guy. If he isn’t able to weather the storm that has been swirling around our industry, no one can.

Where is your Mother Ship? I’d like to know. What special place trained you, gave you a place filled with opportunities, friends and memories? If you’d leave a comment, I’d be glad to read it.

Talk to you later,


UPDATE: In May 2010 Shellworth Chevrolet was reinstated by General Motors.

The Chevy Volt: When They Build It, Will They Come?

So who in the hell is going to buy the Chevy Volt? The Volt is a new electric passenger car that will be introduced by GM in the 2010 model year. In recent years GM has been a day late and a dollar short when it comes to alternative transportation. They introduced a hybrid truck a few years ago, which promptly tanked, as has the hybrid Chevy Tahoe currently gathering dust at your local dealer.

But this time they have made a wise choice because I’m sure there were suits in upper management that would have preferred an electric Hummer. This time they forced themselves to put the appropriate power train in an appropriate platform thereby avoiding another shot in the foot. But I can’t help but think that in introducing a totally green car to the market GM still has a hard way to go. I’ll tell you why.

Whether it be electric, hybrid, or pedal powered, alternative cars are largely purchased by propeller heads, i.e. liberals. In this respect I applaud my idle-brained brethren. At lest they put their funds (liberals never use the word money) where their mouths are. Make any kind of product that they perceive will save the earth from evil white males and they’ll buy it.

The problem is, will these people purchase an electric car made by GM? Case in point: If you drive through any of the liberal bastions of our nations, primarily college towns, you will see very few American made cars. Oh, you might see an occasional SUV or truck but an American car? Are you kidding me? All liberals have an innate hatred for American Cars. Do you think they’ll break down and buy one now just because it’s electric?

Liberals hate for American cars (and most other large American companies for that matter) for two reasons:

Reason 1: Sticking it to the man. In the 60’s my generation was instilled with the spirit of rebellion. The Vietnam War, the so-called Military Industrial Complex, dope, were all reasons to rebel against our parents and society in general. Most of us grew up, but a hard core of us, the propeller heads, never did. They never support American businesses.

Reason 2: This one is partially justified. Back in the 60’s and 70’s American made automobiles were--how should I word this--junk. People flocked to the Japanese manufacturers in search of a car that wasn't in the shop every other week. But buying a foreign car became more than that. It became an integral part of the official liberal uniform; an attitude persists today even though it is no longer fully justified. Bottom line: buy a Buick and they throw you out of the club.

I’m not sure if a liberal could physically purchase a Volt even if they want to. I suspect that many would go to convulsions just opening the door to a Chevy showroom!

The flip side of this question is, will Chevy buyers buy a Volt? Chevy buyers are a weird bunch. First they don’t purchase a lot of cars. Gas prices permitting they buy trucks and SUV’s. Many recent Chevy models like the new Impala and Malibu have by and large bypassed Chevy showrooms, and gone straight to the rental car agencies just like a lousy movie bypasses the theaters and goes directly to DVD. (Think any movie with Wesley Snipes in it.)

Of course Chevy buyers will buy a Chevy car, but it’s easier to sell them one if the car is currently on the NASCAR circuit. If you want to sell a shit-load of Volts, put a large number 3 in the back and start racing them.

General Motors is going to have their hands full with the Chevy Volt. As a former Chevy salesman I, for one, am rooting for them. Its time for them, along with Ford and Chrysler, to start getting their act together.

Whatever that means.

Talk to you later,


Closing Time

It’s Sunday afternoon on the car lot. It’s about a quarter to five. You close at five. You’re itching to get out of there. Then it happens. A goof ball, buried in his beat up Mitsubishi Eclipse, pulls into the lot to spend an hour of quality time with you.


What is it about car dealerships at closing time? It can be slow all day, or perhaps you were busy and just want to get your ass out of there, and here they come, an army of flakes, determined to ruin your evening. Now sometimes you can get lucky and find a buyer among the pack, but for the most part these are the people who got thrown out of all the other dealerships up and down Auto Row and have landed at your place for a last shot at getting new wheels. (Keep in mind that the flake you threw out two hours ago is pulling into another lot right now!)

Back at the primeval dawn of my automotive career, I worked at Hayward Ford in Hayward, California. Hayward Ford was located across the street from a steep hill that ran up to the state college. We closed at 9:00. I used to imagine that at about 8:30 ups would gather on the hill with binoculars and walkie-talkies waiting for signs that we were locking up the cars. As soon as the spotted a key board they would give the okay sign and invade the lot asking stupid questions and demanding demo rides in cars they had no intention to buy.

My brother, Danny, who was a young, aggressive sales manager didn’t make it any easier. He believed that closing time was when the last dog died. I used to joke that if it dawned on him that after the bars closed at 1:00 AM there might be a couple of drunks on the lot, he’d make sure we were there to wait on them!

What can a Car Man do to protect himself? Murder is one option, I suppose, but not very practical unless you’re really good at it. You can always hide in your office or the bathroom and hope someone else takes the up, but if the other guy sells the goof a car you’re going to feel like an asshole. So what do you do?

First understand that the two main reasons for a customer being tossed out of a dealership is because they’re really buried in their trade or they’re so flaky they would need a co-signer to pay cash. The vast majority of closing time ups fall into these two categories so when the guy in the Eclipse pulls up to your showroom door find quickly find out witch one applies to him.

If all else fails, a quick way to determine if you have a buyer is to simply ask him if he wants to buy the car. Strokers hate this question because it exposes their plan to jack you around for their fun and amusement. But you have to be careful how you ask the question because if you sound too aggressive you risk losing a real buyer. I suggest after a brief presentation of the car you give them your best friendly smile and say, “So, you want to buy this beauty tonight?”

I think we can all agree that it would be a better world for all if the police would simply arrest anyone pulling on to a car lot at closing time. If I were emperor of this country there would be capital punishment for anyone stroking a Car Man.

Hey. Am I being a little too harsh?

Talk to you later,


The Smart Car

I saw one of those new Smart cars going down the freeway the other day. The Smart car is a little, and I do mean little, two-seater coupe about the size of a golf cart. Looks dangerous as hell which brings me to my point. The guy driving it was going about 75 MPH in the fast lane!

What the hell was that all about? I would assume that anyone who buys one of those little pieces of shit have to be what Car Men call a “propeller head”. Imagine a Smart car and you can almost see the Obama sticker and something about global warming on the back bumper. So why are you driving 75 sucker? You late for your save the polar bear meeting?

It was going so fast I didn’t have time to verify whether or not it had any bumper stickers, but driving at that speed seemed counter-intuitive to the purpose of the car. You get what I mean by that, don’t you? Oh. You don’t? Okay, I’ll explain.

Since I would assume that most of you have never seen a Smart car on the road, I will make a comparison to a car you all have seen, a Toyota Prius. Now, faithful readers to this blog already know what I think about Prius’ and the people who drive them so I won’t belabor the point. It’s just that people who buy Prius’ drive like every mile means saving the earth from calamity.

Prius drivers seem timid to drive the speed limit much less over it, and though I have occasionally seen Prius’ being driven “normally” it’s the exception not the rule. Believe it or not I don’t have a problem with that. In their own mush-minded way Prius owners walk the walk and talk the talk. As Jimmie Hendrix once said their waving their freak flag high.

But that didn’t explain the goof ball driving the Smart. I mean this car makes the Prius look like a stretch limo and gives off the strong impression that if it had an encounter with anything larger than a Ford Focus death would result. So what the hell was going on?

A few days latter it came to me. That wasn’t a Democrat driving that car. No way! It must have been a freaking Car Man behind the wheel! Car Men traditionally drive like crap, especially if it’s not their car. Back in the days of demonstrators it was assumed that the car would be driven hard and put away wet!

My theory is that some car salesman was just acting like any other car salesman who is given the keys to a new car with gas in it. He was seeing what the little turd could do! That’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it. To think otherwise gives me an unpleasant feeling. I mean if you can’t trust propeller heads to drive safely who can you trust?

Talk to you later,


The Chameleon

I want to tell you a story about an F&I (Finance & Insurance) man I worked with years ago. Rich Morgan was (and I suppose still is) a very talented guy. He had the right combination of verbal skills, sales ability and craziness that are the hallmark of any good Car Man. And on top of that he had a very original personality; one of those types of people who once you know him you can never forget him. And one more thing: Rich Morgan was a human chameleon.

Rich Morgan’s behavior could be a little bizarre. He could be in a “don’t even think about talking to me” mode, and then suddenly be your best friend. If Rich was in a talkative mood and fixed his interest on you, you were in for quite a show, because Rich had the singular ability to make you feel as if you were the most important person in the world.

I’ve thought about this a lot over the years. Rich was not a phony. If he decided to turn his chameleon-like attention to you his interest was genuine. It was just so weird! He would clasp his hands together as if he were eagerly anticipating Thanksgiving dinner, tilt his head slightly, a grin spread on his face and give you an almost adoring look.

When Rich was in this mode he made you feel as if you were a celebrity, and he was interviewing you for some posh magazine. He would hang on your every word, acting as if each one were a pearl of wisdom. His questions would be thoughtful and insightful, designed to bring out the best in you. But I’ve got to admit that when the conversation was over I always felt as if my pocket had just been picked.

But that isn’t the weird part.

I can only imagine what it would be like to be a customer sitting across from Rich Morgan as he turned into a chameleon. Sometimes he would keep the door to his office open, so if you walked by the doorway you could see Rich during his transformation. It was not unusual to hear gales of laughter as Rich worked his humor and charm on the customer. For in the few minutes a customer was in F&I, Rich became a part of their lives and their best friend. A good word to describe it is “simpatico”. He becomes you.

I will tell you how absorbed Rich Morgan would become when with a customer. If you were a Mexican, a Spanish accent would creep into Rich’s rich voice! If you were Asian, his words would become clipped like the dialogue in a Charlie Chan movie. Irish? Irish accent. English? English accent. Whatever you were, Rich would become you. I tell you it was surreal!

I'm not even going to get into what would happen when an African-American entered his office. I have heard him say in a loud, accented voice, "Now that's what I'm talkin' about!" But I have to proof that he ever attempted a soul handshake.

You never knew what was going to happen when a customer emerged from F & I. Many times they looked stunned. Rich was so weird sometimes they didn’t know exactly how to react to him, but believe it or not they usually came out of his office with an extended warranty GAP insurance, and a Due Bill for snake oil*!

When questioned about his behavior Rich seemed not to understand what you were talking about. Speaking in accents wasn’t something he planned. It was not an attempt to be racist or a smart ass. It was just him. For in that moment of time, if you were Chinese, Rich was Chinese. And his interest in you, your family, and your new car were real. Unless you didn’t buy anything at which point you were an asshole!

To this day I have always felt the deepest of respect for Rich Morgan. He was the car business’s equivalent to an eccentric brain surgeon—more than a little weird but oh, what a talent! If the term Car Man was in the dictionary there could very well be a picture of Rich next to the definition!

One last thing: It is my eternal hope that if space aliens ever visit this planet, the first person they will meet is Rich. He’ll charm the pants off of them—and sell them a 5 year/100,000 service contract.

Talk to you later,


*The Others take note: snake oil is slang for things like underseal and paint coatings.

Crusin' The Net

I was cruising the net today. I googled car salesman blogs. I’ve always wondered if anyone out there writes a blog like mine. I sometimes run into sites that cull car-related topics off the net and present them in a humorous fashion, but I can’t find anyone who writes an all-original, balls-out pro car salesman blog like mine. In that respect, I am the only one. Nnumero uno. I’m like Superman sitting on top of the Empire State Building, hands on my hips, my cape flapping in the breeze.

David Teves: Defender of the Car Man.

What I did find on Google are sites whose primary purpose appears to be to unravel our “secrets” and thwart our right to make a living. “What really goes on when the salesman goes to the sales managers office?” one blog asks, as if it were Voodoo.

In their minds when we complete the write-up and leave to present their ridiculous offer to the desk, we are going to a dark place inhabited by Satin himself. There, in the formerly polluted fire and brimstone office now fresh and clean since anti-smoking laws went into effect, the red-face, horned sales manager and the salesmen conjure up a scheme to deprive the customer of their children’s inheritance. It’s a nice thing to think about gross-wise, but it can’t be realistically put into action.

The Others give us much more credit than we deserve. Selling a car is not brain surgery. The deskmen are not Harvard MBA’s trained in the black arts of screwing people. Most deals entail the desk man just trying to figure out a way to sell a car to a guy who’s a flake and is ten grand upside down in his ’04 Suburban trade and still make a little money for the house.

Sure we will take a pass at making some money. After all, we are car salesman. It’s in our genes. But if the attempt fails, Plan B is to just make a deal, and in this market that means any deal we can.

So why is all this Internet energy aimed at us, when furniture salesmen, window salesmen, and real estate assholes (strike that, I meant to say professionals) get a free ride? I sure as hell wish I knew.

So I have a dilemma. Since I’m the only one defending us, the lone voice in the desert so to speak, what am I to do? Does it mean I can never stop writing this blog? To do so would be to give into the Dark Side. But the question is how long can I continue to do this shit? I’m a decent writer, but let’s face it; I’m not that good! And who will take my place when I’m gone?

I have a site meter that tells me who’s logging on to the blog. So be forewarned. Don’t tell me, “Gee, David, I’m really enjoying the blog,” when you know and I know you haven’t logged on in the last three months. If you’ve overdosed on it, I understand. I get overdosed on occasion. I start to think that I’ve got a serious mental disorder, a compulsive condition that causes me to write and write and write—about bullshit.

It’s also interesting to discover how people find the blog. There are apparently a lot of people out there who hate Corvettes (and rightly so). When they google “hate corvette” they stumble upon me. I wrote an entry called “The Popeye Syndrome”. Don’t ask me what it was about because I don’t remember, but apparently there is a real medical condition by the same name. Think of it. Some poor suffering fool is trying to find information to help a loved one and they stumble upon me!

Apparently there is something on the net about a person getting buried in a car. I mean really buried in a car. Like in a grave. Dead. But when the unfortunate goof out there googles being buried, they get my entry about people being upside down in their trades.

Life can be difficult if your one of The Others. And don’t we all enjoy that!

Talk to later,


Make Those People Glad They Met You

A wise man once told me two things: “The way you can tell if a customer is lying to you is to read his lips. If they’re moving, they’re lying.” And the second thing was, “Make those people glad they met you.”

The first saying is a universal truth. I realize they’re not always lying, but you have to be on guard all the time because even the nicest of customers can be sneaky little bastards if given the chance.

The second saying, however, has served me well over the years. I’m a natural born talker, but not a natural born salesman. Off the field I’m pretty introverted especially so when I was younger. I lack the natural killer instinct that many good Car Men has. A guy I knew named Bill Cola once said that I have no larceny in my heart. That was the most perceptive thing anyone has ever said about me.

I seem to be incapable of lying to a customer. I’m honest to a fault—although I’m pretty adept at leaving some things out. I’m sure that over the years this has cost me a lot of money, but I just can’t help it. It has to do with my upbringing, I suppose. I had humble, honest, parents, and they passed that onto me (or at least the honest part). Good for my chances in the hereafter, but not a practical trait if you hawk cars and trucks for a living.

On the other hand, my inability to be a kink has served me well. I can honestly say I can close deals that others can’t because I can effectively communicate with most customers—assuming they’re not crazy which can be a big assumption. I discovered long ago that the reason a lot of customers are so nervous is that they are ignorant of what’s going on during the sales process.

As Car Men we go through the steps of selling a car every day. It becomes second hand. A green pea may be nervous when going in for a bump, but a Car Man has done it so many times, overcome so many objections, that it’ second hand for him. The thing we often forget is that the customer only goes through the process every few years, and it scares the hell out of him.

One example: While doing your write-up briefly explain to the customer what you’re going to be doing for them. Let’s face it; what we do is not brain surgery. Explaining to the customer that you’re going to take the deal to the desk where they will check their credit, appraise their trade, and determine what they can do for them is not giving away state secrets. It makes that goofball sitting across from you more at ease, and it makes it easier for you to present you ridiculous pencil from the desk.

Damn this sounds a lot like sales training, something I promised myself I’d never do when I started out writing this blog. But I feel it’s important because you do not have to be the loudest or the strongest to be an effective Car Man. You have to be yourself and use the tools that were born with to help you close the sale.

So what does “make those people gland they met you” mean? The customer comes on the lot expecting you to behave in a certain way. They may be thirty years older than you, but in their hearts you scare the crap out of them.” So unless you’re one of those gifted ones, so talented and sure of your abilities that you can close just about everyone (as most green peas perceive themselves!), use what you have so that the customer sees you as a fellow human being and not a fire breathing ogre with one eye.

Even if in your heart that’s exactly what you wish you were.

Talk to you later,


Eye Contact

Eye contact is one of the things they tell you about when you’re learning to be a salesman. As they say, “The eyes are the windows of the soul”, so it’s important to look into the eyes of your prospect to see if they give off any information you can use against them. Scratch that. I meant to say so you can help them.

But sometimes a customer refuses to look you in the eye, and most of the time it’s not a good sign that you’re going to sell a car. If after applying all your Car Man wiles on them and determine you don’t have a deal, I highly recommend that you take this opportunity to mess with is the guy (or gal). I mean you’re not going to make any money anyway so you might as well have a little fun. Right?

The most extreme example of no eye contact is the guy who not only will not look at you; he turns his back to you while he’s speaking. Not only is this guy hard to hear, he’s damn rude. Oh, he tries to pretend he’s looking the lot over as you talk, but if you do a little experimenting you will quickly discover he’s not doing anything as logical as that. If you start to move toward the front of him, he will rotate away from you. It’s kind of like the moon orbiting around the earth always showing the same side, but in the customer’s case it’s the back of his head or the side of his face! It’s fascinating in a piss-you-off sort of way.

When faced with this type of customer try this: start maneuvering yourself to face him and when he moves away, just continue the rotation. In the most extreme cases, it can look comical. There you are trying to align yourself in front of him, and there he is spinning faster and faster to avoid any possibility of eye contact. As I was doing this once I caught sight of a couple of guys in the showroom watching me. They were laughing their asses off. And the weird part is that the customer rarely catches on that you’re screwing with him.

This situation doesn’t happen very often, damn it. Most of the time, eye contact fearing customers will simply look off to the side trying to avoid any contact with your evil, hypnotic, car salesman peepers. A fun thing to do with these people is if they are looking off to your left, for example, you look off to their right. Then you have two people taking to each other but not looking at each other. Eventually the customer will realize what’s going on and it tends to really freak him out. Great fun!

Once I had a goof who kept looking down towards my shoes as I pitched him on a new ’78 Datsun B210. As it happens I was standing next to a long planter box. When my irritation point overcame my need to sell a car I sat down suddenly on the edge planter, my eyes finally locking on his. He jumped back as if I had goosed him and bolted off the lot!

I guess he couldn’t take a joke.

Talk to you later,



One of the most hallowed institutions of the car business is the spiff. A spiff is a bonus, usually paid in cash, given out to a salesman for doing something special. Since Car Men are broke most of the time, especially if they are married, a spiff can be a very effective tool for getting a job done.

The most common spiff is a write-up spiff. Write-up spiffs are a very popular weekend tradition. Cash is given as a way of motivating a salesman to write up people they would normally broom off the lot, like that wall-eyed guy drooling over the used Corvette. A write-up spiff can be $5 to $20 or even higher if the sales manager wants to target certain hard to sell items—such as an ugly redwood camper, for instance.

A spiff might also be offered for selling the oldest unit on the used car lot, like that 99 Dodge Avenger that has been leaning against the light pole in the back line for the last six months. Spiffs are also used to promote the sale of low commission new cars that Car Men usually avoid like the plague.

Spiffs are often referred to as “walking around money”. It's a little extra cash that the wife does not have to know about that can be blown on something frivolous. Bars are often the final destination of a spiff. There they can quench the thirst of a tired Car Man and help lubricate war stories told around a rousing game of liar’s dice.

Spiffs can also be a way for a manger to show his creativity. Sometimes cash of varying amounts are stuffed in envelopes and taped along the top of the write-up board. The money you win depends on your luck at choosing the right one. I have also seen cash stuffed in balloons mounted on a wooden board. Your skill at throwing a dart decides your reward.

My brother, Danny, employed one of the most creative spiffs I have ever come across. During a morning sales meeting he would go around to each salesman and tear a $100 bill in half in front of them. He would give you one half and tell you that in order to get the other half you have to sell two cars that weekend.

The maddening thing about the spiff was if you failed to sell the two cars, he would not ask for your half of the hundred back! In the old days we were closed on Sundays so you might have that torn bill skulking around in your wallet driving you nuts for a couple of days! Even on Tuesday he might not say a word about it. It would drive you so crazy that eventually you would go to the sales office and demand, “What gives? You want it back or what?”

Danny then did something very interesting. He would make a side deal with you. Usually it was something like if you sell two more cars by the end of the week you could have his half. He was a devious little bastard, God love him! He knew how to prey on your greed to get the results he wanted: sell more cars.

Danny once offered $100 to a salesman named John Cavanagh if he sold a car on a Saturday with half his mustache shaved off. John took him up on the offer, went into the men’s room and shaved. John sold a new car that day, but when he headed triumphantly to the sales office to collect his hundred, Danny pointed out that the vehicle had not been serviced yet. John could still get the spiff, but he would have to walk around with only half a mustache until the car was delivered on Monday. John did it!

Spiffs can sometimes be a lot of money, $500 or more in some instances, but many times large spiffs can be more for show than for actual payout. I know most Car Men would agree with me in saying that the higher the spiff, the lower the odds of getting it. In these cases the rules of the game are always stacked heavily in favor of the house. Managers think they are being really clever when they suggest things like, “Deliver five cars over the weekend and you get a grand!” They almost never have to pay out, and if you get too close to making it all of a sudden that last deal is a check out!

Then there was the famous baseball spiff concocted in the late 1970s by my old friend and general manager, Freddie Martin Jr. Fred was (and still is) a prince of a man. He did not set out to kink anyone, but he became famous for inventing a sales contest that was so complicated no one except him had a clue as to how it worked!

The contest, which was loosely based on a baseball game, lasted a month. At every sales meeting Fred would dutifully update us as to our progress. We would stare at the sales board dumbfounded. Even when money was paid out no one really knew how they got it! It was talked about for years. Whenever any manager came up with a complicated idea to motivate the troops, we would all say, “Here comes that baseball spiff again!”

One of the most enjoyable of all spiffs was a dice roll. In the old days dice rolls were offered for a lot of things, most commonly for items added to a sales contract. If you sold “LAHA” (life, accident and health insurance) it was always good for a couple of rolls. We also received dice rolls for the interest rate: the higher the rate, the more the rolls.

You would accumulate your dice rolls during the course of a week. The pay out was usually on a Saturday morning. After the sales meeting the game would begin. The guys would gather around for the rolls—a buck a point. There was a lot of bragging over what was to come. Everyone would laugh, cheer, or boo depending upon how you rolled. These sessions were a lot of fun and could go on for quite a while.

Danny was famous for making side bets. Double or nothing was his favorite, but there was no repeat of the half a hundred-dollar bill spiff. If you lost, you lost, just like in Vegas. Of all the spiffs they were my favorite even though they were usually not for much money.

Occasionally a spiff came in the form of a woman. I remember Al Gracier bringing in a beautiful young lady in a fur coat one Friday morning at Elmhurst Ford. After explaining the spiff, which as a twenty-three-year-old kid the details were the last thing on my mind at that moment, he presented the girl who opened her coat to reveal a nearly naked body. Not bad motivation for a Friday morning!

At one particularly rowdy steak and bean feed, the winning crew captain was given a bikini-clad hooker who was presented along with a string of prophylactics and a key to a motel room. The salesman (whose name I will not mention even though this happened almost forty years ago) looked at the hooker, eyes wide, and exclaimed, “I want to open my gift now!”

Now that was a spiff!

Talk to you later,