Confessions of a Car Man


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,