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by Howard Stiffle, 3/3/00

Dc: The Internet is changing the way people buy automobiles. But there's disagreement on how the balance of power has been affected.
Howard Stiffle reports.

Howard: When Stella Kowalski walked into her Intimida Dealer's showroom a couple of weeks ago, she felt she was ready to do business, and was thoroughly prepared for victory.

Stella: Thanks to the Internet, I knew what the dealer paid for the car. I knew what it cost to make the car. I knew the dealer's sales figures, his monthly quota and how he was doing against that quota … I knew everything.

Howard: Stella Kowalksi used her knowledge to out maneuver sales people on the show floor. In the forty minutes it took her to negotiate her deal, two salesman quit and the new car manager was left weeping.

Stella: I've bought a new car every six years or so. I've been roughed up and taken advantage of many times, so I feel no sympathy for them.

Howard: Even when the new car manager lay sobbing at your feet?

Stella: I enjoyed that. I would do it again.

Howard: (vo) The Internet has given rise to a new breed of automobile shopper … the fully informed, ruthless bully … with zero sympathy for anyone in retail car sales, a business that thrives on keeping customers in the dark.

Gabe: In the good old days, the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price … meant something. Today, I suggest the suggested price, and they laugh.
Like it's a big joke. Ha ha. (sinister) But it's NOT FUNNY.

Howard: Gabe Peters is the owner and general manager of Gabe Peters Intimida.

Gabe: I have to tell you, Howard, I come to work every day full of fear.

Howard: (int) Fear? What are you afraid of?

Gabe: All of my secrets are out there on the Internet. Everything I know is in the hands of my customers. They walk on to the showroom floor and I present myself to them, like a lamb to the slaughter. I am at their mercy. I have to accept it. The balance of power has shifted. And speaking of shifting, did you notice that the Sherpa has an optional PowerGlide automatic transmission with enhanced overdrive?

Howard: Great. Fantastic. But suddenly you're powerless.

Gabe: Not with this V-16 Ruffian Class 4 engine.

Howard: But I mean politically, within the dealer/buyer relationship …

Gabe: Oh, that. Yes … there, I'm totally at the whim of the customer.

Howard: What an awful situation to be in!

Gabe: I'm not complaining, mind you. I've still got a job. I've got good cars to sell. I'll take comfort in that. (fade) Speaking of comfort, did you notice the Sherpa White Star has leather seats in front AND back ….

Howard: (vo) Gabe Peters is a survivor in his business, in part because of his core ethic of honesty, and his willingness to speak out. Immediately after our interview, he was headed to the Capitol to testify at a hearing about direct Internet sales of cars from dealers to the customers.

Gabe: (fade) Wanna drive, Howard?

Howard: (off mic) Oh, I shouldn't.

Gabe: You've been anxious to try it, haven't you? I've seen you eyeing that silver one out on the lot. You have, haven't you? Yes you have. Come on, we can take that one. (fade) Let's go.

Howard: Automotive Industry experts say the Internet may eventually make the salesman … obsolete.
Carmen Bizet is the director of the Future Sales Force Task Force of the Sales Force Fellowship.

Carmen: (mock serious) Oh, I definitely do think we're an endangered species. A professional sales person … A professional, I'm talking about here … is about as powerful as a rabbit … caught out in an open field. And the customer with access to the Internet … is a mighty hawk, swooping down from above. I don't know what possible advantage we could have any more.

Howard: Which is exactly the same message Gabe Peters took to the legislators.

Gabe: (hearing room sfx) In conclusion … Senators and members of the committee … I commend you for your interest in this mundane topic. I hope I've shed some light on my view from the sales floor. As I said … who knows how much longer my kind will be in existence. I'll be happy to answer questions … yes, Senator?

Senator 1: Gabe, did you say the power train has a five year warranty?

Gabe: Five years, yes sir. But I would strongly recommend the extended warranty. A forward thinking person like yourself … is always prepared and this extended warranty is a sure sign of a person thinking not only about today … but five, ten, fifteen years down the road.
Yes, Senator?

Senator 2: It's a pleasure to get a chance at this special low price, Mr. Peters.

Gabe: Please, call me Gabe.

Senator 2: Gabe, can I get it with a cd player but NOT the White Star package?

Gabe: Why, Howard Stiffle is getting his with a cd player too, isn't that right, Howard? He's up in the press gallery there. Take a bow, Howard.

(sfx: light applause from Senators)

When we drove down here tonight he decided on the White Star package with green metallic paint. And he figured out that the package is the way to go if you want a cd player, didn' t you, Howard? Sorry to put you on the spot, there buddy!

Senator 2: Well if Howard thinks that's a good buy …

Gabe: I can deliver it any way you like, Senator. Assuming my kind is still in existence … when you place your order.

Senator 2: Oh, I'm going to place an order tonight. I think several other Senators will also …

(sfx: general hubub of agreement)

Howard: Will the Internet make the professional car sales person obsolete?
Opinions differ, but Stella Kowalski and thousands like her say they'll never buy another car without consulting the Internet first.
And Gabe Peters says he can live with that.

Gabe: Yeah, I accept it. Information is a better than emotion. Information is power. I want my customers to be powerful, even if it means they mop up the floor with me.

Howard: That's … really big of you.

Gabe: Speaking of big … did you notice the Gargantuan package is slightly larger than the Titan?

Howard: It is?

Gabe: I can upgrade you for just a few extra thousand.

Howard: Can I get the paint treatment for the same price?

Gabe: Oh please … Howard. You're killing me!

Howard: Sorry.

Gabe: That's all right. I might get fired, but let me throw it in. I like you. I'm on YOUR side.

Howard: If you're gonna get in trouble …

Gabe: No no. Let me do this for you. My treat.

Howard: (vo) Gabe Peters. Merely a salesman. Devoted to his craft. But even he sees the days are growing short for himself and his comrades.

Gabe: Floor mats? Just a couple hundred. Tailor made.

Howard: Sure.

Gabe: Atta boy.

Howard: (vo) Perhaps we're witnessing the setting of the sun on a particularly colorful component of the American Dream. I'm Howard Stiffle.


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