Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson

Clarkson on: car dealers

Throughout the early '80s, when house prices were beginning their meteoric rise and the Golf GTi was really, really starting to catch on, I lived at ground zero - Fulham.

For me, the best memories of this time are of trips to Safeway on the Broadway. There, among the loaves of Mighty White and tins of tuna, I'd bump into people I hadn't seen for ages and catch up on the goss.

As a result, I still have a soft spot for supermarkets. I see nothing wrong with the Mike Sammes Singers doing Elton John over the tannoy and mmm, that smell of fresh bread.

But the main reason why supermarkets ring every town like ancient walls is because they are cheap.

If you buy a packet of olives in Tesco, the bill is about three pence. If you buy an identical pack in your local deli, you need a banker's draft.

Now then, for years Ford and Vauxhall adopted the supermarkets' approach to selling cars and it worked. Providing you were prepared to buy in bulk, there were low, low prices to be had.

By offering massive discounts to the people who buy cars in serious volume, Ford and Vauxhall had nearly half the UK market to themselves.

The trouble is that these days both say they're pulling back from the fleet market, limiting discounts and going after you and I; people who'll pay the list price for a new set of wheels.

Now I'm sorry but this just won't work. It is akin to Tescos suddenly announcing that their own brand beans now cost exactly the same as a Heinz tin from your corner shop.

You have no personal service, average products, dimwitted staff and you don't even make a saving.

Look at the sales figures this year. Just about every small corner shop car manufacturer is reporting massive increases of up to 50 per cent while both Ford and Vauxhall are going down the lavatory.

My sister is a classic case in point. She bought a brand new Mondeo estate last year and finds the car thoroughly acceptable; nothing special but practical and sensible.

When it broke down, she wasn't all that surprised but after years in the VW camp, she was amazed by the treatment she received at the hands of the dealer.

"You, with your pathetic demand, for one miserable paltry little Fiesta, are basically a damn nuisance"

The automatic gearbox was selecting a gear for the day and, no matter what, resolutely sticking to it. This made the car noisy if it went for first, and prone to stalling if it opted for third or fourth.

The dealer took it in and, after a day, announced all was well. "We've taken it for a test drive and it's fixed," they announced.

But this was a lie. They hadn't fixed it and they hadn't taken it for a test drive because on the way home, it jammed in fourth and kept stalling.

If Ford wants private buyers to take them seriously, they should execute those in charge of dealerships like this.

Or, if they are happy to sell cars through pile 'em high outlets, they have to think a little bit harder about selling 'em cheap.

If you're choosing between a Fiesta or a Punto, each of which costs about £10,000, you may decide on a test drive and discover that they're both jolly nice cars.

You'll pore over the options list and the available colours and you'll notice too, that these are pretty similar.

But you will end up buying the Fiat because the dealership gives you personal service. They're nice people.

Meanwhile, down at the Ford garage, you are in line behind Mr Hertz, Mr Scottish and Newcastle Breweries and Mr Rank Organisation. These people are being treated like Gods.

You, with your pathetic demand, for one miserable paltry little Fiesta, are basically a damn nuisance.

You'd tolerate all that, though - and the two-year waiting list for a service and the four hours it takes them to answer the phone, and the lying - if there was a financial incentive. But the Punto costs just the same...

If Labour wins the next election and company cars are annihilated, Ford and Vauxhall need to be ready. So I can see why they're behaving so strangely but they should not forget that they run high volume, low margin businesses.

The best way to keep that going is to bring prices down across the board. And pipe the smell of fresh bread into the showrooms.


Jeremy Clarkson, Column

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