We had been giving some thought to new cars, and being research-obsessed as I am, I had already pre-scouted the automotive marketplace to determine what came closest to my desired equipment and fuel economy.
While I had narrowed the field to four different vehicles, I more or less assumed that when all the test driving was done, I’d be walking away with a Prius. I wasn’t even swayed by the media frenzy surrounding the recent problems at Toyota. I’ve rented the last generation of Prius multiple times, and know of their reliability from my father who only recently traded in his 2004 model with more than 100,000 miles on it.
Two weekends ago, we headed to the local Toyota dealership to take a look. The salespeople were waiting outside like vultures. Three approached as we exited the car, and I ended up with Mr. Personality. In an effort to be completely upfront I explained to Mr. Personality that I wanted to see a specifically equipped Prius for a test drive, that it was my first stop on my car buying tour, and that I wasn’t planning to buy that day. He loaded me into an almost-comparably equipped vehicle and we went out on our test drive.
Mr. Personality got his nickname because of his monosyllabic answers. “Does this navigation system show traffic?” I asked. “Mmmhmm,” he replied. “The interior redesign is very different from the last generation. What is this space for?” I asked, pointing to a large tunnel beneath the center console. “Bag,” he replied. Then he spent the rest of the ride looking at himself in the visor mirror.
When we returned to the dealership, he said, “So you like? You buy today?” No, I’m not buying today, this is just my first test drive. “You buy this one today. I get you prices,” he said. No, I’m not going to buy any car today, but if you’d like to give me a ballpark number with the equipment that I wanted, I’ll know what I’m working with when I go to my other test drives. He returned with the sales manager. “You have the title for your trade?” he asked. I explained again that I wasn’t buying today and that I didn’t have my title with me because I was just test driving. “Then we are done here,” he said, slamming a folder closed and walking away without giving me numbers. A true professional. But no matter, I thought, there are plenty of other Toyota dealerships in the bay area. I’ll just go online, check dealer stock and request an e-quote. Easy, right? Wrong.
I went online, found the exact Prius that I wanted in stock at five different dealers. I used their web forms for an e-quote on those particular models. Three dealerships didn’t respond. From the two that did write back, I received similar messages: “Thank you for your inquiry. Please call us toll-free at 800-XXX-XXXX to get your special internet pricing.” Seriously? People, if you won’t respond electronically, don’t offer a web option. I replied to both, saying just that. From one I got a response in all caps: “THANK YOU FOR YOUR INQUERY. I WILL GET YOU YOUR E-PRICE IN THE NEXT 48 HOURS.” From the other, I got a quote on a leftover 2009 Prius. How hard is it to give me a specific response to a specific request in a timely fashion?
So Toyota, it appears that mechanical and quality problems are the least of your worries. Because of the incompetence and rudeness of the gatekeepers in sales, you lost a sure thing. If I was annoyed enough to walk away, how many other customers have you lost?