Money for Nothing
The degree to which dealers are “taking it easy” is evident in the latest Consumer Reports survey where despite the overwhelming advantages of being part of a dealer network, dealers on average provide a customer experience that is 7% lower than that of independent maintenance shops. However it gets a lot worse when actual repairs are needed. For those that required repairs, only 57% of customers were satisfied with dealers vs. 75% who were satisfied with independents.
The consumer reports survey is a stark condemnation of automotive dealers.
Why Do Dealers Perform So Badly?
So the natural question is why are dealers performing so badly. The traditional concept is that dealers provide better, although more expensive service, and that they provide better service because of the following:
- They are trained by the manufacturer
- They have information available from the manufacturer
- They are more expensive
- They know the cars better because they work on the same make over and over again.
Clearly the outcome (service performance) does not match the bullet points above, and in fact, a number of the bullet points above are dated. For instance, Honda stopped sending its mechanics to its own internal training program several years ago, which by most accounts was excellent, and has instead outsourced its mechanic training to a trade school in Arizona, which is nowhere near as good, and which does not specialize in Honda. Knowing little beyond basic repair, mechanics are now increasingly reliant upon Honda’s remote service technicians that are available by phone out of Honda’s Southern California main office. Honda at one time had a sterling reputation in service maintenance, and it now no longer does. If you bring your Honda into a dealer now, you can expect a technician trained by a generic trade school which was a low cost bidder to Honda.
The Monopoly Explanation
Most likely, automotive dealers are not better because they do not need to be to survive. This is the best explanation, when everything else is tilted in the dealer’s favor, and they still cannot perform in a manner competitive with companies with far fewer advantages. Of course, this does not even include the costs that dealers charge, which is widely known to be exorbitant and far more than independent stops.
Service Parts Website Incompetence
I first found how bad dealers performance was when we tried to find service parts on their website for online purchase.
See this link for the full article:
As I recount in the article, I had a devil of a time finding a very simple part (the right interior door handle cover to a 97 Honda Accord), and after visiting many sites for hours, I can state with confidence that dealers have no idea how to put together a service parts transaction website. Furthermore, I question the logic of having manufacturer’s outsource their parts management to dealers, when manufacturers are much more capable of doing themselves or outsourcing it to companies that actually know how to manage large service parts inventories, (Amazon.com is extremely capable of creating a service parts shopping site.) Is this a strategy designed around enhancing the customer service, or a compromise thrown out to the dealers to enhance dealer profits?
A Better Model
Additionally, since cars should be built to order items, and ordered online, out of small showrooms that just stock test models, combined with the fact that dealers can neither maintain websites nor provide service superior to independent shops, the dealers value-add to the car buying and maintenance cycle is not apparent.
Dealerships typically have very nice buildings. However, aside from architectural flair, dealers are not a value added part of the purchasing or service chain. Wise automobile manufacturers of the future will offer their cars direct from their website (or from a small retail outlet with test models) – saving tremendous money in reduced inventory (not having cars sitting around on lots), and allow independent shops to flourish though both providing a top-notch service parts website (for both dealers and customers), and through offering extensive service documentation with the creation of a service parts portal which publishes and builds on maintenance information by allowing mechanics in the field to contribute to its content. (see the example of just such a portal below)
The New Dealer-less Model
Any car company that were to operate under the dealer-less model, would be extremely cost competitive with the current manufacturers running the cost heavy and inefficient dealer model that have to base many of their decisions not on what is right for the customer but what makes dealer happy. In fact, they could not be effectively competed against on the basis of either cost or service parts management or overall service level.
Dealers appear to be cruising on their monopoly position and the fact that customers come to them without considering all of the alternatives. The evidence for this is their very poor showing in terms of customer satisfaction for repairs, and in their inability to create or maintain service parts websites. Given the technological development of the web, dealerships are no longer necessary and should be done away with. However, it is going to take a car company that brings a novel disruptive approach to the industry to make this happen. Currently, the auto industry completes on things like quality and style, however, there are numerous other aspects that can also be competed upon. One is the service supply chain, and another is a remote dealer model. A company which got these aspects right would be at a serious advantage in terms of both customer experience and costs.
This is actually a very good blog on automotive dealers. However, this article is symptomatic of the problem in terms of thinking about dealers.
In it the author, who seems to know a good deal about dealers bemoans the closing of dealerships by the large American automotive manufacturers. However, the analysis seems misplaced. While the author is focusing on the number of lost jobs, what he is not focusing on is how little value the existing dealer structure adds to the process and to the consumer. Jobs that do not add value in an economy do not deserve to be saved (of course this applies to those with degrees from Harvard and Wharton who work on Wall Street over people that work for dealers of course). Still, why is there no mention in these articles of the atrocious behavior on the part of dealers, and how dealers perform far worse than independent repair facilities, or how their inventory heavy push model of distribution is completely archaic? For us the question is not why the current dealers being closed are being closed but rather other dealers are even in business.