Times have never been tougher in the Motor Trade, but sometimes the traders are their own worst enemy…
I count myself as a fully blown petrolhead but very few modern cars stop me in my tracks and cause me to drool with admiration. Yes, there have been one or two but, on the whole, mainstream volume models seem to pass me by. ‘When I were a small boy’ (to quote the much-missed Fred Dibnah), I could tell almost every make and model from the window of my father’s car when out and about. I still try to do that now when there nothing on the wireless, but it’s increasingly difficult – everything seems to look the same. Back in the good old days of really wonky cars, Citroen produced some of the most iconic shapes. The CX was amazingly handsome in a Gerry Anderson sci-fi kind of way and I will never forget watching a teacher’s GS slowly rise to its optimum ride height when I was about five years old – it certainly left a mark on me as 35 years later, it still seems like yesterday – thanks Mrs. Jarvis.
Something went wrong with French cars, crazy idiosyncratic styling fell by the wayside with the BX, and great cars though they were, the styling was more function than funk. The flying saucer-like CX gave way to the angular XM and, to this day, I still hanker for a CX GTi Turbo 2 – having driven a couple, they are just so so cool and capable. The Peugeot 406 is another amazing car too, around town the cabbies swore by them and yet, out on a never ending highway, they soak up the miles with an almost Jaguar-like ability. However, even Peugeot have really struggled in recent times, even after a comprehensive model shake up. Oh, and then there is Renault… Well, what more can you say apart from what the flip are they playing at? Even the Dealers are running away in droves.
Citroen, on the other hand, have launched the DS range and only just yesterday a demonstrator DS5 floated by me – for the first time in a long time, I was mesmerized. After some rather uninspiring models like the C5, Citroen have seemingly found their mojo once again and I truly believe that the DS4, for example, is the perfect antidote to other European hatchback cars. Actually, I was so impressed with the styling of the DS5 that, after seeing a man about a dog in a nearby town, I called into the resident Citroen Dealer to see whether the aforementioned big Citroen looked as pleasing on the inside. Turning into mystery shopper mode (we had to do this in the MG Rover days), I pulled onto the expansive premises at around 10.00 am only to be frustrated by one of my all- time showroom pet hates – nowhere to park your car. All the parking slots were crammed full of demonstrators and unregistered cars – in my sales days you would actually see customers drive in and then out because of this.
In the end, I double parked and wombled into the showroom making a bee-line for a stunning-looking, top of the range DS5. The windows were all down on the car and, even before you were at arms length from the door handle, the aroma of high-grade leather filled your nostrils. The interior is just fantastic and even the buttons, knobs and dials are seemingly made of a quality a gulf apart from any Citroen you may have known before. The doors close with a chunk and the boot closed with a thunk – here is a car that not only looks sublime but certainly feels like it will run the distance too. However, after five minutes of closing doors and studying its beauty from every angle, my presence had still not been acknowledged by the plethora of staff. One of the Salesman seemed to be enjoying a spot of teasing with a girl on the Service Desk, who giggled annoyingly and almost as loudly as the actress Betty Marsden did in the epic film ‘Carry on Camping’. Another female staff member sat there texting away on her mobile…
Oh, it gets better too. Just as I was about to leave, the aforementioned Salesman wandered over to the vending machines and bought two coffees and a packet of crisps. With a cup in either hand and his crisps tucked under his armpit, he walked over to me and asked if I needed any help – all of this in full view of his Sales Manager, who was sitting there in his office. I rebuffed his greeting, stating I was only having a ‘blimp’ and I would give him a shout for anything specific. Bear in mind that I was a walk-in customer in decent attire potentially looking at a £30.000 Citroen – one would have expected slightly more, but this was not to be. Using grammar with words such as ‘Mate’ rather than ‘Sir’ and ‘Grand’ rather than ‘Pounds’, had I been a genuine mystery shopper the guy would have probably lost his job at the manufacturer’s request – this does happen. When I enquired how much the range started from; he told me that if I ‘hand over 22 grand I`ll sell you a car.’
Yes okay, I know I was a stroker on the day (there to just look and feel) and did not plan to spend any real time wasting, but I struggled to even provoke any kind of response or indeed, emotion. Making reference to the sublime retro touches, he just nodded in agreement with a blank face – funny that, I was always told to rev the customer up into loving the car, but here I was trying to rev the salesman up. The chap did supply a brochure (which I had to ask for) and rather casually staple his business card on. The brochure was the last one on the rack – an ideal opportunity to glean the customers information by offering to post one out ( at trick I used ) but no. In the world of sales there is a phrase that goes ‘attitudes are infectious, is yours worth catching’ – its very true, and he simply came across as not being bothered – thus neither was I.
Finally, in the end, I simply walked out – at no point during this interesting dialogue did the Salesman concerned ask me for my name, my buying preferences, my timescale, my contact details or any part-exchange info. Suffice to say, I was staggered by his response and, in all my 20 years of working in the Motor Trade, I have never come across anything as shocking. Dealers always cry about how hard times affect them and your average Salesman will be earning a basic salary of £10.000 – so just HOW can they afford to be so utterly useless? More to the point, Citroen have invested millions into creating a stylish range of really different-looking cars which quite rightly deserve to do well in these financially-straightened times, only for the Dealers to set fire to potential customers – it’s all so bloody wrong!