You’d think, given the horror stories about plummeting new car sales and all the rest, now would be a good time to walk into a car dealer and say ‘I’m looking to buy a car. What have you got?’
Sadly, no. That would be neglecting to consider the standard atmosphere and approach of British car dealers, who appear universally suspicious of anyone who so much as hints towards interest in their products, rather than, say, a BMW. There’s obviously something wrong with you – you’re mad, or skint, or both – so there’s no point trying to make a rational deal. Thus, they may as well ignore you and go back to their newspapers.
Take Volkswagon, for example: after a thirty-minute wait while the assistants all moved bits of paper around, the salesman who finally looked at me noted my interest in the Scirocco, listened to my story of liking the Mégane Coupé and Volvo C30 but also being impressed by the Fiesta… and hence tried to sell me a Polo.
Yes, yes, very nice, I said, and tried to steer the conversation back towards diesel Sciroccos. Twice. Each time, the salesman moved me down the Polo range. I tried to feed him lines about depreciation, and why initial price can be less important than lifetime cost; he pitched me the Polo 1.2 E, with wind-up windows, a radio/cassette player, and floor mats (extra-cost option). I walked out before he started pointing me to high-mileage Lupos.
At the Volvo showroom my interest in the C30 eventually prompted attention, but it turned out that they can’t sell me one. The C30, it transpires, really is a concept car – pretty to look at, supposedly production-ready, but they’re not actually making them. Or at least, this particular dealer barely ever sees them.
What they do get, rarely, are base-spec ‘R-Design’ models, which are decent value but neither quick nor frugal; the diesel equivalent is both. Probably. The dealer described the oil-burner as ‘hypothetical’: he’s heard of them, but isn’t sure if they’re real or mythical. As far as I can tell, the C30 exists only to lure people like me into Volvo dealers, to give us something pretty to look at before we remember we have kids and responsibilities and really need a sensible saloon.
Except that I don’t have kids or responsibilities, and quite fancy a little 2+2 shooting brake/grand tourer. But they’re just to look at; I can’t actually buy one. Heavens, no, what gives me that idea?
Ford, meanwhile, looked reassuringly scuffed and threadbare. The manager greeted me jovially at the door, then a sneezing sales assistant walked me through the bafflingly-complex Fiesta range with sufficient vagueness I began to suspect he’d spent less time with the brochure than I had. For example: the base-spec 1.25 ‘Style’ looks like remarkably good value, but I was concerned about whether it sported the low- or high-output version of the engine. I enquired. Checks were made. I still don’t know.
The entire mid-range is unavailable for months to come, leaving just the top-of-the-range diesel, which costs a whopping 50% more than the base model. Gosh. That’s quite a lot, but run the numbers for me – what does that mean per month?
Not sure. Come back tomorrow, maybe? Perhaps Friday?
Does it have a particle filter? “What’s one of those?”
Er… p’raps not.
Renault, meanwhile, were incredibly keen to get me in a 5-door Mégane. So keen that before I’d even seen one we were £2,500 below list price. That I’m completely disinterested in a bland family car was, it seemed, irrelevant. There proceeded a bizarre little dance, in which I enquired about engines and prices of the dashing little Mégane Coupé, but could only elicit answers in reference to the five-door sister car. It’s still not clear to me if the Coupé is actually available, or merely a balsa wood mockup plonked in the showroom and painted orange to look appealing. It certainly looks a bit like a C30.
Now, doubtless I’d receive much better service if I shaved and wore a suit, rather than looking a bit scruffy. However, in a Jaguar dealer I had a delightful conversation with a middle-aged and sharply-dressed businessman. He walked in excited about what might turn out to be his first Jag. Twenty minutes later we were still playing ‘spot the salesman’, and it transpired that this was the third dealer he’d walked into, and the third where he’d encounted intangible service. He left muttering something about Lexus.
As for me: by the end of the day, I’d walked into half-a-dozen showrooms with money (metaphorically) in my pocket, and walked out of each with no enthusiasm at all for the products. Not one salesman really listened to what I wanted, nor helped me shuffle through the ranges. None could give me even rough finance examples unless we properly specced a car. Nobody offered coffee, let alone a test drive. My casual but distinct interest was turned not into a sale, but into frustration and weariness.
Car dealers of Glasgow: if you want my business, try harder.