Car dealerships: a rant

It may sound obvious, but motoring journalists are a lucky bunch. As well as the obvious benefits (driving nice cars etc) we can also pick up the phone to a (usually) helpful press office if there’s something we want to know about a car and its performance or sales figures.  People who want to actually buy a car aren’t so fortunate.

Thanks to the Internet, things have changed a lot over the last few years. Statistics have shown that car buyers do a lot more research these days and tend to settle on a shortlist of cars they want to test, rather than spend several weekends wandering aimlessly around car dealers with a copy of their favourite car magazine under their arm. Some buyers choose to deal with an online broker, but the vast majority still prefer to visit a dealership (albeit firmly clutching the results of their research).

This, in my recent experience, is where things start to go downhill. I’m currently in the very early stages of changing my car and, having a family, I’ve narrowed my shortlist down to a small SUV or an estate. Since I cover around 20,000 miles each year, I want to either buy or lease something new and I know from the Web what’s on offer and roughly what I should be paying. The process should therefore be pretty straightforward, right? Not so much….

I contacted the first dealer via a manufacturer advert that popped up on my Facebook account. I filled in a form and waited a few days for the local dealer to make contact, but the salesman’s product knowledge when he did eventually call left a lot to be desired. I was told they didn’t have a demonstrator of the model I was after and they would call me if one became available and that, I thought, was it. A few days later, I received one of those ‘How did we do?’ emails and I filled it in truthfully (‘Would you recommend us to a friend?’, for example. ‘No’, I replied). To my amazement, I then received a call from the salesman complaining my reply had earned him a telling-off from the sales manager. That quickly escalated to the manufacturer’s Customer Services department and I duly received an apology but, needless to say, I won’t be buying from that particular dealership.

Next came a test drive of a different manufacturers’ product. Again, the salesperson’s product knowledge wasn’t great – something that hardly inspires confidence – but when they referred to a passing classic vehicle (probably of 1970s vintage) by its latest product name, that was enough for me to decide they wouldn’t be getting my cash.

A third dealer admitted they couldn’t match the price being offered by a rival dealer in another part of the country (ain’t the Internet wonderful?) and so didn’t even email me the promised quote. Then, on making contact with the ‘far away’ dealership, they couldn’t be bothered to return several phone calls. It was the same story when I contacted yet another dealer at the other end of the country. Yet more crosses on the rapidly-shrinking list.

So, after over a month of shopping for a new car, I’m no closer to signing on anyone’s dotted line. The list of cars still exists, but I’ve yet to find a dealer that seems to want my money – and that’s a problem that many manufacturers either seem reluctant to tackle or don’t even realise exists.

The vast majority of buyers only ever have contact with a dealer, not the maker or importer. Good dealers rarely make the headlines; my wife has bought her last two cars from a family-run Fiat dealership in west Wales and can’t speak highly enough of them, but my recent experiences of several dealerships close to where I live (and the pair at opposite ends of the country) have been anything but positive. Car manufacturers spend millions on developing and marketing their products, but the most important link in the chain between factory and buyer seems extremely variable in quality.

My search for a new car goes on. Hopefully there’s a dealer out there that actually wants to do business but I’m not that sure….

TCR International Series – Red Bull Ring

If you’ve read the ‘History’ section, you’ll have seen that I’m the official commentator for a brand new global Touring Car Championship in 2015 – the TCR International Series. Okay, I’m biased, but I think Marcello Lotti (the man behind the series) has come up with a brilliant concept at exactly the right time.

The idea behind the TCR concept is to restore the ‘pyramid’ of Touring Car racing, that hasn’t been seen since the heady days of SuperTouring and Super 2000. It’s all about keeping costs down – a TCR car is capped at a maximum of €100,000, with all the cars using turbocharged two litre engines driving the front wheels.

The International Series is the pinnacle of the concept, but there are already something like 14 other national and regional championships that have stated they plan to use the TCR regulations in the future. TCR Asia launches in August and TCR Benelux follows soon afterwards, with TCR Spain, TCR Italy, TCR USA and the rest all planning to launch in 2016.

The video above is the 26-minute highlight programme from the most recent TCR International Series meeting, at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. Race 1 was incredible, with the lead changing hands almost as often as in a MotoGP race. It’s this close racing – with the second race at Monza even more thrilling – that has already made TCR a firm favourite with Touring Car fans.

But don’t just take my word for it – the series has its own YouTube channel (TCR TV) and individual races, features and the highlights packages are all uploaded after each race weekend. What’s more, the TCR International Series’ website (tcr-series.com) also streams each race weekend, so you can follow the action even if you don’t have access to the likes of Motors TV or BT Sport.

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV video review

When Mitsubishi launched the current Outlander, they boldly stated that the range would eventually include a ‘game changer’. Around a year later, the company introduced the Outlander Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV for short) and it seemed that they were right to be excited about the range-topping car.

The company isn’t alone in thinking that way – the PHEV quickly became the UK’s biggest-selling low-emissions vehicle and is the biggest reason for Mitsubishi recording a massive increase in sales in 2015.

The video, filmed at the car’s UK press launch, is also UKCN’s most popular car review video of the last twelve months, suggesting lots of people are researching the PHEV online before heading for a Mitsubishi dealership….

Welcome to the new-look UKCN!

It’s still very much a work in progress, but welcome to the new ukcarnews.com!

We’ll be adding new content over the coming weeks, including tests, pics and video of new cars available in the UK. Oh, and some thoughts about motoring and motorsport (good and bad…)

Watch this space!