It’s been 53 years since I bought my first car — a 1967 Cougar with 120,000 miles on it that I purchased from my Aunt Verlie for $750.
Besides having to keep the 100 pounds of lead weights in the trunk my aunt had placed there to stop the car from slightly fish tailing every time you stopped thanks to Mercury engineers making the back end of the vehicle a bit too light, I remember the Cougar as a money pit. I invested in a new transmission as well as two engine overhauls. The mechanic who did the first one conveniently went out of business six days after I got the car back and two weeks after it stopped running again.
I’ve gone through a number of cars since then: a 1975 Chevy Monza sports coupe, a 1977 Chevy Concours, a 1979 Firebird T-top, a 1981Pontiac Grand Prix T-top, a 1983 Pontiac Grand Prix diesel, a 1985 Datsun 280ZX T-top, a 1987 Volvo 740, a 1989 Volvo 240, a 1993 Chevy S-10 Blazer, a 2005 Chevrolet Malibu Maxx, a 2006 Ford Escape hybrid, and now a 2017 Ford Focus SEL hatchback. That’s 14 vehicles and some 1.1 million miles of driving.
To say cars have changed a lot since the 1967 Cougar first hit the streets is a slight understatement. They still get you from Point A to Point B. But in terms of safety, reliability, creature comforts, performance, handling, and the fact you need a shoe horn to squeeze anything else under the hood it is like comparing the old Ma Bell standard rotary dial phone to a Apple i-Phone X.
There was a time in my life when I was the ideal car dealer customer turning over a vehicle every two years. I was averaging 25,000 miles a year and hadn’t gotten the need to have the newest and best car I could afford out of my system.
With the exception of the Malibu which was a great car but I had to get rid of because it seemed every meth head that walked by it tried to peek between the fairly wide gap between the cargo cover and the car’s body to see if I had anything of value for them to go to the effort to break into the hatchback, the last four vehicles I’ve put on 115,000 to 155,000 miles before buying a new one.
I had no intention two weeks ago of buying a new car. My Escape needed some repairs related to the hybrid battery pack that required parts from the vendor meaning I had to cancel a trip to Death Valley.
I got to thinking how my youngest granddaughter was looking for a car to get back and forth to work. The Escape had a Blue Book value of $2,000 — something she could afford. Plus I also knew it was reliable, fuel efficient, and safe. Those are things that matter when your granddaughter may be driving the car. Since it was the end of the year, it also meant big discounts on a number of models. It happened that the next car I figured I would get — the Ford Fusion — had zero percent financing.
So I found myself on the Manteca Ford lot last Sunday figuring I’d buy a base model 2017 Fusion if the price was right and — if it wasn’t — perhaps a base model Ford Focus sedan.
Three hours later I drove off in a 2017 Ford Focus SEL hatchback.
It was everything I told myself I didn’t want as it was fairly well packed with technology up the wazoo and had added touches that go way beyond basic transportation that makes the 1967 Cougar I drove seem like the Flintstone family’s car by comparison.
While I’m sure a salesman like Johnny Umipeg who has been around for 52 years selling Fords has seen every type of buyer possible, it is safe to say for a fairly new salesman I was probably a tad different.
I’ve dealt with salesmen over the years who suggested I feel out a credit application first and then after they got whatever information they wanted back, spent the next hour trying to up sell me before I walked off the lot. I’ve also had salesmen who didn’t seem to listen to a single thing I said.
That wasn’t the case with Eric James Jalli, the salesman I was fortunate enough to deal with last Sunday. While I have no doubt about the integrity of car sales people I’ve encountered at Manteca new car dealerships, I was a bit impressed with Jalli for three reasons: He was 19. It was clear he listened not only to me but whoever was mentoring him. And he was proud to be a car salesman.
In fact Jalli’s goal is to one day own a car dealership.
Much ado is made about being a code writer, engineer, nurse, law enforcement officer and such but a free market system can’t function well without good and dedicated salesmen. There are some that believe in the age of the Internet and Amazon that salesmen aren’t needed as goods can sell themselves. It was boldly proclaimed in 1999 dealerships as we knew them would be gone by 2010 and replaced with online sales and you’d either have the car delivered to you or ready to pick up at the lot.
The internet is simply another tool. It can’t replace salesmen per se. If you doubt that, ask yourself why all the tech giants have salesmen from Cisco Systems and Google to Hewlett-Packard to Microsoft.
The bottom line is salesmen are just as vital as ever.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.