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Mr Wormwood’s evolution and the great car dealer summary

‘Selling cars in the Eighties was the best job in the world,’ says James Ruppert, a former car salesman, author of Bangernomics, and editor of Free Car magazine.

‘Customers back then were very malleable. There was hardly any consumer advice at all — just newspaper articles and a bit of telly.

‘No one knew what to look for, or how to deal with car dealers. Back then, decade-old motors were also quite often really rubbish. I wrote a whole book about it!’

Britain’s used car market was, for decades, ruled by cash — and by dealer forecourts where vehicles would be laid out with stickered cars to tempt the customer into buying a ‘bargain’.

Salesmen (on commission, of course) would try to secure deals in cash — it was common to say, ‘I can’t do finance’ — and customers would peel the price sticker off and drive off into their uncertain futures.

More thrifty souls would pore through the classifieds in magazines such as Auto Trader. But even there, options were limited, with a market dominated by Ford, VW and Vauxhall.

Chris Green, co-founder and CRO of Regit (formerly Motoring.co.uk), says, ‘Thinking back to the used car market of the 70s, 80s, even 90s, we think of dodgy dealers and slimy salesmen just looking for someone who didn’t know what they were doing to fleece them of their money.

‘A lot of that was down to the massive variations in price for used cars. You could go to one dealership and see a car priced at a particular price and then see a similar car priced at several or even thousands more. The internet has now brought greater transparency.’

Since the advent of the internet, customers tend to be prepared when they walk onto a dealer’s forecourt, says Ian Plummer, Manufacturer and Agency Director at Auto Trader.

They already know what they want — and have researched the sort of price they should be paying.

Plummer says, ‘The days of dealers laying out their forecourts and stickering their cars with military precision — they really do put a lot of effort in, believe me — they’re not quite over, but we’re getting there.’

Green says, ‘Consumers now know exactly what they want and are prepared to travel much further, so finding a BMW X5 in a specific colour with a high spec and under four years old with less than 30,000 miles is now much more in the realms of possibility.

‘The market has advanced a lot to provide solutions for consumers, but I have a feeling some dealers wish they were back in the good old days of cash when being a salesman was a lucrative job!’

Driven in part by the easy availability of credit in the form of Personal Contract Plans (PCP), Britain’s car market is now booming — with seven million vehicles changing hands last year, three times the volume of the new car market, according to the Financial Times.

The dealerships of old have had to up their game — or face annihilation.

Simon Joyce director of Anchor Vans, Britain’s biggest used van company says, ‘Dealerships have had to adapt to keep up with the demands of the customer and the market, offering immersive online showrooms that provide as much information as the customer needs to make a purchasing decision.

‘Dealerships now advertise over 20 images of each vehicle, videos, 360° internal images and even external drone footage. This is all in a bid to engage the consumer emotionally in the product.’

But the market is changing rapidly, Joyce says — driven by the easy availability of finance, and the cost of having to provide so much information to customers.

Joyce says, ‘The rising costs in digital marketing has hindered the smaller independent local dealerships and allowed massive car supermarkets to flourish and take full advantage of economies of scale. The larger dealer portals (Autotrader, Motors, etc.) are now upping their game after finding their platforms competing with the very car supermarkets that they serve.’

Words By Rob Waugh.