Beware: Some New Car Dealerships DON’T Know Their Tech

The last time you visited a new car showroom, did the salesman impress you with his/her expert command of techno-jargon to describe the latest “gee-whiz” systems in their vehicles?  And when you asked for an explanation of what those terms mean, did they dazzle you with their seemingly erudite explanations? Maybe you should take their words with more than a few grains of salt. Because a new report suggests that when informing car-buyers about new vehicle technologies for safety and operating applications, dealership sales staffs might be offering more hot air than usable info.

A recent report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab revealed that most dealership sales people who were interviewed by the lab’s researchers graded rather poorly when it came to their ability to educate prospective buyers about safety technology and automated driver assistance programs like crash avoidance, lane keeping, adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot monitoring. And the more detailed the potential buyers’ questions, the less reliable were sales personnel’s answers.

The MIT researchers visited 18 Boston-area dealerships in the spring of 2016 to find out just how much the sales associates knew about the systems in the vehicles they sold, and how their knowledge – or lack of it – might influence customers’ buying decisions.

The researchers focused on three classes of automobiles: luxury, mass-market, and “safety-focused.” They asked the first salesperson they encountered about six different technologies: adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, and lane-keeping assist.

The report says that, overall, only six of the sales associates at these dealerships gave “thorough” explanations of each of these features.  Seven described them “satisfactorily”; four “poorly,” and two salespeople gave “explicitly incorrect” safety-critical information when it came to explaining the operation of at least one system.

When it came to the categories of dealerships, the report found that salespeople at the mass-market brand dealers, primarily Ford and Chevrolet, largely landed in the “poor” performance category. In one case, one said drivers did not have to brake while using its vehicle’s parking assist tech, when in fact they  must brake.

In another example, a salesperson incorrectly described the operation of a pre-collision assist with pedestrian-detection safety feature.  Ironically, sales literature that contradicted the salesperson was easily available to the customer (and the salesperson) in the showroom. But the “mass market” brand did have a few salespeople who did their homework and were able to effectively answer researchers’ technology-centric questions on their vehicles’ sophisticated features and applications.

Explanations for such underperformance can be found in the fact that some automakers don’t necessarily employ the people selling their vehicles, but outsource sales to provider companies. Dealerships can change relationships (and carmaker inventories) at the end of their contract terms. This can affect the consistency of the products these dealerships sell, which means that salespeople are sometimes provided incomplete or sub-par manufacturer training materials.

This small study shouldn’t be taken as an absolute indicator that all dealerships are less than capable of explaining technology aspects of their new vehicles. But it does suggest that either salespeople are not studying these features or carmakers might want to review how they instruct their salespeople. Because when alternative vehicles such as Tesla begin hitting the market, the learning curve will rise even more steeply, and dealers, automakers, and buyers will have to keep up.

If you’ve been injured because of someone else’s negligence, contact the Johnson Law Firm online, or call us at 606-433-6802.

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