February 26, 2014


buying a carHas the process of buying a new vehicle improved online? We looked at experiences with Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz three years ago. This time we’re looking at more companies.

Make An Offer

Have you been asked to make an offer? How annoying. How are we supposed to know what to offer, especially on a used vehicle? Can’t they make a fair offer and compete on factors like service (e.g., free loaners, work completed on time), location, facilities (cappuccino anyone?) and hours (open on Sunday!).

Acura (MDX)

We test drove an MDX around 3 PM on a Tuesday. We weren’t able to stay for a price quote. The advisor said he’d send us the information later that day. He didn’t. No call until Thursday evening around 8 PM while I was driving in bad weather. He offered to call on Friday but never did. Would you return or give this dealership your business?

Audi (Q7 Diesel)

This experience was fine. The advisor answered our questions and phoned back as scheduled. However, the only vehicle we could test drive had the wrong engine and trim. Do you feel comfortable buying without trying?

BMW (535i xDrive GT)

We test-drove two well-equipped 5-Series Gran Turismos. One dealer’s had a loud rattle at some speeds. The other dealer was worse. The car stopped running on the way back. The warning light said the oil pressure was low and shut the engine off. Luckily we were at a traffic light and the warning blinkers worked. The dealership didn’t send anyone to our rescue quickly. After 15 minutes, I braved the chill, snow and slippery sidewalks to walk back to the dealership. Would you want to go back?

Hyundai (Genesis)

We got a test drive but not with the trim level we wanted. We were given misleading information. We were told that buying was better than leasing because we could return the vehicle anytime and get a new one. Really? How was the value set? By appraising the vehicle. You can do that anywhere anytime but will likely lose during the process.

The salesperson was talking to other people while I was there (a phone call, a person walking by). While waiting, I sat in the rear seat of a Genesis R-Spec and closed the door. It wouldn’t unlock! I tapped on the glass and called out. The rescue only took a minute but felt much longer. I returned the next day and this time my wife got locked in. Why hadn’t the childproof locks been deactivated?

At a second dealership, we were told there were no vehicles for test drive but to wait. This wasted time and didn’t change the outcome. Perhaps the salesperson wanted us to think he tried … before pitching a different vehicle. This guy also talked about himself a lot.

Neither advisor followed up. The dealerships were scrunchy and didn’t build confidence in the level of service they’d provide.


We had a bad experience with Infiniti in 2005 and have never returned. That’s unfair but that’s life. At the time, we went on a test drive and the license plate that hangs from the trunk fell off. The salesperson was with us the whole time and knew we hadn’t opened the trunk. He made us feel that we were to blame and left to retrace the path. Would you feel like returning?

Jeep/Dodge/Chrysler (Grand Cherokee Diesel)

This is the worst experience ever. The doors and windows were plastered with signs saying we’d be treated like VIPs because of the big autoshow underway. We told the receptionist we wanted to test drive the new diesel Grand Cherokee. She called a salesperson. He declined to help, saying he had a meeting in 20 minutes. She said she’s find someone else but didn’t. There were other advisors around but no one offered to help. After minutes passed, we told her we were leaving. No one made an attempt to stop us. Would you like to get your vehicle serviced here?

Land Rover (LR4, Range Rover Sport)

The website calculators don’t give a clear understanding of the cost of leasing. We drove to the dealership … but it had moved. Even with GPS, we couldn’t find the new location. How long would you search?

Lexus (RX350)

The first dealer didn’t have the trim we wanted in the showroom or available for a test drive. We tried a lesser version. During the test drive, we heard the clink of glass from the back. We later found out this was from a case of beer. Maybe that’s a bonus for buying? The salesperson asked good questions. Why did we like diesel (which he didn’t sell)? How does Mercedes service compare with BMW?

We returned two days later within 30 minutes of closing. No receptionist. No one there bothered to talk to us. This time we noticed the small showroom didn’t have the F-Sport, GX or LX. Would you buy what you can’t see or compare?

I visited a different Lexus dealer between other meetings. The experience here was good. They had all the vehicles indoors and I got a test drive (though on a model with a lower trim). I didn’t have time to discuss price. However, I did chat with the sales manager who emailed a proposal which met all our requirements.

Mercedes-Benz (ML350 Bluetec)

We were sent on a test drive on our own on icy roads during a storm. No advisor. We didn’t mind. Maybe they knew we already had a Mercedes? Our usual advisor likes to demonstrate the vehicle first and always comes with us.

Mercedes has corporate stores in the Toronto area. This is ideal because all the inventory is consolidated (no need to visit different locations). There are also lots of demonstrators. I have an advisor in their head office and an advisor in the dealership of my choice (the downtown flagship).

Despite these resources, I never got an answer to a basic question: if we buy our current vehicle at lease end, what’s the scheduled maintenance for the upcoming years and how much would that cost? I asked several times. Instead, I was told that maintenance could be very pricey after the warranty. The problem is with the reliability of the electronics. Replacements are pricey. That’s not reassuring. It seems that the focus is on selling or leasing new vehicles.

Overall, the experience here was the best. Have you visited a corporate store?

Toyota (Highlander Limited)

The trim level I wanted wasn’t available for a test drive. I drove a more basic version (no heated steering wheel!) which only had fuel for 17 km. Unlike the experience at BMW, we made it back. The experience was good. I said I’d return after dinner with my family and asked that the Highlander be fueled.

When we returned, we waited only to find there was nothing to test drive. Apparently the vehicle was in for repairs. How reassuring. Why hadn’t the salesperson (who just started a week ago) saved us a trip? We couldn’t test a 4Runner either because the advisor who drove the demo truck left 15 minutes earlier (probably while we were waiting).

Toyota dealer 2 had no receptionist and no Highlander in the showroom. A salesperson offered to help us “in a minute” after finishing with another customer. We left after the minutes passed. The Sienna on display had a broken door hinge.

Toyota dealer 3 had the Highlander but only with a lower trim level without a heated steering wheel or blind spot detection. The vehicle took a while to heat up and the steering wheel stayed chilly throughout. Could we go on the highway? No, that was discouraged to save time. Customers were encouraged to do that at a different dealership and then buy here. Could we drive the 4Runner? Nope. No test vehicle because the model didn’t sell well. Could the lack of a test vehicle be a reason?

We went back inside and got tired of waiting for the salesperson (who only had three months of experience). I wanted to tell the receptionist we were leaving. She must have seen me but continued talking to a co-worker.


There are still huge opportunities to improve the experience of visiting dealerships and the quality of the advisors. Overall, corporate stores feel best and reduce the need to visit multiple dealerships that sell the same brand.


PS We’re on the verge of making our decision and ending the shopping process for a few more years.

February 19, 2014


Hyundai Sonata vs BMW 525i (click to see)In 2007, Hyundai commercials suggested the Sonata was better than a BMW 5-Series at half the price (see the rationale for irrational behavior). Who would really believe that? There's a difference between specifications and real world performance.

I sat in a Hyundai for the first time ever, the 2013 Genesis sedan. The interior quality is comparable to a BMW 5-Series or Mercedes E-Class but you get more space. That's especially welcome in the rear row. Legroom! The Genesis costs much less than a comparably equipped German sedan. Value! What about the ride? It's good — well-suited to day-to-day driving in the city or on the highway. The coming-soon all-new 2015 is even better. I saw one at the Canadian Auto Show.

The Surprise

I didn’t expect Hyundai to create something as good as the Genesis (and more recently the Equus). Then again, who expected Toyota to succeed with Lexus? The first model, the LS 400 outsold the competition from BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz. The Genesis launch had impact too, winning 20+ awards including North American Car of the Year.

The Genesis isn't as good as a German vehicle but so what? Vehicles keep improving. Think of the Genesis as an older German car. There's much we can learn for our own marketing.

Lesson: Get Started

The first launch needn’t be perfect. You learn lessons which make the next version better. Momentum makes progress faster. The key is getting started. Keep waiting and the competition gets further ahead and harder to catch. Look at the too-little-too-late attempt to rejuvenate Blackberry.

Did the world need another premium car? No, but the success of the Genesis shows there’s room for new competitors and that catching up is possible. Hyundai already is a top manufacturer which gives them money to experiment and succeed.

What’s holding you back? You don’t need to be perfect in the beginning.

Lesson: Create A Halo

Developing a new vehicle takes years and in the case of the Genesis, $500 million (according to Wikipedia). Is the investment in a niche car worthwhile?  Yes. By creating a standout,  Hyundai raised the credibility and appeal of their entire line up. They got lots of free publicity.

What brings positive attention to you? Maybe you're associated with a cause (e.g., a charity). Maybe you're doing something relatively rare (e.g., blogging). 

Lesson: Just Listen

2015 Hyundai Genesis at NürburgringWhen launched, the Genesis was very credible. Certainly an A for effort. Hyundai identified an underserved market niche: premium cars for people who care more about value than the emblem on their quickly depreciating car. Current Hyundai buyers and brand switchers.

The all-new 2015 Genesis addresses criticisms of the first generation. There is now All Wheel Drive and a better ride. In addition, there is more value than ever at their price points. Horsepower is down but torque is up. There’s innovation such as the first-ever CO detector as a tool for driver alertness (adds more fresh air as levels rise).

What does your market want?

Lesson: Keep Moving

The next battleground is the user experience. Premium vehicles like BMWs and Mercedes have their own dealerships. This helps meet the expectations of more affluent buyers. Hyundai looks committed to getting better. Using a separate brand would help but cost $2.5 billion and take 13 years.

The competition keeps moving. You eventually compete with yourself. Take the iPhone. Other phones are arguably better (e.g., larger screens, better Google integration) but there are dedicated iPhone buyers. Apple is really competing with Apple.

Right now, Genesis is competing with other brands but that will change, perhaps with the third generation launch in a few years. You can’t get there without getting started.


PS Hyundai and affiliate Kia aren’t perfect. They’re settling class action lawsuits for overstating fuel economy: $395 million in the US and $70 million in Canada.

February 12, 2014


Dan Pink: Author of 5 books. Father of 3 kids. Husband of 1 wife. Pink. Yes. Just like the color.
— Dan Pink,
Six word stories can say lots

When did you discover Daniel Pink? My introduction came from reading A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future a few years ago.

Have you noticed Dan’s solid, non-trendy approach to personal branding?  Let’s explore the steps.

1. Have A Solid Core

It’s easy to torture data to draw sensational but false conclusions. What’s flawed? What’s out-dated? What’s left out? What’s misinterpreted?

Dan uses research carefully. He even calls himself a “fan of double-blind studies” on his Twitter profile. His tweets and newsletter show the quality of content he’s reading. Two other Dan’s inspire similar confidence: Kahneman and Ariely.

Starting from a solid foundation, Dan Pink finds original and believable things to say.

Q: How good are you at detecting and telling the truth?

2. Publish Content

You need to create and publish original content to sustain a personal brand. The best ways depend on you and your market. Your approach can change. You don’t have to use all platforms. You don’t even have to be consistent (but consistency helps).
Dan writes well but stopped blogging. Perhaps the format didn’t suit his schedule.
“We’re going to shutter the blog and instead expand and deepen our collection of videos, articles, and guides on working smarter and living better”. 
— Dan Pink, Jul 17, 2013
Office Hours podcastDan has a series of audio interviews called Office Hours. Episodes used to be live but are now pre-recorded. That gives more flexibility for his guests and him. The frequency varies. There’s usually a new recording every month or two.

I recently stopped podcasting after 250 episodes to focus on creating short videos, including interviews.
Public Speaking
Dan does lots of speaking. I’ve seen him twice. His messages are simple, clear and memorable. Since he's honed his content, Dan has time to engage the audience and add a surprising amount of humor.

You might not do  much public speaking but can create video in the comfort of your office.
Click to access iDoneThisAdvance purchasers of To Sell Is Human were invited to a special New Year’s Day 2013 webcast (slides with a voiceover). The surprise? Dan didn't say much about his book. Maybe he wanted us to read it.

Dan talked mainly about about other things on his mind: books, apps like iDoneThis (which I now use daily) and gadgets (e.g., a bluetooth wireless speakerphone). He reminded us that he doesn’t use affiliate links when making recommendations.

Dan’s approach works because he’s interesting and credible. We want to know what he’s found for us.

3. Build A List

Dan uses a newsletter as his primary way to stay in touch with his followers. That’s a lasting gift with wide appeal. Dan’s frequency is irregular and the content irreverent. You never know what you’ll get or when. Dan’s personality oozes through each issue. Before subscribing, you can look at his latest issue.

Q: Do you have a newsletter with personality? [I use a similar approach to Dan but make all past issues accessible and publish monthly.]

4. Remain Accessible

how to contact Dan Pink
Dan is easy to contact. He doesn’t post his phone number but his website lets you email him. You’re not forced to use a web form either.

“During the month of February, I will be dealing with a bunch of travel that will make it difficult for me to respond to email. If you need to reach me urgently this month, please go here …”
Make your contact info prominentWhen Dan travels, he uses Awayfind to screen his emails. If you think yours is urgent, you fill out a form and he gets notified. This process manages our expectations, which strengthens his brand. He looks like he’s in control.

Q: Is your contact information prominently displayed? [My sites show phone numbers (local, toll-free), an email address and a way to book a meeting. No hunting required.]

5. Be Different

People of Dan's calibre rarely allow their live presentations to be recorded and posted. Dan doesn’t seem to mind. Here’s a recording for each recent book:
What does he lose? He reaches more people, which extends his brand. He’s still worth seeing live because that experience is different than reading a book or watching a recording.

Q: What makes you different? Where is this visible? [I blog and post live recordings — both unusual for an actuary.]

Yogi Berra said “You can observe a lot just by watching.” Dan Pink makes a worthy model.


PS Add generosity to Dan’s brand characteristics. He kindly donated books for Money 50/50.