Auto theft is on the rise again for the first time in nearly a decade, due perhaps in large part to our nation’s ailing economy. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the number of stolen vehicles rose 5.7 percent to about 1.23 million in 2001 and preliminary reports show that auto theft rose again in the first six months of 2002.

What does this mean to your dealership and its customers? In this type of economy, educating your customers about the need to protect the investment they are making in their car is key to helping you sell aftermarket products. Through an educational sales approach, dealerships can inform customers about the rise in auto thefts and help them make decisions about choosing the right products to protect their vehicle.

Ultimately, leveraging this approach is an opportunity for you to provide increased value to customers and sell more products that are relevant in today’s world.

A New Sales Approach for a New Era

How do F&I managers adopt this educational selling method so they are in step with the times? The approach is straightforward and involves three basic components:

- Understanding the mindset of today’s consumer

- Educating consumers about relevant auto theft facts

- Presenting consumers with the right guidance about auto security/theft protection

Mindset: A Glimpse into Today’s Wary Consumer

The need for educational selling is reinforced by the very mindset of today’s consumer. Our unstable geo-political climate, combined with our nation’s economic conditions, has created a greater sense of uncertainty in the minds of consumers. Increasingly, consumers hunger for information, answers, and the ability to make decisions that give them a greater sense of comfort, control and peace of mind.

Today’s consumers are more educated and savvy, and want to be “told, not sold." The typical consumer walks into a dealership armed with research from the Internet and is seeking to make an informed, intelligent decision about his or her purchase. The F&I manager’s role is to present consumers with relevant information, smart solutions and guide them to making the right choice.

Consumers also demand quality products and prefer the comfort of a trusted brand. At the same time, spending budgets are tight. So educating them about products that hit the sweet spot of quality and value is what will sell best in these trying times.

Facts and Figures: Big Picture on Auto Theft Rates

Having facts at your fingertips is essential to help educate consumers. Some national statistics about rising auto theft rates include:

- In 2001 auto theft rates rose for the first time in 10 years and preliminary reports for the first 6 months of 2002 show that rates are climbing again (FBI). This new year-to-year trend sends a warning signal to consumers that increased theft protection is critical.

- In the U.S., 1 vehicle is stolen every 26 seconds (FBI).

- The odds of a vehicle being stolen in the U.S. are 1 in 196 (Insurance Information Institute, 2000).

Facts and Figures: Popular Vehicles Make Popular Theft Targets

Not surprisingly, the most popular vehicles on the road today are the very ones in demand by car thieves. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), following were the top 10 stolen vehicles in the U.S. in 2001. Dealerships that sell these vehicles can make their case even stronger to customers.

1. Toyota Camry

2. Honda Accord

3. Honda Civic

4. Oldsmobile Cutlass/Supreme/Ciera

5. Jeep Cherokee/Grand Cherokee

6. Chevrolet Full Size C/K Pickup

7. Toyota Corolla

8. Ford Taurus

9. Chevrolet Caprice

10. Ford F-150 Pickup

Thieves typically choose vehicles because of the huge profit potential when cars are stripped down to their components, which then supply a vast black market of stolen parts. These chop shops or theft rings are becoming increasingly prevalent and are putting cars at greater risk of theft.


Facts and Figures: Location, Location, Location

When it comes to car theft, location plays a big part. According to the NICB, nearly 40 percent of all vehicle thefts occur in or near ports or border communities.

Below are the 10 cities/metropolitan areas with the highest level of vehicle theft rates in 2001. If you’re in one of these areas, your customers should be made aware of it and what they can do to protect their vehicle.

1. Phoenix, AZ

2. Miami, FL

3. Fresno, CA

4. Detroit, MI

5. Sacramento, CA

6. Tucson, AZ

7. Tacoma, WA

8. Stockton, CA

9. Seattle, WA

10. Jersey City, NJ

Facts and Figures: Think Your Customers are Safe in the Burbs? Think Again.

Most suburban dwellers have a false sense of security about theft crimes. People living with the sense that they don’t even need to lock their houses, let alone their cars, live on the edge more than they realize.

While auto theft has risen most dramatically in metropolitan areas, suburban auto theft is on the rise as well. In 2001, suburban counties experienced a 6 percent rise in theft and rural counties experienced a 3.6 percent increase, according to the FBI.

The top three areas for auto theft are at the residence or home, in a parking lot or garage, or on a highway, road or alley.

Presenting Products: Layer on the Protection for a Powerful Solution

Consumers have a wide variety of theft protection products and systems from which to choose and F&I managers need to assist customers in making the right decision. Some products are designed to deter thieves from attempting to steal the vehicle, while others promise to return the vehicle intact.

Theft deterrent products can ward off many thieves, but the true professionals can disengage just about any of them (alarms, clubs, smart keys, etc.). That fact makes a strong case for stolen vehicle recovery products. While satellite tracking systems can also be disengaged, radio frequency-based recovery systems are just about impossible to locate and disengage. These systems are used by law enforcement agencies nationwide and have a proven track record (90 percent success rate) of recovering vehicles once they are stolen.

Given these facts, what is the best bet for today’s savvy and anxious consumer seeking to protect their vehicle? The answer is “The Layered Approach" to vehicle theft protection. This approach, recommended by the NICB and outlined below, involves applying multiple layers of theft protection to the vehicle. Within this layered approach are simple, common sense actions consumers can employ to protect their vehicle, along with a combination of theft protection products they can buy. This approach truly provides consumers with a robust and comprehensive solution to auto theft and some peace of mind.

Layer One - Common Sense Tactics: F&I managers should remind consumers of the role they can play in protecting their vehicle: never leave an unlocked vehicle with a key in the ignition; lock all doors and close all windows; park in a well-lit area; and don’t leave valuables in the car.

Layer Two - Warning Devices: According to the NICB, the next layer is a “visible or audible device?that alerts thieves that your vehicle is protected. Alarms, steering wheel locks, theft deterrent decals, etch products that feature the vehicle identification number on the glass or on metal body parts, are a few examples of products that fall into layer two.

Layer Three - Immobilizing Devices: These devices attempt to prevent thieves from bypassing the ignition and hot-wiring the vehicle, noted the NICB. Smart keys, for example, have small electronic transmitters that emit a unique signal needed to start the car. Other products such as fuel cut-offs can stop the flow of gas to the engine until a hidden button is activated. Kill switches also fall into this category.

Layer Four - Tracking Devices: The final layer of protection involves a tracking system that enables a stolen vehicle to be located and recovered. FBI reports indicate the longer a vehicle is missing, the less chance there is for recovery and the more damage there is to the vehicle. These systems are very effective in helping authorities to track down and recover stolen vehicles quickly and typically with very little damage.

Product Attributes Also Play a Critical Role

When deciding which products to present to consumers in this layered approach, it is critical to remember that product attributes such as high quality, trusted brand name, good value, and compliance with industry standards are very important to the consumer. Products that deliver on all of those attributes are not only the most attractive to consumers, but also the right products for your dealership to endorse.

Educating consumers on rising auto theft rates and offering a layered approach to auto theft protection empowers F&I managers to accomplish some very critical goals. First, you can truly add value to your customers by offering a smart solution to the very real problem of rising auto theft rates. Second, the layered approach provides you with a strong platform to bundle and sell aftermarket theft protection systems. Ultimately, this approach drives home what’s key to any dealership: increasing per vehicle revenue, while enhancing your customer satisfaction index.

Donna M. Driscoll is vice president of global marketing for LoJack Corporation.