Nothing is more irritating than these articles that scold F&I managers for not getting with it. The people writing these pieces cite all sorts of statistics and surveys that point to the hate consumers have for the current F&I process. According to these supposed experts, consumers would rather have a root canal than face an F&I manager.
Some of these experts believe the answer is to eliminate the F&I position and entrust those duties to the capable hands of salespeople, who, I’m guessing, will fix F&I’s issues once they solve their own time issues. And don’t get me started on the experts who say the tablet menu or posting F&I product information on a dealership’s website is the answer.
It’s clear these supposed experts are clueless about the legal hoops — and their impact on the speed of the process — the F&I department must jump through on every deal. I’d bet these experts have never even sat in an F&I chair, which is why it’s so easy for them to point fingers. Truth is, there isn’t a single department or individual you can blame for the time it takes to buy a car.
The real problem — and one I wish these guys would address — is customers simply lack an understanding of what needs to happen before a vehicle is delivered. I mean, buying a car isn’t like buying a microwave at Walmart. For most people, it’s the second biggest purchase they’ll make in their lifetime. If it wasn’t, then some consumers wouldn’t be spending months researching online before they step foot inside a dealership. So stop with this Apple Store talk. It’s not going to happen, but not because we don’t want it to.
There are test drives, options to consider and price negotiations that need to happen before customers ever step into the F&I office. Once they do, we have to run ID verifications, check their names against government watch lists and complete the titling work. And that’s just to process a cash deal with no lien.
Add financing to the equation, which, according to Experian Automotive, was the case for 84.9% of new vehicles registered during the first quarter, and you add several more steps to the process. Heck, these F&I critics should be praising us for putting customers on the road as quickly as we do.
What these studies fail to consider is the human element. See, despite studies pointing to a more informed Internet shopper, a buyer who knows exactly what he or she wants is the exception. And that’s why we follow a process, because it’s designed to put customers — no matter the type of shopper they are or their situation — on the road as quickly as possible.
By now, I’m sure you’ve heard that Cox Automotive is buying Dealertrack, an acquisition that, once completed, will put both companies closer to this ecommerce environment they’re after. But I believe history has a lesson in store for them: Taking the car-buying experience completely online won’t speed anything up. In fact, I believe it’ll actually have the opposite effect.
I know there are plenty of people who will debate me on that. These are individuals who never buy anything on a whim. They do all their research, beat the dealer into submission and then drive off bragging about what good negotiators they are. I’ve met some of these individuals, and, yes, it is difficult to separate them from their money. However, these types of buyers are the minority.
See, a majority of car buyers are impulse buyers. They may have pondered a new-vehicle purchase, but it’s not their online research that pushes them to pull the trigger. Instead, their moment of truth comes to them while running errands on a Saturday morning. They just happen to drive by a Ford store when they spot a shiny new Mustang GT on one of those spinning lot pedestals. And they just have to have it.
Then there’s the repeat customer, who makes life in the car business exciting. They defy logic and confound every consumer advocate out there who thinks satisfied dealership customers don’t exist.
Look, purchasing a vehicle will always be an emotionally charged experience that demands a brick-and-mortar environment to succeed. Sure, customers will research online, but I believe few — no matter what the studies say — will ever make a vehicle purchase without experiencing the thrill of visiting a sales lot.
Marv Eleazer is the F&I director at Langdale Ford in Valdosta, Ga. Email him at [email protected]