Monday, September 3, 2012

Faith Makes Life More Interesting and Less Scary

Some of you may know that I consider myself Christian. Although I do not always attend a church or practice faith with others, the faith remains. Many people in the circles I travel in look askance at faith. They think of religion as the opiate of the masses. For many, this is because they have been scorned by modern day Phareses for their various "sins" leading to the common response of "if you don't want me, then fine, I don't want to get in there anyway!"

My own personal journey to faith was a highly rational one. I was not converted by another believer. I simply observed the path of my life and applied some deductive reasoning to it. I found that the events of my life seemed for form a coherent narrative indicative of a guiding hand. It was only years later that I came to read the Gospels and realized that the kind, loving, faithful God described there is the same one I had deduced.

I have faith that my life is guided by God. Not directed. Not controlled. Just guided. Maintaining the same rational approach, I can well admit that I cannot prove that God is guiding my life. Perhaps I am simply reading into a series of coincidences. Humans are very good at finding patterns where none exist. However, by having faith, I can believe that as long as I set my feet on the path, I will be guided the right direction. When you get right down to it, faith or not, the strategy is the same: do the best I can with whatever comes before me. The only difference is that by believing, I can stroll forward without fear.

There are many things that could go catastrophically wrong in my life. My car has over 140,000 miles on it. I do not presently have health insurance. A major car issue or a health issue would pretty much be game over for me, but I believe that there is a purpose for me, and, if God has a purpose for me, he's going to make sure that something as simple as a vehicular issue or lack of insurance will not sideline his plan.

What if I'm wrong? Who cares? I would rather spend decades happily believing that the hand of God will lead me to good things than spend those same decades worrying what might happen, especially since it is well recognized that focusing on good things causes good things and focusing on bad things causes bad things. What if there is no God but my very faith in him makes it real? Would that be so bad?

Friday, June 15, 2012

TDI is Totally Diesel

I have recently moved from the Audi side of the dealership to the Volkswagen side. It did this for a number of reasons, but the main one comes down to the fact that I could see myself buying a Volkswagen, while I could not see myself getting an Audi. The Volkswagens are extremely practical cars. I'm the kind of guy who, while I like power and performance, I'm really wowed by things like fuel economy and technology.

The most exciting thing that Volkswagen has for me is also the most commonly misunderstood: TDI Diesel engines. Diesel engines are available on a number of models including the Jetta and Passat. On the inside, they are just like their gas-burning brethren, the difference being that while driving the TDI versions, you will go to the gas station about half as often. Most cars have a range of about 400 miles on a tank of fuel, TDI Passat officially gets 795 miles, but most owners find that they do better than that.

This is hybrid level fuel economy without the batteries, the production and disposal of which make a Prius about as environmentally friendly as a Ford Explorer. Additionally, Diesels have more torque than regular gas engines, and torque is what pushes you back in your seat when you hit the gas hard. For example, the Passat TDI has 236 lbs/ft of torque at 1750 RPM, versus the Prius' lethargic 105 lbs/ft at 4000 RPM. (For comparison, a Mini Cooper Clubman gets 118 lbs/ft.)

If TDI is so great, why isn't everyone beating down VW's door to get them? Hybrid-like fuel economy, truck -like torque, and without the hybrid environmental and safety concerns? The answer is that Americans have certain preconceptions about diesel. They think it's noisy, smelly, slow to start up, sluggish, and expensive.

I would like to address all five of these concerns right here, so that all of my readers can get the record straight, then go beat down VW's door to get themselves a diesel.

Noisy and Smelly
A big gas pickup truck is noisy and smelly, but it runs on gasoline. When many people think of diesel, they think of either 18 wheelers or farm equipment. The noise and smell that those pieces of machinery have is not because of their fuel but because of their construction. A VW diesel sounds just like a regular engine (in fact, it is a little quieter than a regular Audi gas engine). As for smelly, unprocessed, diesel exhaust is worse than gas exhaust, which is why a TDI engine has a more complex set of exhaust scrubbing technology at work, making TDI a cleaner tailpipe than  many gas engines. The smell is slightly different, but you would certainly never mistake it for an 18 wheeler.

Slow to Start Up
This is one I got just the other day. He suggested that diesels were annoying because you had to wait for them to warm up before they would start. This is ridiculous, as TDIs start instantly, just like a car does. However, diesel engines do not have spark plugs, combustion is created with heat and pressure rather than spark, so what if it's very cold. How long will it take to start then?

This is a video from Medicine Hat, Alberta showing a Golf TDI starting when it is 30 degrees below 0. My gas powered car doesn't start that well at 30 below.

According to Motortrend's review, the Passat TDI goes 0-60 in 8.7 seconds versus the 2.5L gas engine, which is the standard Passat engine, which took 9.0 seconds to reach 60. How's that for sluggish.

A Passat SE TDI starts at $25,995, which is a little higher than the Passat SE 2.5 at $23,725. Diesel fuel here in Connecticut is about $4.00 per gallon versus $3.80 for 87 octane. (However if you are comparing a TDI to a sportier car which requires premium gas, you are looking at similar sticker price and similar fuel price, but this is to compare practically minded models.)

The average person drives about 12,000 miles per year and keeps a car for 5 years.

Additional Purchase Price$0$2200
Average Mileage2737
Cost per mile$0.14$0.10
Cost of 60,000 miles$8,444$6,486

So, how much more will a diesel really cost you, once you take into account fuel savings? Assuming gas prices do not change, assuming that bio-diesel technology comes to a grinding halt, and not including the fact that diesel engines last much longer than gas engines, the difference in total cost is $200. (Mention this post, and I'll discount any TDI on our lot by $200, so there!)

Please don't actually beat down the door. The door to the showroom is glass, so just open it gently and come on in. We've got TDIs for everyone.

Ask to Keep the Carfax

I’m sure you’ve seen the ads: “Ask for the Carfax.” The American car buyer is well trained to ask for the Carfax. However, the American car buyer does not know what they are looking for, what a Carfax is supposed to look like, and, most importantly, that they should ask for a copy of the Carfax to keep.

I had a customer today who bought a car last month and came to regret it and wanted to trade it in. In the course of the appraisal, my manager told me that the car had a bad Carfax because it had an accident in its history.

When I brought the customer the bad news that she was going to get $4000 less for the car than she paid for it last month, I asked her if she knew about the accident. “Accident?” she said, “they showed me a Carfax that said it was clean and had been driven by an old woman in Florida. First, Carfax doesn’t tell you anything other than the state it was registered in, and, second, her car had three previous owners, one of whom had crashed it.

Unsurprisingly, the dealer who showed the fraudulent Carfax would not let her keep it. This makes sense, since showing a fake Carfax would be fraud, and given the size of the purchase, would probably be felony fraud.

When we sell a car, we include the Carfax when we deliver the car, whether the customer asks for it or not. Our cars are all clean, and we like to show it off. If a dealer won’t let you keep the Carfax, what are they hiding? Why wouldn’t they let you keep it?

Many dealers, are quite legit and above board, playing by the rules and honestly presenting their product. Unfortunately, some are not. Do not enter into the car buying process adversarially. That just causes stress for everyone, but do be sure to ask for whatever information you would like to reassure yourself that you are being treated right.

If something seems amiss, feel free to drop me a line. I’d be happy to give you my take on the situation. If you tell them that you need to check something out, and they try to pressure you to buy right away, don’t. After all, if they can sell it to you today, why couldn’t they sell it to you tomorrow. What don’t they want you to know?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Mayor Bloomberg's Soda Rule: Right Move, Poor Outreach

If you ask a nutrition expert what the single most effective thing that you can do to be healthier is to cut sugary drinks. It is all to easy to fill up a Big Gulp and pound down 800 calories of sugar without even thinking about it.

Mayor Bloomberg of New York City, realizing that the toxic American food environment is literally killing America, where 1 in 2 New Yorkers are obese, and 1 in 3 Americans are Diabetic or Pre-Diabetic, is moving to ban sugary drinks over 16 ounces. If you carefully avoid the news, read these short articles to get a rundown:

Yeshiva World News
NBC New York

Also useful to read before my commentary is this post by Craig Fear, nutritional expert from Northampton, Massachusetts. Sugar: Why It's Killing Us and What We Should Do About It

The first thing that I notice about both news articles is that they fail to mention Diabetes. Until I met Craig Fear and read his blog, I thought that sugar was harmless as long as one exercised enough to burn it off. After all, it metabolizes into energy which you consume. What could go wrong with that? Well, what goes wrong with it is that every bit of sugar you take in has to be dealt with by the Pancreas, which is only built to take so much. Like any other piece of equipment, if you put it under constant strain, it wears out more quickly than it should causing Diabetes and Pancreatic Cancer.

No matter what form our health care industry takes in the future, ultimately, society carries the cost of health epidemics. The epidemic of Diabetes will cause a massive spike in disability, meaning reducing the productivity of the American population, while, at the same time, increasing greatly the cost of care for the American population. You don't need a degree in economics to realize that this is a long term recipe for economic disaster far worse than anything that the Republicans or Democrats could cook up in their wildest dreams.

When you see 16 oz for $0.89, 32 oz for $0.99 and 64 oz for $1.09, you will buy the 64 oz. I know I used to before I learned the consequences. Once you have the 64 oz of sugary soda (that's half a gallon, by the way, also all the fluid you need for the day), you will drink it because otherwise you'd be wasting it. You just consumed about as much sugar as your body is built to handle in a month. Imagine what it would do to your body to do this every day?

The new regulations would not prevent you from getting 32 oz, it would just make it cost twice as much as 16 oz, eliminating the marketing ploy which makes you buy and drink far more sugar than you really want or need.

Mayor Bloomberg, in taking this action in the face of public opposition, is making a very brave move with the kind of integrity and courage that is too often sadly lacking in politicians. I personally applaud him for this, and you should too.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


In the game Legend of the Five Rings, based on a fanciful version of medieval Japan, there is a concept called Sincerity. The idea is that it is more important to appear sincere than to actually tell the truth. Our culture has a bit of this as well. It is very important to appear to care, often more important than actually caring.

What do I mean by this? I care about my customers. I would never want to sell a customer a car that would not meet their needs because, although the consequences might not come to me, I would know that I had done something to harm my customer, and it is my duty to make my customer better off. Even if there is more money to be made, I must do what is best for the customer.

The customer does not know this. While, in the long run, this will benefit me, most customers will never realize that this is going on in my head. This means that all the true caring in the world will not generate the benefits of appearing to care with acts like calling on a customer’s birthday, sending thank you notes, and remembering small details.

This is why we have a Customer Response Management software or CRM. It keeps track of things like birthdays, purchase anniversaries, and little Jimmy’s dog’s name. Of course, I need to actually care enough to use the CRM to prompt me to send those birthday cards, but the fact is that it’s not me remembering these details.

This has important implications for both customers and salespeople. For customers, the takeaway is that it is very easy to appear to care, to appear sincere, without having any concern for the customer’s well being. The fact that your realtor calls you on your birthday means that she is smart and has a good CRM system. It may mean that she cares, or it may mean that she knows good business.

For salespeople, the takeaway is that, while some customers will see that you care about their well being, those little touches will make a lot more difference to how many orders you write up than the good, ethical thoughts in your head.

While being a good person and caring about people makes you a good person, crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s makes you a good salesperson.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Greenness of The Grass

It has been a while since I last wrote in this blog. That is what happens when you have a job that takes up so much of your time and so much of your energy that you have nothing left for any other projects. Fortunately, I have left that line of work to go to car sales. If you know anything about car sales, you'll know that it says something when one goes to car sales for the more relaxed hours.

While this transition has worked out very well for me, it is not always better on the other side of the fence. I work at one dealership and have a limited idea of what other dealerships are like. Some things about this dealership are excellent and others could use improvement. Like every working person in the history of work, I have thought about if I should consider looking at other employment.

I sell high end vehicles, and am looking for a less expensive car for my fiancee, so I took occasion to visit the local Honda dealership. One funny thing about the car business is that if you visit a dealership and they find out that you sell cars... or used to sell cars... or ever watched a movie containing a car salesman, they may well offer you a job, as they did here. In the course of our conversation, I found out that they sell almost the exact same number of units as us, but probably for less commission per car. I also found out that they have a daily sales meeting at 8:30 AM and that anyone who is not on time to this meeting cannot take customers for the day. The place I currently work suddenly looks a lot more appealing.

Sometimes the grass really is greener on the other side, such as when I came to work here, but often, the green is just an illusion.