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Car discounts are out there; Market analyst says research prices online

If you don't qualify for a friends-and-family deal or a supplier discount, don't be discouraged.

Good deals on General Motors, Chrysler and Ford vehicles are within reach.

But you have to understand the lingo of fees, hidden incentives and company-only discounts.

And, as Haslett, Mich., resident Scott Watkins said, you have to follow his three words of advice: Research, research, research.

He should know.

As director of market and industry analysis for the Anderson Economic Group, he consults with auto dealers and is paid to understand the marketplace.

"It's possible for the customer to go in and get a good deal if they know what the dealer is paying for the car and if they know what dealers in that area have been selling the car for recently," Watkins said.

That information was once cloaked by dealers. Now it's easy to find at websites like Edmunds.com and TrueCar.com. Watkins said having that ammunition helps you get a salesman to "bypass some of the negotiating and hassle."

"Good salesmen will see that you've already done your research," he said, and if you're serious about making a purchase, they'll frequently head for their bottom-line offer.

Watkins bought a Ford Escape at less than the "friends and family" company discount and thinks others can do the same.

Still, Watkins said, doing your homework aside, some dealers can risk turning off customers if they're not clear about the different discount plans they offer and who qualifies. That's especially true for employee plans.

With thousands of current and former automotive employees in Western New York, the domestic car dealers have long relied on those employees for a big share of their business.

But the alphabet soup of discount plans leaves some consumers without a connection to the car companies feeling left out.

Some dealers are responding to that angst -- and say they must to keep business from heading to competitors like Toyota and Honda.

Lars Perner, a professor at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business, said studies show buyers are turned off if they don't qualify for advertised prices.

"If you're paying regular prices, you feel like you're overpaying," Perner said.

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