Buying What They Can’t – or Don’t Want – to Sell

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There are still at least a few affordable – and so, appealing – new cars on the market.  Some with manual transmissions, like the base trim ’22 Subaru Crosstrek. Some that have advertised base prices under $20k that also tout being able to get 42 MPG, like the ’22 Ford Maverick hybrid (just reviewed at length, here). 

The problem seems to be actually finding one to buy. 

There are at least two reasons why this is so. The first is new, the second, old. The old reason is that some dealers deliberately – historically – don’t stock models that have a lower profit margin. For the obvious reason. These are generally the base trim versions of a given model, as in the case of the manual-equipped Crosstrek. It’s the also the lowest priced version of this model, so there’s less profit to be made on this model. The manual transmission is only available with the base trim, so if you want to shift for yourself, that’s the only one you want.

But the dealer doesn’t want to sell it to you because there’s less money to be made selling you a $23,145 Crosstrek – the base price of the base trim with the manual – than there is in up-selling you into a $28,995 Limited with a CVT automatic plus the $2,395 sunroof/Harman Kardon audio system.

So the dealer stocks lots of Limiteds (irony there) while stocking few, if any, base trim Crosstreks with the manual – hoping that the advertising will lure the buyer in and then buyer’s fatigue – well, we’re already here and wasted half the morning looking – will lead to the buyer compromising. 

And the dealer profiting. 

Similarly the new Maverick – which astounds with its sub-$20k base price and its standard 42 MPG capability. This is hugely appealing to many and Ford dealers are flush with people eager to buy one. The problem – the new problem – is that Ford hasn’t been able to produce enough of them to meet this demand. It is a problem caused not by greedheaded business dealings by dealerships but by unnatural scarcity of the item in question.

Italicized to make the point. 

Normally, when a thing is in high demand, there is a scramble to satisfy that demand. Because there’s profit in that.

Ford has every incentive to get as many $20k Mavericks – and Mavericks, period – to their dealers as they can, as soon as they can. But they can’t – on account of the supply chain gimps that have caused general shortages of necessary parts such as semiconductor “chips” without which a new vehicle cannot be fully put-together (made fully functional) and so ready to ship to dealers for sale. These “chips” are key to the workings of every new vehicle’s various electronically controlled systems, including various options such as heated seats. If a buyer pays for seat heaters, he rightly expects the seats to heat. If there’s just a button that doesn’t do anything, he’s not going to like it – and may even refuse/return it on the basis of not getting what he paid for. It could be even more serious for the dealer/car manufacturer in that not giving people what they paid for could arguably constitute fraud. 

And so, the dealership lots are empty – and the trailer trucks await inventory to haul their way, once it comes off the assembly line.

This supply bottleneck has no modern precedent. The last time a similar thing happened – also unnaturally, also as a result of government mucking up the works – was during World War II when the car industry was coerced by the government to stop building new cars for the market and instead built tanks and trucks for the military.

It is why there was a post-war boom in pent-up car sales.     

But how do you deal with the problem of not being able to buy what they haven’t got to sell – or don’t seem to want to sell? There is essentially one answer. Don’t buy what you don’t want to buy – and be willing to wait for what you want.

Some dealers may claim they haven’t got what you’d like to buy on account of not being able to get what you want, due to supply chain issues. That may well be true. It may also be true the dealer is wanting – hoping – he can upsell you into what he’s got on the lot, all of which is top-of-the-line stuff and marked up accordingly.

But you are the buyer and have what the dealer wants. That being your money. This gives you leverage over the dealer – a sweet spot in the relationship you’ll never enjoy again, after the dealer has your money.

Make the most of it – just as the dealer does.

Don’t be upsold. Don’t allow yourself to be buyer-fatigued into buying the one you didn’t come there to buy. The loaded (and automatic) Crosstrek Limited for $28k. The loaded Lariat Maverick, not equipped with its standard 42 MPG hybrid powertrain.

Tell them what you want – and don’t – and that you’re willing to wait to get it.

It’s not necessary to do this in person – and waste time dealing with the dealer. Instead, dial up the dealer’s email – the contact info is usually right there on the dealer’s web site – and send them a short note indicating you want to buy and are ready to buy “x” – specify the model and trim and equipment you want – and will come in to buy it as soon as they have one available for you to buy. If that’s right now, great! If it’s not right-away, so what? Tell them you are happy to have them order it as you want it and are willing to wait for it.

That’s it.

You may have to haggle over the final purchase price. But you do not have to accept haggling over what you’re purchasing. If what you want is a manual Crosstrek or a $20k and 42 MPG Maverick, don’t let them sell you the $28k automatic-equipped Crosstrek or the $$35k loaded Lariat Maverick.

It’s that simple. It only takes patience.

. . .

Got a question about cars, bikes or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in! Or email me directly at [email protected] if the @!** “ask Eric” button doesn’t work!

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28 COMMENTS

  1. Bought my car from a dealership. I knew what I wanted and could afford. Booked a test drive, liked it, ordered one and when my pension payout came through went and picked it up. No pressure, no haggle, this car is rock bottom price for the UK.
    The new generation is £2000 more with extra bells and whistles. Comes standard with cruise control now. Paff, my right foot is the cruise control!

  2. The manager at the dealership where we bought my wife’s 2018 Mazda 3 (that has 25,000 miles on it) is constantly bugging me to trade it in for something they don’t have, namely a new Mazda 3. I don’t even reply to his ridiculous proposals.

  3. Yep: When I was shopping for my F150, I wanted just a basic truck (XL version) but with upgraded powertrain. So, I got reg cab, 8ft bed, 2.7L ecoboost, 4wd, 3.55 gears, and locking differential. $31k out the door. Take the same basic truck, with the same powertrain, but give it 4 doors, put in various electronic bells/whistles and it goes for $50k+. Hence, not too may XL’s on the lot.

  4. Car salesmen are circus barkers dressed in cool clothing and wear good shoes.

    Lots of Mavericks at Edmunds for sale from 22,975 to more than 40 thousand dollars.

    None at under 20 K. Ford has carefully planned out the inventory, where it goes, what will sell.

    We don’t have any at 20K, but we have some for 28,000 to 31,000.

    Buyers will bite the baited hook.

    At 40 mpg, Mavericks are going to sell.

    My Ford tractor has a four cylinder 39 horsepower engine that has gone the extra mile for 64 years and still starts every time, it is going to plow some ground.

    You better have any implement in the ground now, sooner than later anyhow.

  5. The other problem is that it becomes impossible to order exactly what you want. The factory comes up with options “packages” that seem to pair somewhat random things, just because the mega dealers don’t want to fill out the same form 200 times.

    Example: Just tried to “build my own” 2022 Maverick on ford.com. Picked the color I wanted, a popup informed me it was only avilable in the “Lariat” package and a bunch of other stuff. Then, the 100V power outlet. Well, that’s only if I get the black paint job. Same thing with the topper, even though the picture shows it on a blue truck!

    Any color you want, as long as it’s black.

  6. Other factors to consider:

    The parts availability, what exactly the manufacturer is short of, changes from week to week. It’s not always the microchips. Sometimes it’s other common, basic parts needed for the vehicle regardless of the trim level.

    More often than not, the required part is not a gizmo or widget that is only on the higher trim levels. As such, the manufacturer in a given week may have only enough parts to make 100 cars (for example), so they will skew the production to mid level and higher trims because the profit margins are higher, and if they are doomed to sell fewer cars overall due to shortages, they can make up some of the difference in profits by favoring the manufacture of higher trim level units.

    Many brands/dealerships have little to no say in what exact models and trim levels they receive from the manufacturers. They just have to sell whatever the manufacturer gives them. (I always felt bad for the Nissan dealers stuck with the Murano Cabrio Cross monstrosity.)

    Add these to the already mentioned challenges. I’ve been watching for a hybrid Ford Maverick since they came out, just out of curiosity. I’ve seen probably a dozen Mavericks on the road but not one of them was a hybrid model. There are none available for sale, as far as I can tell, within a 200 mile radius when I run a search. I’m not buying, just observing.

  7. The shortages are a result of a number of things. One, being greed, the other corruption. The relentless pursuit of options vesting by CEOs and corrupt politicians made it sooooo easy for nearly all US corporations to sell out to China. GM, ironically, was one of the first to do so in the mid-1980s.

    China is now using its power to crush America without firing a shot.

  8. I think the Democrat Marxist who planned the plandemic to get rid of Trump knew Trump’s economic gains would evaporate with the weakness inherent in the *just in time* supply chain mode the country tied itself into and by over the last 20 years. Firms were taught by high priced consultants and tenured college professors to reduce inventory and increase communication links to sub-suppliers to not inventory and stock parts, but let the vendor meet production to meet demand. What the Democrat Marxists didn’t anticipate that it would ripple through to other industries and affect their China connections to the point of collapse. Moreover, the calculus of Biden being a figure head for the Marxist to ultimately destroy this country includes creating scarcity. Hence…where we are today.

    • Actually Hans, I think the “just in time” business paradigm began in the late 1970s, when interest rates were so high that businesses could not afford to finance a sufficient inventory. I was in my mid 20s, and many of the suppliers my work depended on routinely ran out of ordinary every day items. They got better at managing “just in time”, but it never the less doesn’t leave much room for error, disaster, or insane politics. They were motivated to continue the method when they realized the increased profit it generated.

      • Spot on JK,
        The “just in time” nonsense kept inventory low (carrying costs)…
        But there would be hell to pay …..when the machines just ..stopped producing finished goods , due to lack of components…..now calculate the fixed cost hemorrhage…of having the entire plant shut down…the system works great, until it doesn’t.

    • ‘the *just in time* supply chain mode the country tied itself into’ — Hans Gruber

      During the great Japanese bubble of the 1980s, Toyota’s kanban system became widely known.

      It worked great using a group of suppliers clustered around Toyota City in Japan. They could make multiple deliveries per day to refill empty parts bins.

      Responsibility was all on the suppliers. Toyota’s assembly line workers needed only to reach into the bin and pick a part.

      A ‘just in time’ supply chain using parts shipped in a container from China or Mexico is a whole different animal. It works till politicians impose tariffs or lockdowns, or ports get blockaded. Even the Detroit-Windsor bridge got blocked by truckers in February.

      Arguably, the Orange Man fired the first shot against globalization with his tariffs. But the supply chain remains largely global. Going all domestic for strategic reasons is expensive and takes years to build out. Exciting times …

      • Best illustrated in the original Blade Runner:

        Chew: (Chinese, screams)
        Roy: Morphology, longevity, incept dates.
        Chew: Don’t know — I, I don’t know such stuff. I just do eyes. Just eyes — Just genetic design — just eyes. You Nexus, huh? I design your eyes.
        Roy: Chew, if only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes.

        Hannibal Chew was a jobber for Tyrell Corp. This was the Japanese model. The sleek, modern building (factory?) was fed with hundreds of source compaines, some of which might be nothing more than a family who had a shed out back with a bridgeport and lathe. The American managers and investors who went there never bothered to find out where the subassemblies came from, they just saw the morning calisthenics and late night Karaoke with the boss and thought that was how they were kicking our asses.

        Oh, and just ignore that quiet guy with all the tattoos. He’s just there to make sure the factory doesn’t get behind schedule…

  9. I’d rather get a root canal than go to a stealership; in the age of the internet you should be able to go to manufacturer of your choice dotcom and order the exact model, options, color, etc. that you want and have it delivered directly to your house when it’s ready. That’s the one thing Tesla got right – no dealership. I think the dealer’s cartel here and in many other states are still fighting this in the courts because they managed to get a “rule” passed that new cars have to be sold through a dealership. Not sure how Carvana works but it seems like a step in the right direction.

    • I bought 3 cars in Australia through dealers. One new and 2 used, twice with a trade in. I never had any unpleasant experiences.

  10. I know nothing about cars, but reading your articles has gotten me reinterlrsted in going back to a car with a manual transmission. We saw a Crosstrek the other day and that is be the one Subaru I might consider buying. Its not as ugly as most!

    • You won’t be disappointed with a crosstrek. Like the Hondas of years gone by, someone who loves cars and driving designed that one. Own a 2017 manual.

  11. Such has been the case, to a lesser degree, for decades. Car company adds proclaiming “as low as XXX!!”, but none to be found at that price point. Not to mention all the stuff that’s standard now instead of option. Meaning you pay for it whether you want/need it or not. Perhaps as the economy continues to fold, they might start working down to base models again. The price won’t be a lot lower, because the Psychopaths In Charge have inflated the dollar so much, meaning they HAVE to offer base models in order to sell a car/truck.

  12. This is where the Internet shines. You can contact a dozen dealers in an afternoon and get a quote for what you want & know what they have.

    Many banks and associations have auto buying services too. Tell them what you want and they will find it for you. You won’t be able to negotiate, but there isn’t much wiggle room on new cars anyway.

    • Most dealerships have a internet sales person that mans the email and live chat services. One of the things I do like about the larger dealerships is their internal networks. I was looking for a specific vehicle, internet sales guy searched their fellow dealers across the South East. I was just about to flat order a new one. (6 weeks minimum)

  13. I saw a half dozen Mavericks with $21k stickers (with destination charges) in the fleet/demo section of my dealer’s lot back in March, when I was snooping around early one morning waiting for my wife to finish dropping of her vehicle for recall work.

    Any color you want, as the old joke goes, as long as it was … white.

    My guess is that the trucks were destined for one of the local MUDs, the Texas version of the water department for large developed areas that aren’t part of proper towns. The cable companies and power co-ops would also make sense.

    The trucks did *not* show on the dealer’s web site inventory.

    • AKA fleet vehicles, which are commonly base vehicles, but most often can only be obtained through contract purchase, or the failure of completion of such contract.

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