This American Life – Cars

[hr] [dropcap]All[/dropcap] those years running Saabs United, one of the many things I wanted to learn more about was the inner workings of a car dealership.

Customers have a tendency to get so annoyed with dealers and yet the dealers I met while running SU came across to me as wonderful people. Maybe the dynamics of the relationship were defined by our positions. No-one was trying to sell anyone anything. Either way, I liked all the dealers and salespeople I met.

This American LifeI never got enough concentrated time to see what life at a dealership was like, but it still seems like a fascinating pressure-cooker environment. I have a certain admiration for the guys and girls who do this job for a living. Good salesmen are reputed to be able to sell ice to eskimos*. I couldn’t sell them a heater. I don’t have the quick wit required to stay constantly positive and move with the situation. I admire the people that do.

This American Life is a weekly radio show that I listen to as a podcast while I’m at the gym. This week, the reporters from This American Life weave their stories from a car dealership – Town and Country Dodge Chrysler Jeep on Long Island, New York.

You get to meet the sales crew. You hear about the targets they have to meet and what’s at stake for both them and the business if they miss. You get to see these people as ….. people, rather than salespeople. Sometimes, you get to hear the back-story of starting a dealership, like acquiring the proper Pre-licensing training and continuous renewal trainings. You can become familiar with the tactics that are used to secure a sale (exactly who gets played sometimes will surprise you). And you get to feel the pressure gaining intensity as the month comes to a close.

The podcast goes for around 70 minutes. It’s a little slow in places, but it’s worth listening to as a genuine insight and – as always with This American Life – as a good story.

Click on the graphic to the right to listen to Cars, from This American Life.


* I realise ‘eskimos is now non-PC, but the alliteration is irresistible sometimes. Please forgive.


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  1. This American Life is my favorite radio show. Quality of the highest degree. After that probably Radio Lab which is also on our public radio here in the states. Swade I’m glad to see this show has grabbed the attention of more than just American ears as it really isn’t as much a show about America(the government) as it is a look into people in general. Is this a very well known program there?

    1. I have no idea how popular TAL is in Australia, but I enjoy it. I found it via iTunes, looking for something to listen to that’s a bit more regularly updated than Gareth Jones on Speed.

  2. There are so many really really good episodes but one of my favorites was The House On Loon Lake. At least that is the title as I remember it. I suggest listening to it with a pair of headphones and kicked back in a dark room. Make sure there will be no interruptions.

    Somewhat more on topic I haven’t actually heard the episode you mentioned. But it is amazingly good timing as the last few days I have spent an inordinate amount of time delving into the way dealerships work trying to get a leg up. My father likes my Ford Focus EV so much, and really the whole electrified concept, that he is now in the market for an EV. I have such utter disdain for dealers because of the fact that the moment I step foot on there property they are trying to figure out how to take every cent I have. That said I have been finding that, in America at least, they aren’t usually making all that much on new cars. If anything. It is a very complex issue. It is also a very broken system when you start off with you and your customers in an adversarial relationship. I really hope the Tesla sales model will take over. Or barring that I hope I get enough dough to just get a Tesla;)

    1. The show gave a good insight into the profitability of car sales. Put simple – there’s very little, if anything in a sale for the dealership. Especially at the end of a tough month (there’s a hint).

  3. I listened to this pod cast Monday as soon as it was released, and am delighted you highlighted it on your blog. TAL is always of the highest quality, but somehow this show was so very insightful while remaining intensely entertaining. I love the Long Island accents and manner of speaking. Have been living in Europe for the last 13 years, but went to university in up-state NY with many people from Long Island – brought back excellent memories.

    Swade – a very quality post and exactly the kind of thing which makes me regularly check your site for updates. Thank you!

  4. has a confessions of a sales person on their web site (at least, it used to be there). Its also worth checking out.

  5. A fellow named Remar Sutton wrote a book that I read in the 1980’s and still have around here somewhere. Worth a look for the same insight.

    ‘Ice to Innuit’ still has alliteration, but not the same ring, 😉

  6. The TAL episode on the closure of the Freemont CA GM / Toyota (NUUMI) plant is also worth a listen. Of course, that plant now belongs to Tesla. They need a follow up show.

  7. From the “This American Life” site:

    403: NUMMI

    Mar 26, 2010
    A car plant in Fremont California that might have saved the U.S. car industry. In 1984, General Motors and Toyota opened NUMMI as a joint venture. Toyota showed GM the secrets of its production system: How it made cars of much higher quality and much lower cost than GM achieved. Frank Langfitt explains why GM didn’t learn the lessons—until it was too late.

  8. Another post about TAL.

    I’m lucky enough to be in the WBEZ-FM home market area of Chicago, resulting with the first airing of TAL episodes, or at 2000 Friday evenings.

    This episode simply underlines why most people do not like the “dealer experience”. The sales staff are normal people but to make a living in that kind of enviornment simply changes people into something other than “normal”. Predators, sharks, lions, Tazmanian devils would be better titles than car salesman. I’d hate to see TAL do a stroy about the used car side of the dealership.