The influence technology has on businesses is far-reaching, touching nearly all industries in different ways. In the ever-growing auto industry, dealerships and their staff are finding it difficult to keep up with the changes. Thanks to advanced technology, enhanced safety features on vehicles make them more appealing to customers, at least in theory. In practice, however, licensed auto dealers and their salespeople are having a hard time explaining exactly what those features provide to car buyers. A lack of education on a vehicle’s tech can leave customers at risk while exposing auto dealers to unnecessary risk.
Auto dealers are not only in place to help facilitate the sale of a vehicle to a consumer, but they are also an integral part of the education process when it comes to understanding the vehicle a person purchases off the lot. Recent studies from researchers at MIT’s Agelab show that auto dealers are not prepared to be teachers in the car-buying process. In the study, salespeople from 18 different Boston-area dealership were interviewed to see how much they understood about the hi-tech features of cars being sold in today’s market. Common safety features included in the questioning were:
- Automated driver assistance programs
- Crash avoidance features
- Lane keeping assistance
- Adaptive cruise control settings
- Blind spot monitoring
While these hi-tech vehicle add-ons are becoming more commonplace, one would think a licensed auto dealer would have the salespeople trained and educated to explain what each feature is and how it works to protect customers. Instead, the study showed that only six out of a total of 17 salespeople gave thorough explanations of the technologies available, while two gave dangerously incorrect information when answering the questions.
Some of the most glaring issues that arose during the study revolved around the misinformation provided to researchers about how features worked. For instance, one salesperson stated a certain parking assistance technology meant drivers did not have to brake when using it. That, according to the manufacturer, is incorrect. Another mentioned that a certain hi-tech feature used to spot pedestrians on the road and avoid running into them worked at all speeds. Similarly, the manufacturer clearly states that this feature only works when driving under 30 mph.
The Impact on Auto Dealers and Car Buyers
When this misinformation is passed on to drivers, or salespeople fail to mention the features at all, both consumers and auto dealers suffer the consequences. On the consumer side of the line, they may be apt to turn off a specific technology in a vehicle if they weren’t given adequate information about how it worked or the benefits it offers while driving. These safety features could be life-saving in serious circumstances, but if they aren’t in use, a driver could be at risk. Similarly, some drivers may ultimately use safety features incorrectly or in a way that wasn’t intended, leaving other motorists and pedestrians at risk on the road.
Should an unfortunate event take place linked to misunderstanding or not knowing about a specific technology safety features in a vehicle, the licensed auto dealer responsible for selling the car could be liable for damages. Part of becoming a licensing auto dealer is the requirement to have an auto dealer bond in place. This bond works as a form of insurance – for the consumer, not the auto dealership itself. When a car sale is not in-line with state regulations, or the sale causes a consumer harm in some other form, a claim may be made against that bond.
Surety bond claims are initially paid to the customer, if they are determined to be credible. However, this has a significant impact on a licensed auto dealer because they are then responsible for repaying the bond claim back to the bond provider. This can create financial strain, as well as a tarnished reputation in the industry. For these reasons, auto dealers need to take time to improve understanding of advanced safety features in all the vehicles they sell.
A Solution for Auto Dealers
The main purpose of a salesforce on an auto dealer’s lot is to engage customers to win over their business. However, recognizing that there are risks involved when salespeople lack in education around technology features should prompt auto dealers to change their priorities. A focus on increasing the understanding and knowledge of salespeople on the lot, specifically related to vehicle safety features is necessary. This training should be part of every new salesperson’s orientation, as well as ongoing education every month or quarter for the entire salesforce. Training courses can be done online, taught in-person, or a combination of the two.
Regardless of how training is provided among auto dealers, the message is clear. Dealerships and their salesforces need to be equipped to answer questions and provide insight into today’s new safety features and technologies common to many vehicles. This not only helps improve sales numbers, but also the security of the dealership and its customers.
Eric Weisbrot is the Chief Marketing Officer of JW Surety Bonds. With years of experience in the surety industry under several different roles within the company, he is also a contributing author to the surety bond blog.