Sunday, February 12, 2012

Our Family's Personal Story of Buying a Car

This post is going to be a bit different than my usual post on the blog.  I’m not going to write about marketing all that much, since sadly marketing had very little to do with what cars our family narrowed down to.  Is this because marketing has little impact on car shopping? No.  I’m sure it had more to do with my being fairly knowledgeable about the cars currently in the market so discovery wasn’t a factor.

It’s been over four years since I last went through the car buying experience. There is never a dull moment when buying a car.

A lot of information is online, including every dealership’s inventory that makes seeing what’s already on dealer lots easy, sometimes.  I found several dealers didn’t fill out all of the specifications including such basic things as interior color and packages.  I even had one dealer I did an email inquiry on ignore my simple question about interior color and instead told me to, “Come on down and test drive it. You’ll love it!” “You know what I’d love to know what the interior color is,” I responded in a follow up email. 

One thing I learned is that dealers still have a ton to learn.  Their email systems with auto-response are a mess, often making communication more troubling. In another situation, I submitted a request to get a dealer’s “ePrice.”  What came back was a lovely form email telling the MSRP as the “ePrice” on a car that’s body style is 5 years old and I know full well had at least a couple thousand dollars of room to negotiate. You think they would’ve tried a little with even $500 off.

Our car buying decision was a joint process between my wife and me.  It was to replace her 1999 Lexus RX300 that was starting to suffer old age with too many repairs last year.  Since our moving to Dallas from Detroit, we do a lot more out of state travel.  My wife isn’t a big fan of flying so driving back and forth between Texas and Michigan is at least a twice a year thing. 

So we needed a car that worked for our family of four (twin 5 year old boys in tow), had all-wheel drive thanks to Michigan winter driving still, had plenty of cargo space, and navigation. Plus a decent turning radius after 10 years of the Lexus that required a three-point turn in every situation.

About a year ago, we were online and I was showing my wife the integrated child booster seats on the Volvo SUVs and wagon.  This $1000 option, included in the cold package, had my wife talking about wanting a Volvo most of last year.  The XC90 was her primary choice.

While I liked the Volvos, I wanted to look at some other choices too.  I started researching used Porsche Cayennes and X5 Diesels, knowing new was out of my league.  She wanted a new car so my dream of Euro CPO was out of the question.

Our first experience with a Volvo was a overnight extended test-drive before Christmas break in a XC90. I had been down to a dealership in late November and the sales guy kept leaving me messages, but I wasn’t serious enough to buy or call back yet. Finally he left one message saying he can offer us an overnight test-drive. I took him up on it.

It was massively disappointing – showing how the test-drive is the most significant part of a buying decision.  The XC90 had soft, floaty handling and some of the interior items, because the car hasn’t been refreshed in a major way since 2002 when it launched, felt cheap and poorly executed.  I remember most the ugly window switch that looked like it came out of a late 1990s Ford, which it probably did.  Also the third row was completely useless. 

We returned the XC90 telling the salesperson at Park Place Volvo in Dallas that we were going on vacation for the holiday and to call us back first week of January.  I still have yet to hear from this dealership…

Fast forward to early February. 

I’m very fortunate. I have some great contacts in the auto industry and thanks to Scott Monty and Sam Delag of Ford I was able to secure a 2012 Ford Explorer to see if I could get my wife interested in a Ford.  Let me preface, her good friend had an Explorer in the 1990s and hated it. In fact, I helped our friend buy a Toyota Highlander after the miserable experience with her Ford. So, my wife was very skeptical.

I told her Ford really has changed. Of course, I knew this very well having worked at Ford’s Agency of Record Team Detroit for 3 years before coming to AT&T in Dallas in 2010.

We spent about 5 days with the Explorer and it dramatically changed my wife’s opinion of the brand.  It also had us both extremely close to buying a Ford.  There was a lot to love. MyFord Touch was loaded with technology, including changing ambient interior light colors – the best feature according our kids.  Also the automatic, and useful, third-row seating was very impressive. 

What we didn’t love was the size. It felt huge on the road and Dallas has a lot of narrow parking spaces so I found myself having to pass 2 or 3 before finding a spot I wouldn’t get 50 door dings in. 

The size was also what we loved the most. It is a great road trip SUV and we could easily imagine some great drives across the States in it.  It had everything too with heated/cooled seats, dual-sunroofs, and great comfortable seats for all three rows.

We returned it to Grapevine Ford who was fantastic for letting us try it out.  Trevor, the sales guy who arranged everything, was excellent and I highly recommend him. 

Next we had arranged for a Volvo XC70 T6 station wagon from Volvo of Dallas for a weekend.

It was loaded with every feature imaginable; though, felt less optioned then the Ford Explorer we just returned the week before. Goes to show you how complete the Explorer is.

I have to say I loved the Volvo on two main points: handling and engine.  It satisfied everything I wanted out of a family hauler.  The turbo 300 horsepower and 325 pound feet of torque engine is slightly better than a stock version of my 2007 BMW 335i.   Handling on the T6 model is also firm and responsive.  It’s no BMW but it was a world of difference from the unimpressive XC90’s handling. 

Our boys really liked the integrated booster seats.  My wife felt the car was easier to drive than the larger Explorer and the technology seemed a lot simpler too. While MyFord Touch had a lot of cool features, it made for a very confusing interface after the more straight forward; though, less feature rich Volvo. 

The bad news on the Volvo was no third-row, a tiny sunroof, and no air-cooled seats.   Also the Volvo was about $4,000 more. 

In the end we went with the Volvo knowing that while we would appreciate the size and third-row of the Explorer a few key times in the year it wasn’t really necessary. Plus the Volvo was just easier day-to-day for my wife to drive and I loved the engine and handling of the XC70 T6. 

We also had a great salesperson, Jonathan Tullis, who made the whole transaction easy and straight forward, plus he follows up with customers.

While there are a lot of factors that go into choosing a vehicle, I find it funny that so little had anything to do with word-of-mouth, ads or social media. Though offers did matter since both cars had great financing rates that were a factor in our consideration.

Quite simply the biggest factor of our choice was a $1,000 option: the integrated child seats.  If that option was available in other brands, we most likely would’ve looked at them, because in the end it’s all about product. This time Volvo took an early lead and a strong finish with one simple product feature advantage no one else had.

We basically bought 300 horsepower car seats.



Colin Burns said...

The bad news on the Volvo was no third-row, a tiny sunroof, and no air-cooled seats. " = First world problems.

Christopher Baccus said...

Colin, you clearly don't understand the suffering of University Park residents. At least, I didn't share my disgust that both cars lacked heated steering wheels...

Howie at Sky Pulse Media said...

Nice post and grats. My fiancee and her folks have Volvo wagons and love them. With snow tires of course. Her dad is the one who told me of the Audi's being stuck in Vermont snow so much. Number one car there is Subaru. I mentioned getting an SUV and was told over Isadora's dead body. Not sure what I will go for when the time comes but will let you know.

Your post reminds me of Twitter clients. None have everything I want in one client! Some have more than others.

Eric S. said...

300-horespower car seats. Yep, I totally get it!

scottmonty said...

Great description of the process and the ultimate outcome, Chris. We're so glad that your wife at least gave Ford a shot and that she was positively inclined afterward. It's funny how just one thing - however small - may end up swaying your decision. So glad you found a vehicle that works for the entire family.

Maybe a Ford next time... ;-)

Joey Barbagallo said...

So glad you found a car that suited all your family's needs, Chris. I know a lot went into your decision and ultimately it was all about the product, not the marketing. Could it be the jaded autophile mixed with digital marketing maven? Possibly ;)

In the end, you can haul around your entire family on long road trips, safe and sound, in the world's ultimate sleeper! Enjoy!

Unknown said...

"The World's Ultimate Sleeper"

It's a good thing you're not a copywriter for Volvo :)

VolvoCars_US said...

Hi Chris, we think you did a great job documenting your car shopping experience. Glad you picked the Volvo XC70! You made a great choice. Stay in touch and feel free to send us pictures of your car on the next road trip!

Juli said...

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There are lots of thing to consider in buying a car. One of those is the capacity of the car for the whole family. I find it very interesting when I read your article.

Darshan Kumar said...


This is nice place to share the view with each other. Keep the flow going on.

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BlakeLandau said...

I always loved volvos. I think they are very attractive, sturdy and cozy family cars! 

Talbot_e said...

Not mentioned was Volvo's 5 Year Safe & Sound free maintenance program...or you ability to purchase it for OSD and save a bit more and get free airfare to Sweden for your factory delivery experience.  I loved that for our '05 Volvo V50 T5 AWD.

Daphne said...

Yeah I can relate to that! When my mum wanted to buy a car and that's Volvo V60. i hate dealers really. They really mess everything. But still thanks to my mum because she's patient :)

Shannon @ auto warranty said...

 Buying a car is always a longer process than it feels like it should be. Glad you found something you love, though, and hopefully it will last for years and years to come.

Kristian Hlousek said...

I cannot really relate to statements and comments like 'it had to do very little with marketing'. Well, the product itself is an important part of the marketing mix. And so is the price. Thus the value/cost ratio is nothing else than a marketing issue. After all, the automotive brand is also playing a key role with regard to models that you shortlist. And isn't brand building also something marketing is about?!

Matt Burns said...

I would have to slightly disagree here Daphne, there's really no need to hate the car dealers. I know they get a lot of bad press, and I've no doubt that there are one or 2 rotten apples out there. But you don't need to dislike them, you just have to know how to play the game and make sure that you stay one step ahead of them. Keep yourself up to date with what to look out for when you're buying a car to make sure you don't buy a duff one (you can do that on sites like ), and just don't take any stick from the pushy sales people. Providing you do that, you'll have no problems with car dealers at all :)

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