Saturday, May 30, 2009

Car Shopping à la Belge

Today we took two separate trams to Drogenbos to do some car shopping. And . . . wow. Never would I go so far as to say I miss car shopping in the U.S., where the greasy used car salesman is a well-tread stereotype (usually lived up to or surpassed). And yet, I have never in my life encountered salespeople as passive as these. Not that I am unaccustomed, at this point, to hearing Ce n'est pas possible upon entering a store, or a local vendor being exceptionellement fermé on the day you happened to count on them being open. But not until we went shopping for a car - as our purchases go, a fairly big-ticket item - did I realize the extent of this country's lack of interest in commerce.

Our first stop was MyWay, a VW, Audi, and Skoda dealer, which came recommended by a Belgian friend. I asked upon entering the showroom whether they had occasions/tweedehandse auto's. In response, I was first met by a blank stare, which then morphed into a facial expression that was basically the equivalent of "Duh," and told in English to "go look around in the lot outside, and write down the number of the parking spot if you're interested." Bowled over by his aggressive sales tactics, J and I did as instructed. Some cars were marked with year, mileage and price; others weren't. Similar cars were identically priced, but somehow the estimated monthly payment fluctuated wildly. The highly motivated salesperson later explained that "these numbers are meaningless, just the calculations of the marketing people." From whom, it seemed, he could stand to learn a few tricks.

After marking the numbers of the cars we liked, we tried to ask some questions while standing opposite the desk where our distinguished salesperson was lounging. At no point did he invite us to sit down, or did his mildly irritated facial expression, as if we were bothering rather than trying to buy a car from him, leave his face. It was almot impossible to extract anything beyond basic information from him, and even the basics ("How would you compare diesel to gasoline?" "What are the advantages of the Turbo Diesel vs. the Trendline?") were elusive. Rather than answering our questions, or uttering a single phrase that might spur us to purchase a vehicle, he appeared perfectly satisfied to respond exclusively with facial expressions conveying something along the lines of "What are you, stupid?" (He spoke English fairly well, so language wasn't the problem.) Right before we decided to leave, he deigned to recommend two cars on the lot that we might consider. But by that point, we had been on the premises for almost an hour, and were beyond discouraged.

We decided to visit a couple of other dealers in the vicinity, with somewhat dissimilar but equally bizarre results. The saleswoman at Ford was more motivated - although we had to approach her in her office, where she was chatting with a colleague. Here, too, most of our questions were answered with facial expressions along the lines of "What, do you have a brain the size of a pea?" This included the question about financing, to which she responded, "Well, if you really want a financing plan from us, we can work it out, probably, but why don't you just go to the bank?" (Maybe because you can make more money off of us if you just answer the question and offer a financing plan.) She then pulled out a calculator, but only while sighing as if we had asked for her first-born child.

Another stop was the Fiat dealer, who did not have used cars, so we stopped to admire the Cinquecento. I explained to the beachwear-clad salesperson that I liked the car a lot, but that we were expecting a baby, and it was probably too small for us. To which he replied, Désolé, or "I'm sorry." A greasy American salesperson would have quickly ushered us to a car the next size up, but not so in Belgium.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very odd. I asked my Belgian boyfriend about this, he's never "shopped" for a car and neither have his parents, they've all received company cars. He surfs Belgian car forums and can say that most people have this experience, and have even been told that they look too poor to be on the lot at all, etc. So he told me it definitely isn't because you're foreign (American?) - that most people are treated like this.

So I asked why they would look at you strange for asking your questions (gas vs. diesel, etc) - he replied that "Belgians already know these things". So maybe it's a question for google. I know my boyfriend prefers gas because it is a quieter engine and easier to drive, and that diesel is bad if you're primarily going to travel short distances/trips because it ruins the engine but by litre diesel is cheaper at the pump.
As for trendline, he says that the -line labelled cars (only Audi or VW) represent the amount of features available in the car.

Anyway. We own a Jetta and he highly recommends it, but we don't know what price you're looking for. We have a used version and he'd rather drive that than, say, a new Audi, Opel, or Ford. He says if you like the Fiat 500, you might like the Mini Clubman. :)

Here are some used vehicle websites I asked him for: (in English or whatever language)

I hope this helped. If you have questions that can't be answered by your Belgian friends feel free to email me (kosmonik at gmail). Good luck!