Friday, December 12, 2008

Auto Nation anecdote

Sorry, I didn't get an "American" car.

Here is my story of our latest car purchase. Actually, we leased it because lease rates are low and I like to turn them in and not have to resell.

It is not as though we have not ever bought cars. We always used to do so and have bought many, but it seemed to me that after a few misadventures with car ownership, why not just try leasing for a change, as an experiment. We have since happily been doing so for the last 12 years and have had better service and even better cars (that did not come with problems, like broken windows) than when we bought them. Sure, we don't own them, but that is about the only problem we have had with the experience. We just use them and turn them in. We hear it is now very mainstream.

Since my lease finished a year ago, buying my Mercedes ML 350 instead of turning it in was one possibility. Then, I renewed it for a fifth year. Recently, the price to buy it would have been $15,000 and that is about the norm for a five year old Mercedes ML350. It had been new with everything I wanted in it and less than ten miles on the odometer when I got it. I had delayed turning it in with nearly 60,000 miles on it because of not being sure about the future and what I might want, and because Paul had leased an Acura MDX in the meantime, and Amy a Jeep Liberty. None of us drives that much, we fly, and we just want cars that don't give us any trouble.

I test-drove an Acura RDX, because I like Acuras and the dealer and dealership, already having had a Legend, but decided that the suspension was not as strong as I wanted. Noticed paving in streets I hadn't noticed while driving the Mercedes.

I also tried the Lexus 350 as well as the Mercedes ML350, and Jeep Laredo (thinking it would be a cheaper alternative). There was a friendly saleswoman at the Jeep dealership to their credit. The Jeep itself was nice, but it came out costing as much as the Lexus to rent, which was only $40 less per month than the Mercedes, all with the same up front cost of $2500.

Having had Mercedes Benz SUVs for nine years, and really loving them, also liking the dealer and dealership, I was worried about trying something different, maybe straying to something I might not be happy with in the long run. I considered buying it, too, but the cost came out to almost the same amount as leasing over the next 42 months.

Since "life is short" and "variety is the spice of life" I decided to test-drive the Lexus. To my surprise, at the Lexus dealership, there was a female saleswoman when I asked for one. Carol said she had been at Lexus for a year. It made me feel more comfortable taking a test drive with a woman. I relaxed more, and finally chose the Lexus 350.

As the papers were signed, I met many wonderful Lexus employees, including Mike, employed to show new car owners (and leasers) how to use the rather complicated electronics in the car. My Mercedes didn't have a navigation system, automatic trunk-opener, automatic headlights and automatic windshield wipers. My portable TomTom GPS was doing a superlative job helping me navigate the Mercedes, but kept dropping off the windshield.

Now, a few weeks later, I like the Lexus a lot. I especially like the automatic features. Only the trunk-opener and navigation system would have been part of the Mercedes competitor. As for the automatic headlights and windshield wipers that speed up and slow down, I do really like them and wonder if they are the wave of the future, the way automatic transmissions squashed manual transmissions in years past. The special feature called "ECT snow" very effectively clamps the car to the road and feels safe rounding corners in wet conditions. The Lexus 350 is not as heavy an SUV as the Mercedes and a little wider, and I am still wondering how it will work six months or a year down the road.

I did feel mildly disloyal not getting the American car, the Jeep Laredo, not a top-of-the-line Jeep. I cannot sugarcoat it. At least I looked at it. Many American cars are doing huge business abroad.

Acura cars are assembled in Canada, Mercedes are assembled here in America. Car salespersons have told me to consider the country of a car's origin as of paramount importance, specifically if it's the United States, to support our country. In the end it came down to style, price, features and availability. The fact that Lexus came from Japan fully loaded was actually minimally important on my list of priorities.

Not sure where American car manufacturers, parts makers and dealers are going, now that the auto bailout failed last night in Washington, but not many people my age or younger are interested in buying American cars. Buicks, Pontiacs, Cadillacs and so on and so forth need to find more buyers here, and fast, despite falling behind international competitors.

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