The words “used car salesman” may summon an instinctive cringe in many consumers, and the sight of one might send most scrambling to get off the lot while they still have their wallets. As for such companies hoping to drive forward in a new age of used car enterprises, kicking the specter of industry stereotypes could also mean ditching the process of haggling — and even that pesky used car salesperson — entirely.

But, how can used car sellers afford to step out of the price-bargaining game? For Carvana — of car vending machine fame — it’s through the lower overhead cost granted by the company’s largely self-serve auto purchasing and financing model.

Carvana has perfected its business to the point that it no longer sees the need to create a four-hour process to upsell its customer on certain items, Ryan Keeton, Carvana co-founder and chief brand officer, explained in a recent PYMNTS interview.

“We [provide] a self-service platform that people can go through and pick their financing [and car] and do a trade-in [or other service],” Keeton said.

For Carvana’s customers, getting to see their cars unloaded from a multi-story gleaming glass vending machine is an added perk, of course. They just can’t shake the vending machine if the car gets stuck.

Getting one’s wheels online

Carvana operates differently than most other car dealerships, used or new. Under the model used by Keeton’s company, employees inspect, touch up and photograph the cars to be listed for sale, then upload 360-degree external images and interior photos to the Carvana website — all with zoom-in options.

Customers can then remotely view any number of cars while sipping coffee from the comfort of home, or even on-the-go through their mobile phones, thereby eliminating the need to drive from dealer to dealer examining options that may or may not fit their wants or needs.

The customer can save additional time by viewing personalized financing options, assessing interest rates or other details and adjusting potential payment plans for each vehicle she considers through the Carvana platform. She can also tack on ancillary products like warranties and gap insurance, all in the name of shaving precious minutes from the car buying experience.

If satisfied, a buyer can even purchase her new car online and have a Carvana employee drop the vehicle off at a scheduled time, or can schedule a time to pick it up from one of the company’s distinctive automobile vending machines. According to Keeton, the model shrinks the whole process from an entire afternoon down to about 11 minutes.

Saving time, saving money

But Carvana’s unusual business model doesn’t just prevent the knee-jerk runaway reaction that sales folk can instinctively generate in buyers. According to Keeton, the model also saves the company money.

Because it provides detailed online photos, Carvana doesn’t need a large and well-staffed lot filled with employees showing off each car all day long. Instead, only specific cars are loaded onto a hauler and trucked from a distribution center to vending machines or customer drop-offs after a purchase is made.

Keeton claimed customers also save some coin through this business model. After purchasing a car, a customer has about a week to test it out and see how it fits her lifestyle, then she decides whether to keep it or arrange a return and refund on the seventh day.

“We do not have the traditional brick and mortar overhead that a dealership does — which is about $2,000 per sale that gets passed to the customer,” Keeton said. “[As such], you are able to save about $1,430 versus [the] Kelley Blue Book [value], on average.”

Memorable marketing

While Carvana’s business model sets it apart, its distribution model has also helped to differentiate the company.

Its giant vehicle vending machines, for example, which have been helping the company make headlines, are, in part, a bit of an advertising ploy, Keeton said. Installing one of the highly-visible structures in a new city is a quick way to get the word out and establish the brand.

“It’s a great marketing presence,” he said. “It’s a very oversized, glowing building made of glass, that’s a car vending machine. That can generate interest through local media as well as just for people who are driving by on the road and [see it].”

The machine also shapes the customer’s experience, giving her the convenience of a pickup option and making the car acquisition process memorable.

A customer who has made a purchase online arrives at the lot, receives a three-inch branded coin from a staff member, pops it into the machine and sees her car slowly lowered and released to her. While a QR-code might do the trick just as well as a coin, Keeton says he sticks by the metal disc for its tactility and the visceral evocativeness of traditional vending machines. Plus, it becomes a keepsake for customers because they can take it home along with the car.

“[We wanted to give customers] a memorable and impactful experience so people would want to go out and tell their friends and family about buying a used car,” Keeton said. “Let’s make car buying fun again.”

Simple scaling

Carvana’s vending machine and skip-the-lot model also makes it easier for the company to add presences in new cities — something that has been coming into focus as it expands.

It is easier to establish an operation with this smaller footprint, Keeton noted, and the company can use a hauler to deliver cars to each location as needed. The result is customers in a city such as Tucson, Arizona, where the firm recently set up shop, receive access to approximately 9,000 available cars, though the company only has to stock a few on its premises.

Still, when it comes to entering a new city, there’s no quick and easy recipe for trust, Keeton attested. Instead, that must be built as each area’s customers learn of the service, see how it works for others and media and word-of-mouth spread the news.

“Our footprint expands with every new market we enter, and each time [we] need to build awareness of [the] service,” Keeton said. “[We] need to fulfill the promises [we] make to customers. Every time we [expand], we have to climb that hill of legitimacy and building trust.”

To read more, get the latest news and trends and peruse a directory of more than 100 providers, check out the .

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 


About the Tracker

The  serves as a bimonthly framework for the space, providing coverage of the most recent news and trends, as well as a directory highlighting the key players contributing to the segments that comprise the expansive unattended retail ecosystem.

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GM, Toyota, FCA, Nissan and Honda posted declines in U.S. deliveries in December while Ford advanced and the sales pace remained strong despite falling short of 2016’s record.

Ford’s 1.3 percent increase marked its fourth straight monthly gain. GM fell 3.3 percent and FCA US was off as both companies pared back shipments to daily rental companies. Volume dipped 8.3 percent at Toyota Motor Corp., 9.5 percent at Nissan Motor Co. and 7 percent at American Honda, though Nissan and American Honda both set sales records for the year.

The results come in comparison to a robust December a year earlier, when the fifth-highest seasonally adjusted annual sales rate of all time was recorded.

Analysts had forecast that December would mark the 10th monthly drop of 2017 — despite being the strongest month for raw volume. Annual demand was projected to fall for the first time since 2009 while topping 17 million units for the third straight year and the fifth time in history.

GM today pegged the December seasonally adjusted annual rate of sales at 18.2 million, which would be the second-highest tally of the year.

“In 2017, we had solid GDP growth and good news on employment, wages and consumer sentiment, which helped deliver very strong retail sales for the auto industry,” Mustafa Mohatarem, GM’s chief economist, said in a statement.

He forecast that light vehicle sales this year will be in the high 16 million-unit range as income gains stemming from U.S. tax reform are offset by rising interest rates.

Ford Motor’s 1.3 percent gain came on the strength of a 2.4 percent increase at the Ford division, which was fueled by strong light truck volume. Lincoln skidded 17 percent as car sales plunged 26 percent. In December, SUV demand rose 8 percent but car deliveries slid 5.5 percent, Ford said. For the year, Ford’s U.S. deliveries dipped 0.9 percent.

General Motors’ sales slipped 3.3 percent behind a decline of 2.9 percent at Chevrolet and 29 percent at Cadillac, even as the company fattened deals. Volume rose 4.7 percent at Buick and 1.2 percent at GMC. GM continues to trim daily rental shipments but said it set new annual sales records for pickup and crossover deliveries, electric vehicles sales and average transaction prices.

At Toyota Motor, volume fell 8.3 percent to 222,985 with sales off 7.2 percent at the Toyota brand and 14 percent at Lexus. Light truck deliveries, a bright spot for Toyota all year, dropped 5.6 percent last month.

FCA US reported a sales decline of 11 percent as the company dials back on fleet business. Led by a drop in volume of 12 percent at Jeep and 6.9 percent at Ram, every FCA brand except Chrysler and Alfa Romeo posted a decline in deliveries last month. 

Honda Motor volume fell 7 percent on weaker car demand, with December sales off 6.3 percent at the Honda Division and 12 percent at Acura. Still, American Honda set an annual sales record of 1,641,429 units in 2017 — an increase of 0.2 percent.

Volkswagen brand.

Among other luxury brands, volume last month rose 16 percent at Audi but dropped 21 percent at Jaguar and 3.6 percent at Land Rover.

“Automakers pull out all the stops to eke out every last sale before the end of the year,” said Edmunds analyst Jessica Caldwell. “With sales tapering off, we could be in for a high-stakes incentive war in 2018.”

The U.S. new-vehicle market, after seven straight annual gains capped by a record 2016, was off 1.4 percent through November.

While the tax reform bill signed by President Trump is expected to provide a lift to U.S. sales, analysts say any gains may be negated by rising interest rates.

Analysts polled by Bloomberg had expected the seasonally adjusted sales rate for December to come in at 17.7 million. That would be one of the highest rates of the year, but down from 18.13 million in December 2016 and higher than November’s 17.55 million pace.

Ahead of today’s reports, sales were projected by analysts polled by Bloomberg to fall at every major automaker: 1.8 percent at Ford Motor Co.; 2.2 percent at Nissan Motor Co., 4.1 percent at Honda Motor Co., 7.3 percent at General Motors, 8.4 percent at Toyota Motor Corp., and 11 percent each at Volkswagen-Audi, Fiat Chrysler and Hyundai-Kia.

The average new-vehicle incentive was tracking at $4,302 in the first few weeks of December, J.D. Power says. Year-end deals were projected to lift that figure to a record.

Led by GM, where discounts averaged just over $5,000 last month, industry incentives rose 2.4 percent last month to $3,844, up from $3,756 in December 2016, ALG estimated. (See chart below.)

Among the offers, the Volkswagen brand dangled deals with zero due at signing, no down payment, no security deposit and a first-month payment of nothing on many models. Buick offered up to 25 percent off the suggested retail price on remaining 2017 crossovers.

“This year, many consumers will see their take-home pay rise because of tax reform,” said Mustafa Mohatarem, GM’s chief economist. “That will keep the broad economy growing, and help keep sales at very healthy levels even as the Fed increases interest rates.”

The Toyota Camry remained the top-selling car in the U.S. in 2017, with sales of 387,081, well ahead of the Honda Civic at No. 2, with volume of 377,286. The Civic was ahead by 2,130 at the end of November … There were 26 selling days last month vs. 27 in December 2016 … Among major automakers, Fiat Chrysler and Hyundai-Kia are still looking for their first monthly sales gain of 2017. Among brands, Fiat, Jeep, Hyundai and Smart have yet to post a monthly advance in 2017 … Incentives, expressed as a percentage of MSRP, stood at 11.2 percent in early December, exceeding the 10 percent threshold for the 17th time over the last 18 months, J.D. Power says … Average transaction prices closed the year on a strong note, rising nearly 2 percent in December 2017 to $36,113, a record high, mostly behind strong light-truck demand, Kelley Blue Book says … And average new-vehicle transaction prices for all of 2017 finished 2 percent higher than last year, slightly slower growth than 2015 and 2016, at 2.5 percent, Kelley Blue Book says.

By David Phillips, Automotive News

In a troubling sign for the economy, two big ASX-listed car dealership firms have both downgraded profit forecasts.

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A total of 426,170 new cars were registered last month, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

It is the first time the key September market has fallen in six years.

The SMMT blamed a fall in consumer confidence caused by economic and political uncertainty, and confusion over air quality plans – which it said had “inevitably led to a drop in consumer and business demand for diesel vehicles”.

The data showed demand for diesel cars fell by more than a fifth (21.7%) to 170,732, down from 217,974 new vehicles registered in September last year.

September is usually a big month for new car sales because the market tends to receive a boost from the release of the latest number plates – with the month accounting for 20% of total sales.

Total car sales in 2017 have so far reached 2.1m – down 3.9% on the same period last year.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “September is always a barometer of the health of the UK new car market so this decline will cause considerable concern.

“Business and political uncertainty is reducing buyer confidence, with consumers and businesses more likely to delay big ticket purchases.

“The confusion surrounding air quality plans has not helped, but consumers should be reassured that all the new diesel and petrol models on the market will not face any bans or additional charges.

“Manufacturers’ scrappage schemes are proving popular and such schemes are to be encouraged given fleet renewal is the best way to address environmental issues in our towns and cities.”

Car sales across the UK fell for the sixth month in a row in September, down by 9.3% on the same month last year, figures show.

The California New Car Dealers Association has expanded its complaint against Tesla in relation to the modern electric car pioneer’s use of customer referral programs. The California New Car Dealers Association has sent yet another letter to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles explaining how cruel and unfair Tesla’s approach is. The new complaint specifically addresses

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Peter Welch: “Where does that $1.5 trillion eventually go, and will it be inflationary?” Photo credit: GREG HORVATH

DETROIT — The massive package of tax cuts signed into law by President Donald Trump last month is supposed to unleash $1.5 trillion into the economy over the next decade. Proponents have said fatter paychecks and greater disposable income should translate into more spending, including for durable goods such as automobiles.

Yet auto dealers aren’t taking a sales bump for granted.

“Where does that $1.5 trillion eventually go, and will it be inflationary?” said Peter Welch, president of the National Automobile Dealers Association. “Will it end up in pockets of customers and will that translate into higher car sales? I think the jury is still out on that.”

Welch said the law resolved many concerns dealers had during legislative negotiations, specifically about the deductibility of floorplanning interest, but he said the law’s complexity still leaves key questions about the economic impact.

While lower tax rates will boost consumers’ take-home pay, Welch told Automotive News on the sidelines of the Detroit auto show, sales could be dampened in high-tax regions such as the Northeast and California because of the law’s $10,000 cap on deductions for state and local taxes. Residents with high property and sales taxes in those states, including high income earners, could take a financial hit and think twice about buying a new car, which could be especially problematic for premium brand dealers, Welch said.

NADA estimates new-vehicle sales will reach 16.7 million vehicles this year, down from 17.2 million in 2017, and the trade group’s economists aren’t ready to adjust their forecast until they see how people react to the tax changes, Welch said. It will take until spring for people to realize they have more take-home pay, he said.

Still, Welch said his group is encouraged by the strong business confidence and economic fundamentals, including economic growth that has run above 3 percent for two consecutive quarters, a threshold that typically correlates to real wage growth.

“When the economy is humming it’s usually really good for the car industry,” Welch said.

Many companies, citing their tax windfall, have begun giving bonuses to employees. Sandy Schwartz, president of Cox Automotive, said those checks may provide customers who are sitting on the fence with enough for a down payment on a vehicle.

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U.S. auto sales, behind strong results at ,  and , rose 1.4 percent in November in what turned out to be a solid month that exceeded most forecasts and was driven by light-truck demand and fatter deals.

It is only the second month this year that light-vehicle sales rose year over year. Light truck volume jumped 7.4 percent while car deliveries remained weak, falling 8.8 percent.

The seasonally adjusted, annualized sales rate came in at 17.55 million, well above the 17.3 million forecast and the third-highest pace of the year — behind 18 million-plus levels in September and October. In November 2016, the SAAR came in at 17.7 million.

“We won’t see a fourth quarter better than last year’s, but we can see positive momentum heading into 2018,” said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Cox Automotive.

The U.S. new-vehicle market, after seven straight annual gains capped by a record 2016, is off 1.4 percent through November, mostly on sharply lower car and fleet business. But volume is still on track to top 17 million units for a third straight year.

“U.S. economic growth has stepped up and we expect the momentum will carry over to 2018,” GM Chief Economist Mustafa Mohatarem said in a statement. “Employment continues to grow at a solid pace, wage growth will accelerate and consumer confidence just hit a 17-year high, so industry sales should remain strong.”

At Nissan Motor Co., sales jumped 18 percent behind a 19 percent increase at the Nissan brand and 7.5 percent gain at , with combined light truck deliveries rising 29 percent at both brands.

The Nissan brand posted record November sales of 122,959, driven by record November demand for two crossovers — the Rogue and . Combined car sales at Nissan and Infiniti rose 5.2 percent.

Honda’s U.S. volume rose 8.3 percent to a November record of 133,166.

American Honda said car deliveries rose 1.4 percent and light truck demand jumped 15 percent last month. Sales rose 8.2 percent at the Honda division even “with major competitors clinging to heavy incentives and financing deals to compete,” the brand said. Volume increased 9.5 percent at Acura.

Ford’s 7 percent increase in light vehicles — aided by higher fleet and car and light-truck volume — marked a third-straight month of gains of 6 percent or more. Deliveries last month increased 7.6 percent at the Ford division but fell 5.5 percent at Lincoln.

Ford said November car volume edged up 2 percent, SUV demand rose 13 percent and truck deliveries jumped 4.8 percent. Retail volume rose 1.3 percent and fleet deliveries surged 26 percent to 54,707.

GM sales slipped 2.9 percent on lower fleet shipments and flat retail demand, with every brand posting a decline.

GM, which is close to posting its first annual gain in U.S. market share since 2011, saw sales slip for the second straight month while touting its gains in higher-profit retail demand. Its biggest-volume brand, Chevrolet, fell 1.1 percent. Buick was down 3 percent; , 5.8 percent; and Cadillac, 13 percent.

The 3 percent dip in volume at Toyota was the company’s biggest drop on a percentage basis since April, though the automaker’s sales are now up 0.2 percent for the year. Toyota Motor, ending a streak of five straight monthly gains year over year, said volume dropped 3 percent in November on a decline of 2.4 percent at the Toyota division and 6.7 percent at .

FCA US, with sales down 4 percent last month, continues to look for its first sales increase of the year. The automaker’s sales declined on lower fleet shipments and weaker volume at Jeep, Ram and Dodge. The Chrysler brand, up 14 percent, was the only marque to post a gain among FCA’s core brands last month.

FCA said retail sales rose 2 percent to 129,539 units last month but fleet deliveries dropped 25 percent to 25,380 units as part of an ongoing strategy to reduce volume from daily rental customers. Jeep’s fleet shipments plunged 75 percent, FCA said.

At the  Group, volume dipped 1.6 percent at the VW brand, snapping three straight months of gains, and rose 12 percent at Audi, extending the luxury marque’s streak of gains to 97 months year over year.

November volume rose 0.8 percent at Subaru and 25 percent at Mitsubishi but skidded 16 percent at Kia and 9.4 percent at Hyundai. Deliveries dropped 2.6 percent at Mazda.

Among other luxury brands, volume rose 1.7 percent at Volvo, 7.1 percent at , 0.8 percent at , 1.6 percent at  (excluding cargo vans), and 20 percent at Land Rover. Deliveries dropped 9.5 percent at .  

The industry was expected to record a slight decline in overall volume last month but still produce the second-best November on record after November 2016.

Edmunds saw volume rising 3.5 percent behind higher deals and even fatter discounts on what it says are higher-than-normal levels of remaining 2017 models.

Sales were driven by strong light-truck demand — notably crossovers — and lingering replacement demand following hurricanes in Texas and Florida.

In addition, low-interest rates and gasoline prices, steady job gains and lofty U.S. equity markets are helping support industry sales, automakers and analysts say.

It “doesn’t hurt that automakers are starting to really sweeten the deals to clear out lingering 2017s and end this year on a high note,” said Edmunds analyst Jessica Caldwell.

Cox Automotive on Friday said it was forecasting U.S. sales of 16.6 million light vehicles in 2018.

And the National Automobile Dealers Association on Friday forecast U.S. sales of 16.7 million new cars and light trucks next year.

“We expect 2018 to be a robust year,” NADA Chairman Mark Scarpelli said in a statement. “Every dealer in America, myself included, would be thrilled with a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of above 16 million. Because it means that, one, the market is stable, and two, that demand is still healthy.”

Ahead of November’s final results, sales were projected by analysts polled by Bloomberg to rise at most major automakers: 3.7 percent at Ford; 0.4 percent at Toyota Motor Corp., 5.4 percent at Honda Motor Co., 6 percent at Nissan Motor Co. and 3.6 percent at Volkswagen-Audi. Volume was projected to fall 1.5 percent at GM, 5.5 percent at Fiat Chrysler, and 10 percent at Hyundai-Kia.

The average new-vehicle incentive was tracking at $4,065 in the first few weeks of November, J.D. Power says, and was expected to set a record after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Edmunds says automakers pitched “Black Friday” deals all month. ALG says new-vehicle incentives averaged $3,692 last month, an increase of 4.6 percent over November 2016. The Detroit 3 automakers and Nissan Motor Co. were the biggest spenders among broadline automakers. 

There were 25 selling days last month, the same as November 2016. … New model-year vehicles accounted for just 44 percent of sales in the first few weeks of November, compared with 53 percent in November 2016, according to J.D. Power. … Among major automakers, Fiat Chrysler and Hyundai-Kia are still looking for their first monthly sales gain this year. … Jeep, Hyundai, Fiat and Smart, among brands, have yet to post a monthly sales advance in 2017. … Audi (97 months) and Subaru (72 months) have the longest streak of monthly gains (year over year) through November … Kelley Blue Book estimates transaction prices for new light vehicles in the United States averaged a record $35,870 in November, an increase of $554, or 1.6 percent, from November 2016, and an increase of $83, or 0.2 percent, from October. … Incentives, as a percentage of MSRP, stood at 10.8 percent in early November, exceeding the 10 percent threshold for the 16th time over the last 17 months, J.D. Power says.

“In November, many [automakers] added additional lease-pull-ahead-type incentives, as used-vehicle values continue to be very strong. For consumers with lease terms close to maturing, this has been a good incentive to get back into the market. The pull-ahead incentives, however, are likely short lived. As used-vehicle values normalize, we expect [automakers] to dial back on these programs.” — Brad Korner, general manager of rates and incentives for Cox Automotive

“2017 has been the year of the SUV. Consumers have proven time and time again this year that they’re not afraid of the bigger price tags, higher APRs and longer loan terms.” — Jeremy Acevedo, manager of industry analysis at Edmunds

By David Phillips, Automotive News