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Suzuki’s new Swift hatch and sedan in SA

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COLUMN: Banks, dealers rev up!

2008-04-21 07:32

Morgan Naidu

I have this dream where I walk into my hapless branch of Standard Bank. I'm ready to close my account - cheque, current, credit card and two home loans - all in one fell swoop. Oh, and to cancel that pending vehicle finance application as well.

My method of settlement is cash - 50 cent coins to be precise. I haul bags of these coins into the branch and sign the papers to end my business dealings with them forever.

Alas, I awake from my slumber before the next instalment of this sleepy soap opera unfolds. But thankfully I am edging ever closer to making this dream a reality.

I share this only because we happen to be in the midst of one of the most severe economic environs in recent history and all around us corporate South Africa - from banks to car dealers - is doing everything possible to screw over Joe Public, losing friends, admirers and potential clients in the process.

The honeymoon is clearly over. It has been for some time now.

A combination of hiked interest rates, higher living costs and the introduction of the National Credit Act have created bloodshed in the car sector. Expansion plans and dealerships for leading manufacturers are on hold and certain models are not even meeting modest monthly targets.

It's no different to the banking fallout following the heady days before implementation of the NCA when financial institutions tripped over themselves to offer credit left, right and centre.

Now, it's repo time and the very same banking bastards are calling time on the lofty deals they themselves perpetuated.

With local consumers bracing for this bleak financial winter, one would think that our business would be even more valuable to the financial and automotive powers that be.

Just the opposite is true, with car companies, dealers and lending institutions displaying a measure of utter arrogance, balanced only by sheer incompetence.

I invite those who think I am merely generalising to fill the space here with letters and e-mails from would-be buyers who have been duped by unscrupulous car salesmen, or simply taken for granted by big car companies or have had their lives twisted by the ineptness of big banks.

Financial difficulties are forcing many to cut back on spending, but at the other end of the scale there are still consumers ready and armed with cash to pay big deposits on new and used vehicles. The customers are there. They need convincing.

As a would-be customer I would not be convinced by the former sales rep at a Kia dealership in Pretoria who absconded with a customer's R10 000 deposit and vehicle trade-in.

After four months and intervention by Kia head office, the customer is getting her money and car back. However, she still has to answer to Wesbank who would like to reposess the vehicle on account of the last three instalments not being paid.

I was also not convinced by the Audi dealerships I contacted in the past month looking for information on a deal on run-out A4 sedans and wagons.

Three out of four dealerships knew nothing about this advertised special and the fourth one promised to get "someone in finance" to return my call with details of the repayments. I'm still waiting for that call.

I am definitely not convinced by the bumbling of a bank such as my very own of fifteen years, Standard Bank. It has taken two years to create a new account and bond switch, leaving an almost-comic trail of uninformed and untrained consultants, broken promises, lost files and documents in its wake.

And, this bank expects me to use it to finance my current vehicle purchase? I don't think so.

It boils down to sheer arrogance and an aura of being untouchable that leads to consumers getting worked over.

A while ago I called on South African consumers to arm themselves, and be informed and intelligent when making purchases in the automotive and financial sectors.

Beyond that, its time we start voting with our money as well.

If a car company, bank or retailer doesn't put up a fight to win our business and then fight to keep it - screw them.

As consumers parting ways with hard-earned money, time and effort, all we expect from the bank, the car company, dealer or retailer is an open and unfettered line of communication.

The facts, without embellishment or bullshit, and an admission of guilt and apology when its clear that someone has screwed up would be nice.

The longer consumers are taken for granted, the greater the risk of banks losing their share of R2-billion's worth of customers. More dealerships will shut down because of bad service and lack of traffic, and more heads will roll at car companies because of poor sales and crappy after-sales back-up.

Let no-one claim they have not been warned!


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