Auto Service World
Feature   August 1, 2003   by Auto Service World

God’s Own Pickup

In this space I venture far and wide from the sublime to the sometimes ridiculous, but seldom do things get as weird as the debate on what Jesus would drive.

To bring you up to date, our friends south of the border have been treated to a bizarre battle in the media on whether Jesus Christ would have driven a sport utility vehicle. It all started back in May, when a group of religious leaders embarked on a campaign to inject moral values into the vehicle purchasing decisions of their fellow Americans.

The head of that campaign, one Reverend Jim Ball of a group calling itself the Evangelical Environmental Network, began touring U.S. cities back in May in a Toyota Prius. The Prius, a hybrid gasoline-electric car, was chosen, obviously, to make the point that it can provide transportation at a fraction of the pollution output of, say, a Lincoln Navigator.

It was his “What Would Jesus Drive?” campaign that got the ball rolling, if you pardon the expression. It wasn’t long before others waded into the debate. Most notably, the Sport Utility Vehicle Owners of America, a small group headed by a former Ford communications executive, has been at the forefront of the pro-SUV camp. They even went as far as to find a guy named Jesus and run ads saying that they know what Jesus drives and it is an SUV. Oh, and his son drives one, too. The Hispanic American they found was real, but you have to admit that once the argument descends into what certain historical figures, whether religious or not, might drive, it gets a bit silly.

Would Benjamin Franklin drive an electric car? How about Sir John A. MacDonald (when he was sober of course)? Would Sir Isaac Newton choose an Avalanche? Is the Pontiac Aztec the conquering vehicle of choice for Hernando Cortez?

Frankly, such discussions are really a distraction from more important matters at hand. People are driving SUVs in increasing numbers, and import SUVs to boot, and the aftermarket has a lot of trouble attracting these owners to the independent garage. Now, you may think that since your light truck business is up that you’re doing just fine, but the reality is that it is growing faster than the independent repair shop’s ability to capture the business. In other words, we’re losing market share.

A great deal of the credit has to go to the change in the light truck buyer. While the contractor with the pickup may have been the traditional high-volume purchaser of parts–considering the heavy usage of the vehicle–the typical buyer now tends to be urban, perhaps well-off; certainly they like to translate their feeling of status into the SUV image.

It is just like the upscale buyer of the past. While not all were as upscale as they would have liked you to think, they still behaved that way. Give a guy a white collar job and he’s likely to start voting like a entrepreneur, even if he’s making less money than the guy on the assembly line.

The problem is that too many businesses are thinking like the latter, but trying to cater to the former. That just won’t work. You need to treat all customers–both within the trade as well as the consumer–as if they were earning big salaries, even if they’re not.

While some repair businesses have recognized that they need to up their door rate, they too often forget that they need to cater to the customer who is willing to pay for it, too. When the investment begins and ends with posting a new door rate, it is a strategy destined to fail.

So, rather than asking what Jesus might drive, perhaps we should be wondering where He would go for service.

–Andrew Ross, Editor and Publisher


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