How to Get Friends and Family — And Perhaps Some Generous Strangers — to Buy You a New Car

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Chrysler Group LLC

How’s this for a millennial-friendly mashup: Take the gift registry and online crowdfunding concepts and apply them to the purchase of a new car. Dodge is trying out the idea with a new registry service that promises something for nothing.

The new Dodge Dart Registry seems like a cute, attention-grabbing gimmick. Anyone can go to the site, customize a new Dart however they please, set a dollar amount they’d like to raise, and then start begging family and friends to chip in money for, say, the car’s steering wheel or some tires. The system is similar to other registries, only instead of registering for new china, his and her monogrammed towels, or a honeymoon, the ultimate goal is getting somebody else to foot the bill for your new car, or at least for the engine.

“The registry is designed to make the process of configuring and buying a new Dart more social than ever, in a way that has never been done before,” said Oliver Francois, Chrysler‘s chief marketing officer. That sounds good and all, but nobody would do this, would they?

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Well, given the chance to get something for nothing, of course some people would be on board. According to the Dodge registry site, there were 1,390 active registries recently. The registries include plenty of what seem to be everyday people pleading for funding from family, friends, and strangers alike with requests such as this: “I am a college student and the college is a 45 minute drive both ways and the Darts fuel efficentcy [sic] will help me save money and not put a dent in my wallet.”

Getting someone else to pay for your car is also obviously another way to save money. But hey, you can’t blame people for trying. Asking for handouts is one thing; is anybody buying this “social” idea and pitching in money to help pay for someone else’s car? Browsing through the registries, the majority have little to no funding thus far. The service is fairly new, though, so people haven’t had all that much time to spread the word about their self-charity venture. One fraternity at USC has managed to collect more than $1,000 in a more genuinely charitable registry effort: Its goal is to raise $18,000 for the purchase of a vehicle it would donate to Meals on Wheels.

Most of the people registering seem to be members of Gen Y. That’s understandable, considering younger people tend to be poorer and probably have more trouble affording a new car. They also came of age with crowdfunding and “get” the concept.

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The fact that the registry program is reaching the millennial demographic has to be considered a success by Dodge, whether or not any Dart sales come as a result. The marketing and selling of cars to millennials is a tricky business. This demographic is lukewarm about car ownership, and is more likely to hate the usual car-buying process—haggling especially. If they are interested in automobiles, they tend to be drawn to quirky car models with flashy colors (the Dart qualifies).

But before millennials or consumers in any other age demo sign up for the registry, they should read the site’s FAQ page, especially the section regarding fees:

Whether or not your goal is reached, a 5% crowd-funding commission fee and a 4% payment processing fee will be subtracted from your total amount raised. These fees go to RocketHub to cover the costs of running the site. These fees will be applied upon withdrawing the funds from your account.

Accounts can be open only for a maximum of 90 days. Once time is up, the fees are assessed on whatever money has been raised, and the rest—probably well shy of the amount required for a new car—is sent via check to the person who registered. The money doesn’t have to be used toward a Dodge Dart, nor toward any car purchase. (Speaking of which, before heading to the dealership, that charity-minded fraternity may want to ask Meals on Wheels which it would prefer: a flashy new car or a check for $18K—excuse me, $18K minus 9% ).

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Once the fees are factored in, Dodge Dart Registry doesn’t seem like a cute gimmick. It seems like a giant waste of money. “If I were your dad and I were going to give you a thousand dollars, I don’t see any reason why I should give 90 dollars of that to someone else,” Robert Passikoff, president of the Brand Keys consulting firm, told Forbes.