This week, a well-funded startup called Tred launched a service for Seattle-area consumers: If you’re in the market for a new car, a Tred employee will show up at your house or office with the vehicle of your choice for $19. You get to kick the tires, take it for a test drive, and even see how it fits into your driveway and how your luggage stacks up in the trunk.
The main appeal of the service is that it saves consumers the time usually required to head over to a car dealership for a test drive. But there’s something else at work here. The concept is also appealing because it saves consumers from having to deal with typical car salesmen tactics, which usually come hand in hand with a test drive.
According to a survey conducted last summer, more than one in ten consumers buys a car without going for a test drive. There are many reasons why people skip the test drive—for instance, they might already be familiar with the vehicle because they own an older model or have driven one owned by a friend or family member. But one man offered another reason to the Detroit Free Press for why he skipped a test drive on the Honda Fit he bought a few years back: “Honestly, I hate dealing with car salesmen,” he said.
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Tred’s service isn’t the first tech-y approach to helping consumers avoid the hassles at car dealership. Many websites offer users the ability to find cars and negotiate prices online, rather than in the high-pressure dealership environment. In early June, for instance, Edmunds.com introduced a “Price Promise” tool that allows consumers to retrieve instant price quotes from dealerships, and the prices are guaranteed to be honored when the buyer steps into the showroom.
Grant Feek, Tred’s founder and CEO, explained to the Seattle Times that because Tred employees’ bonuses are tied to customer reviews—not sales—customers don’t have to worry about being pressured or facing a hard sell. Instead, Tred employees are “very good at presenting cars in an informative way, not a sales-y way,” Feek said. “They don’t make any more or less money if they sell a car.”
What’s interesting, and a bit tricky, is that Tred’s pitch is based at least partly on the idea that car dealerships are awful, uncomfortable places—and yet these same car dealerships are Tred’s partners in the venture. Tred employees pick up cars from participating dealers, and after the test drive they present the dealer’s supposed best price on the vehicle.
“People ask me if we’re helping dealers selling cars or consumers buying cars, and the answer is both,” said Feek, according to Wards Auto. “We make buying a car easy for customers and our early experience is that consumers who use the service buy the car 40% of the time, a very good closing rate for dealers.”
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For now, the service is only available in the Pacific Northwest, and there are no immediate plans for expansion. But if all goes well, booking a car for a test drive could be as quick and easy as placing an order via Tred’s Seattle neighbor, Amazon.