Supply Based on Demand

My husband recently decided to sell cars for a living. He quickly got a job at a dealership in a fast-growing community that has more than 300 new and used vehicles on the 10-acre lot.

Friends sent eyes full of pity my way. I guess they were concerned about my family's financial future because of skyrocketing fuel prices and an impending recession (or is it already here?). I would be foolish to write that I have no worries; but a good mate always supports her better half -- for better or for worse, right?

But this new circumstance and the way cars are sold in this country got me thinking back to the mid 1980s, when I bought my first new vehicle, a small Nissan pickup truck, in Fayetteville, Ark. 

I knew the kind of truck I wanted -- blue, automatic transmission, no air conditioning. My truck wasn't on the lot. I could have ordered it but that would take some time. I had time, but the salesman preferred to locate my truck using a regional search of other dealers. (I'm sure his commission was higher this way. The cobalt blue no frills-no AC truck was found in Texas. Go figure).

In almost any city in the United States, you can find clusters of lots offering multiple and various makes of vehicles for sale. The lots on my commute nearly always look full. Do all of these vehicles get sold? My husband says yes, after a month on the job. Really? I ask, in my head, quietly counting the SUVs and big-as-Texas trucks. You need to remember that I regularly see the future in the form of press releases about alternative fuels, hybrids, and even bicycles becoming fashionable in America's downtowns.

Anyway, what I am trying to discover is this: Do we have to do business this way? Think of the number of tractor-trailers rolling in new cars to fill the lot for the next batch of "hungry" customers when the calendar turns over another month. I understand that there is a need for some cars on the lots for those with a serious need to buy, but do we really need so many? Couldn't we order the vehicle we wanted (given a limited menu) and wait for its arrival when we are making planned purchases?

To me, the largesse is embarrassing. It reminds me of the time I invited my preschool son's playmate and his Japanese mother to visit our home. I was showing her the house and could see her amazement at how many closets we had and how full they were. Shame, shame.

Is anyone else embarrassed?

L.K. Williams

I am, but it's more for the blight that is the empty car dealership and the suburban sprawl that encourages it than for my threadbare closet or the plague of new car lots. I would venture that, for every empty car dealership I see (some of which are being overrun with vegetation) I see at least as many, possibly slightly more numerous, new ones in various stages of construction or that are just a few years old.

When I was a kid, I can remember my parents driving an hour and a half to look at a particular car because that was where the nearest dealership was. Now, if I want to buy a new -- Nissan, let's say (I'm not picking on Nissan, I admire their market-leading foray into hybrid and electric vehicles; I honestly just picked them out of a hat because my wife drives a Nissan) -- I would have no fewer than 6 dealerships within 20 miles of my house, and 11 within 30 miles that could easily service my "need," according to Really, eleven dealerships, all dealing in the same brand of car, within 30 miles of my house. So, for fun, I decided to look up some other common stores and see how many I could find in the same area:

• 11 Barnes and Nobles within 25 miles of my house

• 12 Wal Marts within 20 miles (the big boys, not counting the standalone grocery stores)

• 15-16 Best Buys within 30 miles (I can't tell based on the results…a couple might not qualify -- I had to guess based on the addresses)

• 25 Banks of America within seven miles (these are actual bank branches, not just ATMs.)(Think about this a little more. If you extrapolate this figure, we're talking about potentially 100 Banks of America within 30 miles)

• Roughly 70 Walgreens drug stores within 30 miles

And the undisputed champion of suburban sprawl and unnecessary corporate expansion:

• There are 192 Starbucks locations within 20 miles of my home.

This is madness. What an utter waste of resources this list represents.

Embarrassed? You bet I am.

Jason Goodman

Posted by Jason Goodman, L.K. Williams, EPonline on May 20, 2008