Brand loyalty is stronger at the lower levels
I have a friend who is damn near seven feet tall. Aaron has trouble finding an exact fit for everything from clothes to cars. But somehow he found his 1998 Oldsmobile Intrigue to be just right. Unfortunately too many cross-country trips meant the eventual demise of the Intrigue. But with around 175,000 miles, he got his money’s worth.
Armed with a few thousand dollars and some credit to his name, he went searching for a new car. He called me up for suggestions. He thought a truck or SUV might fit his large frame best He also best wanted to spend as little as possible with his down payment covering a good part of the total price of the car. After a long conversation of what would meet his need for a cheap, reliable and fuel-efficient (in that order of importance) car, we came up with a few pre-owned ideas such as the Honda Element, Hyundai Santa Fe and a V6 Dodge Ram.
He spent weeks looking at the cars on his list as well as others that may have been a good fit, and every once in a while I’d get a call about his frustrating results. Everything he looked at was okay, but nothing felt completely right. Finally a got a call from him a couple of days ago. Aaron is the proud owner of 2000 Oldsmobile Intrigue for less than $3K.
After all his searching, he ended in almost the same place (just in better shape and lower miles.) But I can understand exactly what he did. About a decade ago I did the same thing, and I doubt we are the only ones.
I enjoyed my 1993 Saturn SL2 right up until the point a tornado parked a tree in the same space the car was occupying. The Saturn was proving to be a reliable car above 100,000 miles, and so I had no thoughts of replacing it until nature intervened. Now I had a few thousand dollars to explore the whole world of used cars. I didn’t know what I exactly wanted, just that it had to fun, cheap, reliable, fuel-efficient and have a manual transmission.
Being a car guy, I found myself extremely frustrated by all the choices I had. Everything was nice but there was always something wrong. There were a lot of Nissan 200SXs, but the shifter was too rubbery. I liked the Acura Integras, but boy racers ragged out the ones in my price range. I found a few final-year Honda CRX Sis that sounded good, but when I saw them they were in worse shape than the Integras.
All seemed lost. I had many options, but I kept feeling like Goldilocks (my hair was even long and blond in a wannabe rockstar fashion back then.) But then finally one car was just right. I bought a 1994 Saturn SL2, and this time I even got an upgrade with leather and a sunroof.
The first generation wasn’t the ultimate driver’s car, but it had already proven to me that it is fun car that wouldn’t cost much to keep on the road. I was not a rich man back then, nor am I today, and having confidence already built into a car creates better brand loyalty than any marketing campaign.
I drove that Saturn for many years and many road trips. The faithful solider gave me no real trouble until the head gasket seemed to be going. By then it had reached about 180,000 miles, and it wasn’t worth replacing. I wanted to give it a proper sendoff by entering it into the One Lap of America in its $1,000 Claimer Class, but I got a offered too much on a trade-in. The SL2 was a faithful solider, and I’m still a little ashamed I didn’t give it a proper burial at my hands.
I have since only replaced my cars because its been about the right time, and I was getting an extraordinarily good deal. It takes some of the frustration out of finding the perfect car because if the price is right, everything becomes perfect.
I haven’t put any Saturns on my list the last few times I’ve been car hunting because the company lost its way for a while. But now that Saturn is brining cars from Opel, the next time the heavens open up and my current car becomes part of the landscape, the memories of my SL2 may get me back into the dealership.