The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Sunday, March 15, 2015


BTW Lies, damned lies, and car sales
It should have been a pleasant experience.  After years of using public transport and hire cars it was time to buy our own.
Thanks to a small legacy we could afford something modest.  The Low Cost Green Car project initiated by the former government had helped create four locally-built models.
When President Jokowi was Jakarta Governor he criticised the LCGC program for putting more wheels on the road. Now as the Big Man he could undo his predecessor’s initiative by adding higher taxes.  Best buy now.
By using the Internet we knew exactly what we wanted.  All that was left was to agree on a price.
Oh ye unwise and foolish virgins!  Know ye not the way of the car lots?
The Internet price was Rp 113.8 million.  ‘Sorry, we haven’t got round to updating – it’s now Rp 128 million’.
Try somewhere else.
We took a test drive and agreed to buy, particularly as the salesman had offered a Rp 8 million [US$ 620] discount.  We paid the Rp 5 million [US$ 385] deposit to settle the legal Offer to Purchase and awaited confirmation from ‘upstairs’.
Three days later the ‘discount’ had shrunk to one million and it would take up to a fortnight to return the deposit.  It arrived next day only after threatening legal action. 
The original ‘discount’ was never a reality, just a bait for suckers like us.  We’d been gazumped.
On to showroom two. A better price and deal.  Licking our burned fingers we asked: “Do you have the car we have just described?”  Yes, indeed, esteemed sir and madam.
Wrong question.  We should have asked: “Do you have the car that we want in your yard in this city that is ready to go and that we can buy right now at the agreed price?”
This is the question the salesman chose to hear: “Does your company have a car that we don’t want, but you want us to have at a higher price?”
Through a Guantanamo Bay interrogation process we discovered that ‘our’ car was still iron ore in the Western Australian Pilbara.
Walking out we overheard our ‘friend’ being admonished for telling lies. A hint of honesty - or a ploy to make us return?  It failed.
The next salesperson  was a lean lady on heels so high they made her hazardous to low-flying aircraft.  To show she understood performance specs of an OHV 3 cylinder engine she wore a skirt so short and tight it deserved a fatwa [ban].
That was according to my wife.  I was too busy with my head under the bonnet to notice.
Yes, they had the model we wanted [the car, not Ms Micromini] and it would come from Surabaya.
We viewed next day. So could we drive away after  a wash and licensing?
Sorry, no.  That would take two weeks and we, the buyers, would have to negotiate registration – even though the advertised price had included ‘all on-road costs’.  The deal had changed because the car had come from another city; naturally this hadn’t been mentioned earlier.
Referral to a mysterious manager who kyboshed carefully constructed deals and demanded more was standard practice in all yards.
Surveys of trusted professions regularly rank nurses and other health workers at the top, with politicians and car sales staff squirming at the bottom. 
Also lurking in this bracket are journalists, which just proves the public can get things wrong.
Though not with car showrooms.  The folk who work in these glass-walled citadels of capitalism operate with different values to those who expect integrity in business. They think ethics has something to do with film animation.
Jokowi was right.  There are too many cars on the road so we won’t add to them. Using  angkutan  keeps us in touch, physically and emotionally, with other ordinary folk.
 Public transport is cheap and efficient. The drivers look scruffy, belch kretek smoke and scream Javanese obscenities at other road users.  But unlike a local airline, angkutan run regularly, stop where you want, and for a set price provide a straight no-nonsense deal. 
Which is more than the suave game-players in car lots can manage.  Duncan Graham

(First published in The Jakarta Post Sujnday 15 March)

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