Workers’ Lives: Selling Cars – The Multinational, the Dealership and Me

Photo credit: Brian Teutsch/

Jeremiah Strecker

I never once planned on becoming a car salesman. In fact, I probably would have listed it as one of the most unlikely jobs that I would ever do. I don’t like to take advantage of people or lie. My buddy who got me into the business, said that I was a pretty good listener but would have to learn how to talk.

My experience of overbearing management tactics included intimidation. One manager would tell me, “you walk one more customer and I’ll walk you.” Desperation kept most of the salesmen in line, since the managers had the last call on who even got a chance to sell a car, and from what I could tell, about a quarter of the salesmen where making minimum wage on any given month. Tactical control, bullying salespeople, and desperation all work to maximize dealership profit.

Discrimination and profiling were common – even minority salespeople would perpetuate stereotypes and refuse to spend time trying to sell to people of color. They sometimes called me “warm butter” and told me I needed to have “wrist control” if I refused to use pushy or sexist sales techniques.

The managers banked on these systems of control including the salesman’s self interest, as our commissions are a percentage of the dealer’s profit (in theory). However, I sold a close family member a car and all the profit was moved to the “back-end” and, in spite of assurances after appealing to top management, I was never given credit on my paycheck for the sale. Getting cut out of rightfully-earned commissions was so common that the chorus of veteran salesmen saying of “let it go” would rival a Frozen movie marathon.

The fact is that Toyota corporate keeps the lion’s share of the profit. Toyota is worth 200 billion as a company and they have 60 billion in the bank. The dealerships makes the majority of their money not off the price of new cars, but on service and extras sold in the finance office.

For my first three months, I made minimum wage. I once noticed hours missing and talked to my manager about it. He told me that in his 20 years in the car business no one has ever told him that their minimum wage was wrong. Most car sales people are too afraid of losing their job or just plain embarrassed to even bring up that they did not sell enough cars to make commission. I learned what I could, and after six months I called it quits.

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