Thursday, October 19, 2023

Sally Stripper

Stripped-down models were never intended to be sold.

A reader writes noting that 2G service is going to be sunsetted next year, so maybe that is why Tmobile is offering "introductory" prices on 2G phone service.  They know they can force an upgrade on the customer next year.

But I think also, it is akin to the "Sally Stripper" cars sold back in the day, with alarmingly low prices (and not many features) that no one was expected to actually buy.  The low price brought the customer into the showroom, and then the salesman would "upsell" them to a de-luxe model.  No one bought the Sally Stripper.

Why did they do this?  So they could advertise a low, low price. But by making the car a punishment box, they were confident that no one would actually buy one.

Back in the 1930's things like arm rests on the doors were optional on the "base" model.  Maybe you got one with the mid-level model, on the driver's door.  But unless you wanted to pay extra for one, you didn't get one on the passenger's side.  But of course, for just a few dollars more you got both in the de-luxe model!

Not only that, you'd get a sun visor on the passenger's side, and even a windshield wiper on that side as well!  Maybe also, the ultimate in luxury - a cigar lighter, with ashtray!  But of course, such obscene luxuries as a heater and radio were options even on the de-luxe model.

By the 1950's, most of these features were standard, but it was still possible to buy a car with "no heat, no organ" as salesmen called them - no heater or radio.  Things like power steering and power brakes were still optional on all but the highest priced models, but most cars sold had these as factory installed options. The "Sally Stripper" model existed mostly in theory, not fact.  You'd have to special-order such a stripped car, unless you were a fleet buyer.  And since they had a loaded model on the lot, it wasn't hard to upsell you on that, for not a lot more than paying sticker on a special-order model.

Over the years, more and more "options" became standard. AMC famously made air conditioning standard on the Ambassador in the 1970s, but even then, you could get a "credit" for deleting it.  Today, there are few, if any, cars that do not  have it standard. But even in the 1970s, you could buy an Oldsmobile with a "three on the tree" manual transmission - but no one ever did. Hydramatic was pretty much always  optioned on every car sold.

I had a 1973 Pontiac that was stripped - manual transmission and brakes, three-on-the-column, rubber floor mats, radio delete.  It did have a heater, though, but not much else!   Oddly enough, today it would be considered a "rare" car - but still not worth much!

The ad above is for the 1981 Chevette "scooter" which was one of the last Sally Strippers offered in an era of high inflation.  The car came with no back seat (much like early AMC Gremlin base models) but you could order one as an option.  Almost every one sold had that option.  They took little things out or made things just a wee bit cheaper.  Instead of chrome badges, it had stickers with the model name.    I doubt GM saved much money on each car by deleting these features.  That was not the point - the point was to punish the buyer for being cheap and then upsell him to the de-luxe model with a back seat and real chome-like trim.   Maybe even an armrest!

The way companies play games with prices makes it harder for consumers to shop.  People see this "low-low" price on a car and figure it is a better deal, not realizing that the competitor (usually Japanese in this case) had a slightly higher price, but you got extra things, like a five-speed transmission and a nicer interior.  If you "optioned up" the other car to meet the competitor, you'd end up paying more.  But that sort of mathematics gets lost on most consumers.

GM was famous for also doing the opposite - putting obscene "sticker" prices on cars, particularly the "luxury" models such as Cadillac, and then marking down the prices at the dealer level, aggressively. No one paid sticker price for a GM car or even close to it. Meanwhile, the Japanese were offering their cars fully loaded and sold at sticker price or close to it.

As a result, no one paid $20,000 sticker for a Caddy, but closer to $15,000.  The next year, the "resale" value of the Cadillac was $12,000, showing a nearly 50% depreciation in one year alone.  Meanwhile, the Japanese car is selling secondhand for more than the sticker price, new.  These sort of pricing games might have made sense in 1955, but by 1985 they were harming, not helping, sales.

The theory was, of course, that if you had an obscene sticker price on your car, it helped sales in two ways.  First, there was always the chance that some rube would walk in and pay sticker price for the car and the dealer would then profit handsomely.  Second, you could "sell" the consumer by showing him how much of a discount he got off the obscene sticker price.  "Look, honey!  We're saving $5000 on this car!"   But of course, "discounts" from imaginary prices are not "savings."  Savings is what you put in the bank - real money - not imaginary money left on the showroom floor.

To some extent these games still go on. But the list of standard features in most cars today is pretty extensive.  You'd have to go out of your way to find a car with manual windows and no A/C today.  They simply don't make them.   And the manual transmission is on the endangered list - soon to disappear as well.

But car dealers - and most retailers - still play this game.  Maybe they keep one "stripped" car in stock to show to the "prospect" and then tell them, for "only a few more dollars a month!" they can get additional features like heated seats and a larger display screen.  Or maybe the upgraded engine, as well!

Oh, that old gag.  I noted before how the number of parts and the cost of assembly of a 85 Johnson "Sea Horse" outboard, was the same as the 100 and 115 horsepower models.  Each was a V-4 engine with the same engine block and lower unit.  The bore and stroke and carburation was changed, but this did not affect the cost of manufacture by much.  The idea was to sell horsepower, not a collection of parts.  And in the 1960's and 1970's car makers did the same thing, offering the 350 Chevy motor in three different horsepower ratings, depending on carburetor type and camshaft.  Stroke it out a bit and you could offer it as a 400.  De-stroke it, and it becomes a 305.  And each engine has a different price point, based on horsepower, not a collection of engine parts.

And today, this is still the case, with many carmakers offering different levels of horsepower.  Granted, some engines do cost more to build today (there is less "headroom" left in today's engine designs) but it doesn't cost twice as much for the hi-po model, unless you could gas-guzzler taxes and carbon credits.

To be sure, it can be fun, sometimes, to have the "stripper" model.  But then again, not if you are paying just as much - or even more - than a model with basic options.  I noted before the local Nissan dealer wanted nearly as much for a year-old (unsold) cab-and-half "S" model with crank windows and no screen, as the big-town dealer wanted for a current year "SV" model four-door with power everything.

Sometimes, being cheap costs you more money.

The low-low price is often used as a come-on to get you into the showroom.  Once you are there, you are told, "Sorry, none of those are in stock, but I can show you the upscale model for not a lot more!"

It is the old bait-and-switch, and it still goes on today!