High Technology, Low Aggravation

Jim and Lisbeth Echeandia, co-owners of a candy-industry trade magazine, like a sweet deal, but they don't much like fighting for it. That makes car buying a turnoff, an ordeal Jim usually prepares for "like a heavyweight fighter preparing for a major bout." But their most recent purchase was more like a cakewalk. The Plano (Tex.) couple bought a $30,000 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo with a V8 engine last month in just 45 haggle-free minutes.

Lured by a newspaper ad, the pair drove 20 miles to Dallas' MidPark Jeep-Eagle Inc., where Chrysler Corp. is testing a high-tech, low-hassle dealership. The emphasis is on speed and service. Computer terminals gave the couple quick access to information to make comparison shopping easy. A no-haggle policy means the sale price is the same for everyone.

The Echeandias, Jeep loyalists who wanted to replace Lisbeth's '89 Cherokee, had visited two other dealers but weren't happy. At MidPark, they found a vehicle with the features they wanted plus a few extras they hadn't planned on, negotiated a trade-in on the old car, and closed the deal in about the time it takes to have lunch. A single salesperson handled the whole transaction. The price? About $1,000 below the lowest price other dealers wanted. More important, says Jim, was the new way of doing business. "I don't like negotiations," he said. "Here, I got the best deal, and nobody is going to get a better one because he has a better tongue. This is a long overdue change in auto retailing."

When it's time for a tune-up, a "smart card" will let them access an ATM-like machine to drop off and retrieve keys to the Jeep 24 hours a day. If Lisbeth decides to wait while the oil is changed, she can plug a laptop into a MidPark workstation. "It's like going to the Admiral's Club between flights," she says. That should make the hassles of car ownership a little easier to swallow.

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