Cars are increasingly able to drive themselves in various ways, but they’re not fully autonomous yet. And their various functions require a knowledgeable and attentive human behind the wheel. So why are so many car salespeople clueless when it comes to teaching drivers how to use those functions correctly?
According to Automotive News, industry analysts and safety advocates are growing concerned about the lack of consistency when it comes to training sales staff to demonstrate semi-autonomous features safely.
Court documents from a multi-car crash in Georgia in 2014 showed that a Mercedes salesperson instructed a potential buyer to not apply the brakes of a GL450 SUV in order to test the Distronic semi-autonomous system when the car was approaching an intersection with stopped vehicles up ahead. The Mercedes auto-braking system did not react in time, and the SUV crashed into the rear of a vehicle and caused a chain reaction collision into several other cars.
The story also goes into the example of Ibro Muharemovic, who worked on an image processing and lane-recognition system for a major automaker and went to a dealer to see how it worked in real life. Here was his experience:
I asked the dealer what the car could do, and then he kind of scared me… He told me the car could drive itself. I knew for a fact that it couldn’t.
Industry experts cite two primary factors for the potential danger. The first is a lack of regulation or standards for allowing customers to experience these systems in a manner that doesn’t endanger others.
The second problem has to do with the nature of dealership sales. In 2015, the NADA cited a turnover rate of 65 percent for men and 88 percent of women. Given the revolving door employment of sales staff, there is little incentive for some dealer to invest the time and resources into training employees, who can then train drivers, when the statistics indicate they won’t be around very long.
Some big names in the dealer world think that there needs to be a radical shift in the way salespeople are compensated to ensure that the right people are educating consumers. AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson suggests a shift to a salary based model, rather than commission. And Elon Musk has been making the same argument since the inception of Tesla motors. He has maintained that when you eliminate the negotiations process, the sales staff can focus on educating buyers on the various technologies that the car has to offer. Of course, Tesla may have its own issues with consumers misunderstanding the limits of semi-autonomous systems.
AutoNation’s Jackson said that until cars are fully autonomous and require no input from the driver, this transition period is going to be “a mess,” without some type of regulation from either the industry or the government.