American Renaissance

Multilingual Staff Can Drive Up Auto Sales

Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY, Feb. 22

EL MONTE, Calif.—A stroll through the Longo Toyota showroom on a busy afternoon is like eavesdropping at the United Nations.

Buyers of all nationalities and races—many of them immigrants—flock to the dealership where the staff speaks more than 30 languages and dialects. From Vietnamese to Punjabi, the sounds of many tongues float across the cavernous, open sales floor.

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A diverse staff can make a difference. Buyers say they often develop a bond with a salesperson, something that’s easier to do when they share the same cultural background. “In the Philippines, you build your business based on trust,” says two-time Longo customer Peter See, 58, of Montebello, Calif., who turns to salesman and fellow Filipino immigrant Mel Castelo, a friend from church. “I know he won’t sell me down the primrose path.”

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Some car dealers are on the front line of seeing how attitudes toward the newcomers are changing in the heartland. When Susan Schein ran Spanish-only TV ads in 1999 to lure customers to her Pelham, Ala., dealerships, the response was overwhelming.

“Immediately, I started getting calls from people saying didn’t I know this was America,” recalls Schein, a Chevrolet and Dodge dealer. She found her telephone operator in tears after receiving a slew of insults.

Today, Schein says, Spanish-language ads bring shrugs. The fast-growing Birmingham metro area has seen an influx of not only Hispanics, but also Vietnamese and Chinese. Immigrant businesses have become commonplace, says Schein, who gets her nails done at the Vietnamese salon across the street. “I was just too far ahead of my time,” she says.

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Ethnic preference

Here’s the percentage of ethnic people who said they would prefer to buy a new car or truck from a person of the same ethnicity (among new-car shoppers):

African-American

1990 42.8%
1995 44.9%
2000 43.7%
2002 45.8%
2004 46.2%

Hispanic

1990 34.6%
1995 35.7%
2000 37.1%
2002 37.2%
2004 37.7%

Southeast Asian

1990 18.4%
1995 17.7%
2000 17.9%
2002 18.3%
2004 19.1%

Middle Eastern

1990 46.9%
1995 51.2%
2000 58.8%
2002 62.3%
2004 65.4%

Northern European

1990 72.1%
1995 70.6%
2000 65.8%
2002 63.5%
2004 61.8%

East European

1990 41.8%
1995 42.9%
2000 44.4%
2002 47.9%
2004 47.5%

Sources: CNW Marketing Research; USA TODAY research

Dealership staffing

Auto dealers have been hiring more ethnic minorities, especially Hispanics and African Americans in all aspects of their operations. But Asian staffing has remained flat.

African-American

1990 4.6%
1995 6.8%
2000 7.2%
2004 7.7%

Hispanic

1990 2.4%
1995 2.9%
2000 5.6%
2004 7.1%

Southeast Asian

1990 1.1%
1995 1.3%
2000 1.2%
2004 1.2%

Middle Eastern

1990 1.7%
1995 1.3%
2000 1.1%
2004 1.1%

Northern European

1990 68.4%
1995 66.8%
2000 62.9%
2004 60.9%

Eastern European

1990 1.9%
1995 2.4%
2000 7.3%
2004 7.9%

Sources: CNW Marketing Research; USA TODAY research

Original article

(Posted on February 22, 2005)

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