Only July 8th, the History Channel premiered a show called “God, Guns and Automobiles”, which revolves around the Max Motors car dealership and the brothers who co-own it: Mark Muller and Erich “Mancow” Muller. The show focuses on how the dealership is managed, and in particular, how Mark Muller uses his willingness to be outrageous to run his business.
It makes for good TV, much like some of the other business-centered shows the History Channel runs, like Pawn Stars or American Restoration. But as an employee at an *actual* car dealership – not an overblown extension of one man’s personality, like Max Motors is portrayed in the show – there are a couple things that get under my skin. The show makes car dealers look like jerks, and makes the car sales business look like a circus.
First off, though, I should say that these opinions in this review, for better or worse, are entirely my own, and don’t necessarily reflect the opinions of Ken Wilson Ford or anyone else here at the dealership.
#1 – He blatantly ignores his customer’s wishes.
In the first five minutes of the pilot, Dan, an old customer and friend of Mark’s, comes in asking about a hybrid. He is seeking an extended range vehicle, and he wants to buy a car that he can feel good about. When he tells Mark he wants a hybrid, Mark just laughs in his face, and launches into a speech about how he can either buy an electric car for $40,000 or a normal car for a lot less. Dan stops him and says, “It’s not about the money with me. I want to feel good about the planet.” Mark responds by lecturing him on how people don’t make eco-friendly decisions because they want to feel good, they do it because its cheap, like burning wood in your home for heat instead of fossil fuels. He then takes Dan out to take a test drive in an enormous truck.
Mark says that he is just “giving him information so he can make the right decision, and buying an electric vehicle is not the right decision”. This bugs me.
First off, he laughs in his customer’s face. Beyond being a terrible sales tactic, its downright rude. Your customers are the people that pay your salary and keep your business afloat, and laughing in their face before you even give them the time of day to explain why they want what they do – that’s inconsiderate and rude.
Second, he blatantly ignores what Dan asked for. Even if he didn’t have any hybrids in, Mark could have at least heard what Dan had to say, and then found whatever he had in inventory that would have best fit his wishes – maybe a small sedan, or even a small SUV. Instead, Mark puts him in an enormous truck – the opposite of what he asked for – because Mark decided what Dan really wanted.
We live in the age of the informed consumer – it’s no problem at all to get on the internet, do a little research, and find exactly the kind of car you want. Now sometimes, you can’t find all the answers online, and at that point, it is helpful to go to a car dealership and talk to someone. After all, these people are around cars all day long, and can see more clearly what is and is not a desirable feature on a car.
But to just decide that Dan didn’t want a hybrid, that he didn’t even want a small or fuel-efficient car – that’s just appalling. Sure, it might make for good TV, but it makes Mark Muller look like a jerk who doesn’t really care about his customers, and by extension, it makes car salespeople in general look bad.
#2 – Mark Muller is a bully.
As if that story can’t get any worse, Mark does take Dan on a “test drive” in a truck, but it hardly counts as a test drive. Instead, Mark takes him four-wheeling in a field next to the dealership (presumably owned by Mark). As Mark is driving like a maniac through the mud, Dan is clearly uncomfortable and gets increasingly exacerbated. He yells at Mark to slow down and let him out, and that it’s not fun or funny to him. Mark, again, ignores his wishes, and just continues doing what he’s doing. When he finally does come to a stop, Dan jumps out of the truck and starts walking off (and Mark laughs hysterically at him). Mark keeps spinning the truck through the mud, and actually tries to spray both Dan and the camera crew with mud.
Between the way Mark verbally thrashed Dan around in his office, or the way he made Dan come along for a ride Dan really didn’t want to take, Mark has all the makings (and dignity) of a middle-school bully. What I find hilarious (and sad) about it is that in the beginning of the show, he said that things in small-town America are different, that people (like himself) “take care of one another”. Mark Muller, at least the way he’s portrayed in this show, wouldn’t know “taking care of one another” if it came up and slapped him in the face.
The Max Motors website (www.maxmotors.com) talks about his “dedication to customer satisfaction”. I don’t think Dan walked away as a satisfied customer. Mark actually said “I don’t know if I got to sell Dan a car, but that’s ok because I got to scare the living bejesus out of him!”
What bugs me here is that words are cheap, and reputations are difficult to build. I feel that Ken Wilson Ford has done a lot of hard work building a reputation as a trustworthy and fair dealership that truly does care about customer satisfaction. By having this sort of display on national TV, it gives the impression that car dealers will say whatever they need to in order to sell a car – and I’m sure some of them will – but TV paints with a broad brush, and it means that dealers who really try to take care of their customers get lumped in the same category with all the rest.
#3 – The first ten minutes of the pilot episode are totally different from the rest of the show.
All of this drama between Dan and Mark happen in the first ten minutes of the pilot episode. After this, though, the show is completely different.
Mark is shown actually being nice to customers – working with them to take in unconventional things like tractors or goats as trade-ins for cars (we’ve taken things like tractors, old farm equipment, travel trailers – it’s not uncommon). Mark is shown taking care of his employees – like the one who has a drinking problem, using alcohol to manage pain from old bullfighting injuries. Mark is shown being a good manager – he motivates them by promising something they are really looking forward to (blowing up an old car!), as opposed to just some useless pat-on-the-back like most employee motivation strategies end up being.
Most of the show, though, ends up revolving around the relationship between Mark and his brother Erich “Mancow” Muller. Erich is a radio DJ from Chicago, and seems to be filling the role of over-confident urbanite; He doesn’t really understand how the business is run because he can’t really connect to the people of rural Missouri.
Despite being a show about a car dealership, it seems like 80% of the show is just about the outrageous character of Mark Muller, and his brother, the straight-and-narrow city slicker. The second episode barely touched on car sales at all, focusing instead on repossessing cars and bullfighting. For the record, most car dealers don’t do repossessions. The reason that it’s featured in this show is because they have a parallel financing business, so that customers can finance their car on-site, instead of having to go to a bank for a loan.
Moral of the story: Max Motors, as portrayed in “God, Guns and Automobiles”, is not a typical car dealership.
But it does make for great TV. If you like other History Channel shows like Pawn Stars, American Restoration, or Counting Cars, you should give God, Guns and Automobiles a try. Just please, please, don’t associate that first ten minutes of the pilot with anything that happens here in the real world. I promise, if you come to take a test drive of a car at Ken Wilson Ford, we will not attempt to spray you with mud.
Here’s another good review of God, Guns and Automobiles, from a non-car-dealership-employee standpoint: