Archive for Thursday, September 30, 1999

90S CARS LEAVING OLDIES IN DUST

September 30, 1999

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Quantum leaps in the quality of autos offered these days would boggle the mind of a 1950s car buyer.

When Junior Brubeck started work at Jim Clark Motors in 1956, the latest wrinkle in automotive design was the tailfin.

These days, cars sport "must-have" features like dual-zone temperature controls, heated seats and concert-hall-quality sound systems.

The car buyer of the 1950s would be astonished by the automobiles of the late 1990s, viewing the quantum leap in technology and quality with disbelief.

"Everything has changed," said Brubeck, now the president of Jim Clark Motors, 2121 W. 29th Terr.

"There was no such thing as a minivan in those days, no such thing as a sport-utility vehicle. Our wants and needs have changed. Where there once were one-car families, now we have multi-car families.

"And the automobile is now a necessity in the lives of anyone who has to go to work and transport their children."

Brubeck has watched the evolution of the auto during the last 43 years.

"We've gone through a lot of eras. There were muscle cars in the '60s, then the gas crunch of the '70s hit and we went to economy cars. Now we've ended up with great products offering both economy and performance," he said.

Better products

The improvement in the quality of cars is striking.

"The quality has gone up and down over the years. But I feel comfortable in saying that we have the very best quality products today that we've ever introduced and sold," Brubeck said.

But you don't need to have been in the auto industry for 40 years to have seen the growing emphasis car makers have placed on quality.

"Twenty years ago, the quality of import cars that came here was much higher than it was for domestic products. American producers were forced to improve. I'd say as far as quality, it's an even playing field now," said Allen Jaskiewicz, sales manager for Dale Willey Automotive, 2840 Ia.

"I've grown to really respect the American auto industry. The quality of our cars is so much better and improved. And there's a huge focus now on customer service and making the customer happy," said Jaskiewicz, who's worked in auto sales for 10 years.

Customer service

Barb Vantuyl has watched the landscape transform, too. She has been selling new and used cars for 25 years, the last 15 of which she's spent at Jim Clark Motors.

As cars have gotten much more sophisticated, sticker prices have risen accordingly.

"A new car these days goes for about $20,000. When I started out, it was more like $8,000. Some people come in and say, 'My gosh, that's what I paid for my first house.'

"Of course, it's all relative. People are earning more money these days, too," she said.

Vantuyl's also watched as interest rates have fluctuated. But they haven't looked this good in years, she noted.

"Now they're around seven or eight percent. I can remember selling cars in the '70s, when the interest rate was 16 percent. Customers are getting a lot for their money these days," Vantuyl said.

One thing in the auto business has stayed the same, though: the need to take care of customers.

"It's still a service business, a people business. That hasn't changed," Brubeck said.

"New cars are the same everywhere. You can buy one anywhere you want. But one thing we have that's individual is our staff and our relationship with our customers.

"If you employ people who have the same philosophy as you do, it would be difficult not to be successful in this business," he added.

-- Jim Baker's phone message number is 832-7173; his e-mail address is jbaker@ljworld.com.

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