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Social Media Marketing; Best and Worst Practices - How Hot Is It?

Social Media Marketing is hot, if you went to any of the more recent automotive conferences, such as Dealer Synergy Sessions in Atlanta, Driving Sales Executive Summit in Las Vegas, J. D. Power Automotive Internet Roundtable at the Red Rock Resort (somewhere far, far away from the Las Vegas Airport), or the 7th Digital Dealer Conference in Nashville, you could not help but notice all the buzz around "Social This" and "Social That". Heck, just take a look at the Google Trends charts I pulled (shown above and below) and you can see the comparison between recent hot topics like “Search Marketing” being overtaken by interest in “Social Media” for search term volume and references being made in news publications, and that's using data from the biggest search engine of them all, Google.
In the chart inserted below, you can see where the term "Social Media Marketing" came from oblivion in April 2009 to become a hotter topic than "Search Engine Marketing". You can click on the chart to open a new browser window with the current Google Trends Chart for the same terms...

Now, for those of you who fancy yourselves as being ahead of the curve in automotive marketing matters, if you joined ADM in the early days, January through March of 2008, then congratulations are in order because you have been able to learn a lot about, and see Social Media Marketing in action just be being an early member of the ADM Professional Community. You have been seeing how and why it has grown, when ADM has stumbled as a community and when ADM has soared in terms of traffic to this Professional Community, as measured by Google Analytics and the volume of subscribed members and activities. One of the things I like the most about Twitter, is that it is a great way to measure "buzz" or how hot a topic is... Because we have the ability to search every tweet and topic sent out from millions of accounts, we can get a very large samples size... And, what a sample it is! The average Twitter user earns OVER $175,000 a year, so these are not kids sex-texting or teenagers doing stuff on MySpace... And, if they are, well they make enough money to buy cars, that's for sure! Any ways, using the cool "Twiitter Venn" application located at:
http://www.neoformix.com/Projects/TwitterVenn We can enter any combination of terms or keywords and see how many people are tweeting with those words in their Tweets... now, as in not just today, but the most recent 24 hours as of right frickin' now. When I entered the words Search Engine Marketing” and compare it to “Social Media Marketing” in the volume of activity around those words on Twitter, the results are significant. I also ran "Search Marketing" compared to "Social Media", which is what the second chart shows. Again, click on either image to see the real-time update as of the moment you read this article to notice if the predominance of Social Media over Search Marketing has subsided.

Of course, none of this has been subjected to scientific scrutiny and validation, but I do not need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows! and these are observation being made by a lot of people that know what they are doing... The Twitter Venn Charts below give you an idea of what a lot of people using Twitter are focused on, and in many cases what they expect from business like car dealers. You can click on the image to open the actual Twitter Venn app in a new browser window:


Getting back to the topic of the last two months of automotive marketing and sales related conferences, by the time I got to Digital Dealer in Nashville, I was beginning to worry about how all this “hotness” around the topic of Social Media and how dealers can use it in their marketing and advertising strategies, was going to play out... One thing is for certain about this space, we already have learned (we being those of us who have actually DONE IT!), that there are some undisputed "Best Practices" and quite a few "Worst Practices" (some bordering on having a marketing death-wish), in the hows, whens, whys and whats of dealers getting into the mix of engaging with social media channels, Web 2.0 and User Generated Content (UGC) sites.
DEALER GROUP A (80% TO 90%)
In the car business, when it comes to new technology that changes our business capabilities, dealers can be divided into two groups... The first group are the "Don't Touch My F@#$ing Cheese" types which is 80% to 90% of us, or the dealers we work for. This group typically tries to apply what has worked in the past to whatever new marketing mediums come along. Or, they want to see at least a dozen other dealers that have tried something, and then get sworn depositions with an outside CPA accounting audit to prove an ROI before they dare risk any marketing or advertising budget on something as risky as "New Ideas".

DEALER GROUP B (10% TO 20%)
However, there is the other group, the 10% to 20% of "Entrepreneur Dealers" (or, REAL dealers) who will take a look at that new marketing medium and study it to determine if there are any unique characteristics that bring enhanced communication or persuasive capabilities that may not have been present in previous marketing or media channels. These Entrepreneur Dealers will try to leverage what makes the new media different as a means of gaining a marketing, advertising or sales advantage. Think what the term "American Ingenuity" meant at some point in the past and you will have the general idea of what I am describing...

Already, we have seen many dealers take the "Group A" approach by entering the social media marketing channel like party crashers with no class, manners or respect for the host. These are the dealers who are oblivious to any of the formal terms of use and clearly stated rules, or the informal etiquette and manners that these social communities live by. I have seen dealers go into various social network and User Generated Content (UGC) channels simply as another place to pump in as many of their current advertising campaign collateral materials as thyey can get away with. In many cases this makes the dealer look crass, ill mannered and not the kind of business people will want to visit offline.

DIGITAL ADVERTISING IS GOOD

Keep in mind that I personally ADORE good automotive digital advertising and admire the creative talent that is demonstrated by a lot of it. I have in the past and will continue to encourage dealers to leverage the investment they make in producing TV commercials and Radio Spots by uploading them, along with detailed text based descriptions that explain what the campaign is about and has links built into the text that point to calls for action, such as RFQ forms... It has been my experience that TV spots, out-takes and bloopers from when they were being made, along with good old fashioned vehicle walk-around presentations that are video recorded make great clips to upload to video sites like YouTube, Vimeo, Viddler, Metacafe, or better yet, your own dealer sponsored Social Network! Then post a recommendation of the page those clips appear on, along with another bunch of descriptive text, tags and headlines to bookmarking sites like Digg, Delicious and StumbleUpon.

But for the most part, many dealers are not exactly sure about the difference between social media marketing "Best Practices" and what tactics are actually "Worst Practices" when it applies to online community participation arising out of their business development objectives or simply trying to drum up business. I do not pretend to know what every community or social network will or will not tolerate, but I have learned a lot from both a personally professional perspective, and while doing social media marketing work for over 20 dealerships at this point. These guidelines for how to behave at these online gatherings and communities we call social networks are an ongoing work in progress and as social networks and the communities they spawn continue to emerge, grow, evolve and change, not only will the rules and etiquette change, but they will be quite different from one social network to the next. For example, here at ADM it is OK for suppliers to write about their solutions, and then have other suppliers and/or dealers who are or are not customers subsequently post comments stating that what the posting supplier has written is bull s***... In many other automotive professional communities this would not be tolerated... Here at ADM it is encouraged... Viva la' differance!

So, what are some of the most generally accepted rules of behavior and community etiquette that are usually appropriate across most social networks and online communities? What are some of the universally accepted Best Practices that dealers could use as tactics to execute their social media marketing strategies? And, conversely what are the definitive blunders and Worst Practices that dealers should avoid in almost any social network of online community?

Social Media Best Practices:

1. Define and Document Your Strategy - Let me start #1 by quoting something that Michael Keranen, Vice President of Digital Marketing at American Honda Motor Company said to me a couple of weeks ago "I see a lot of dealers and car companies engaged in social media tactics that are obviously being used without any cohesive strategy or integration with their other marketing objectives..." (I am paraphrasing from memory, so forgive me Michael) What Mr. Keranen states confirms what I recommend to all dealers and car companies, before getting into this social media space: Define what your dealership strategy is going to be by getting professional guidance! This is a new and powerful marketing communication medium, don't screw it up with a bogus strategy! If you do not want to pay the typical $2,000 (or more) daily rate that most social media proficient automotive consultants charge to come in and help you craft an effective social media marketing strategy, then you are screwed! (Just kidding, relax...) If you need to do the Dollar Central or TJ Maxx version of getting professional assistance, then use your own head and go buy "The Social Media Bible" by Lon Safko and David Brake (my personal favorite) or some other credible book like "Web 2.0: A Strategy Guide: Business thinking and strategies behind... by Amy ShuenStart. Whatever you do, despite what many people think, Social Media Marketing si neither free nor is it easy, so you better do your homework if you are not going to get professional assistance. But, most importantly, you need to start by planning and strategizing, avoid jumping into tactics and creating stuff inside of social networks and online communities until you have a plan... Do your research and take a flip chart to map out what your Social Media Blueprint is going to look like... Define the customers and the local communities you want to reach. List your objectives and desired outcomes, but make sure they are realistic and based on what can actually be done with social media. When you get done, your strategy is what guides your tactics, your objectives are based on what your strategy prioritizes, and your Tools and Technologies will determine the performance metrics you are able to track and measure as a component of your objectives. There are plenty of places you can get professional assistance with almost any level of budget. Online guidance is the least expensive, followed by various webinars and videos. Being a recovering consultant, I am biased and would recommend that you hire any one of dozens of good automotive social marketing consultants to come in for two days with the agreement that they don't get paid until they deliver a clearly written and documented strategy that was developed in collaboration with you and your management team.

2. Conversation is Marketing – Successful social media marketing programs are best characterized by listening, acknowledging, exploring and responding (LAER). Your response should be focused on delivering value before expecting anything in return. Social media marketing is not “car sales” as usual, you will "Sell Cars By Accident" before too long, and dealers who "get it" will start selling cars sooner than those that try to sell cars too aggressively in this space. .

3. People and Time is the New Currency - Dealers will need to commit resources by dedicating employee hours each day to their social media marketing strategy. Regardless of whether you use an outside supplier like Brian Pasch, J. D. Rucker, Paul Rushing or my own team at ADP Digital Marketing, you will need to assign employee time in order for your social media marketing startegy to be successful... Otherwise, it will definitely fail. It is important as part of your "Social Media Tactical Blueprint" you allocate hours to each assigned employee, define what they will be required to do, when it must be completed by on a recurring schedule, how it is to be done and where the work will be done. Your Tactical Blueprint needs to be built around what it takes to succeed, and not some sort of half-assed experimental marketing pilot. If your social media marketing implementation is successful, scalability will become an insurmountable issue without knowing the match around the hours of resources required. For example, by now you probably know that the strategy i developed for the ADP Social Marketing and Reputation Management solution centers around building a dealership sponsored social network site that we call an "Automotive Community". Well, that community needs to have a manager that works for you. But, the hours your Community Manager must commit will be greatly reduced when you use ADP, or any other supplier as part of your social media monitoring program. Either way, the roles and responsibilities of the dealership's Community Manager should be defined and documented, regardless of whether it is outsourced or managed inside your dealership..

4. Transparency Sets You Free to Succeed - Dealers should not try to pretend they are not car dealers (doh)! Be transparent by clearly stating who you are and what your intentions are within your online community profiles. To do otherwise is to risk far more than you can gain... Getting caught lying within a social network by using false information in your profiles will alienate the customers you are seeking to connect with. The Ancira Auto group in San Antonio has over 120 social media accounts and profiles. Their objective is to drive membership and activity in theoir employee sponsored online community at www.AnciraCommunity.com and they say so in every one of their 120+ social network and online community profiles, along with a link to their own community! As you set up profiles, hopefully on a daily basis, in various online communities, make sure you know what the community is all about and what types of commercial messages are considered appropriate. Being transparent includes stating your intentions as a mission statement or purpose, such as:

"Please visit and join the San Antonio Automotive Community at www.AnciraCommunity.com. The Ancira Auto Group in San Antonio, Texas is seen by most as a dealership, a business enterprise.... Yet when you get to know the people that work there, you soon see that the 14 Ancira Auto Group dealerships are communities of people who are committed to their customers and believe in the products and services they provide. With so much happening online that involves consumer uploaded content and various social networks the employees of the Ancira Auto Group wanted to create an open online community for Ancira customers, employees, suppliers and people who work for our partners at Ford, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Nissan, Kia, Mercury, Pontiac, Buick, GMC, Volkswagen and Smart to share their experiences, collective wisdom, insights and information about how to better enjoy the ownership of the cars, trucks, SUVs and RVs that Ancira Auto Group dealerships sell and service... We look forward to welcoming you to our community and we hope you will join, participate, enjoy and gain from it!"

”CardinaleWay Mazda in Mesa, Arizona sponsors an online community for Mazda owners, enthusiasts and fans at http://www.MazdaCommunity.org please become a Facebook fan and show your support for CardinaleWay Mazda's sponsorship of this free resource.”... It’s fine if your social media marketing objectives are to increase sales, but do you remember what the first rule of selling cars is? Build a relationship first! Your dealership's participation in social networks and online communities should be driven by finding ways to deliver the kind of value that facilitates relationships, which lead to sales. Attempting to hit people with head on sales pitches on Facebook, or almost any social network accomplishes the opposite of what you intend.

5. Give Up Control -
Let's face reality, most of us in the car business are control freaks... Or at least we think we are. It is difficult to let go of the old school way of think and dealers naturally want to treat social media marketing like advertising... And, who controls what is said in advertising? Dealers do. In advertising the control of messaging and content is a lot of what dealers are paying for. Like it or not, when you put information on social networks, or upload photos and video files into the social web, customers, competitors and a variety of people will inevitably download it, comment on it, meld it together with other stuff, distort it, take it out of context and repupose it according to their own motives. Dealers need to protect their identities, copyrighted materials and any intellectual property they put to use, but rather than seeking complete control of all message content at all times, dealers should upload the files and content they choose to allow and encourage people to create mashups and express themselves.

6. Employee, Supplier and Consumer Participation, Commentary and Content Creation - Every dealer I have worked with on social media marketing starts off with a certain level of paranoia and concern over content creation. Eventually, every single dealer I have worked with becomes more comfortable with social web participation. In fact, without the content creation and contributions from a wide variety of people in a dealer's community, social media marketing would be pointless. The best social marketing dealers will see opportunities to encourage participation with communications, especially with enthusiasts and other brand evangelists who have the ability to influence people. Developing relationships and community within social communities on the web can facilitate buy in, provide business development opportunities and the types of viral marketing and networking that effectively grows a dealership's customer base and sales volume..

7. Performance Metrics and Tracking Systems Based on Objectives - These objectives should be relevant to the social media property. More than a few dealers see the results of national social media efforts ranging from World Series highlight commercials on YouTube to social participation during and after the Driving Sales Executive Summit and the J. D. Power Automotive Internet Roundtable and say to me “I want that too”. Actual sales attributed to social media marketing is the singular outcome that many social media efforts are first evaluated with... There is a tendency to focus on "The Ad was placed here on Monday" resulting in “Mr. Smith saw the ad and came into the dealership on Wednesday to buy the car" as an outcome. Social media marketing seems like the intersection of digital marketing and public relations, more than direct selling. It’s more like providing "Social Marketing" resources results in “Accounts, Profiles and Blogging Activity” that influences “Mr. Smith to ask if the dealer has any trade-ins that might work for his daughter who is going away to school in a week.". Performance Metrics used to measure social media marketing success need to consider the value of unencumbered communication channels with every consumer who becomes a “friend”, "fan", "subscriber", "follower", "connection", "contact" or whatever that social media channel calls it..., Plus, blogs, forum discussions, comments, links, etc as well as commercial outcomes influenced by dealer participation in social media, networks and communities.

Social Media Worst Practices:

1. Creating Fake Identities and Profiles - This is simply bad, bad, bad... Hey, I'm no angel and i have tried it, but it never works out and is a pain in the ass to manage... Cookies are everywhere, IP and MAC addresses are logged by evey type of social media channel and false identity in any way isn’t good for your dealership or anyone else using the social web. You have probably heard about companies like Walmart and Sony who used their PR firms to attempt faking their way into getting consumers to believe sites like the "Sony PSP" blog or the "Walmarting Across America" blog were actually authored by independent non-employee fans and brand evangelists, when in fact the authors had been hired by the companies and given the material to post as written by the PR teams. These companies, like Sony and Walmart have learned expensive lessons from their mistakes. Each of them, as well as every car company, now have social media sites that follow many of the best practices above. Regardless of what many experts seem to suggest, failure with social media is not some sort of “rite of passage” that dealers need to experience... Keep it real!.

2. Not Setting Up Listening and Monitoring Systems - How can you learn anything if you are only pushing information out and not receiving it? Set up several social media listening systems, such as the widgets that Twitter makes available for such purposes, Google alerts and several other tools that allow you to see whenever your dealership is mentioned online. Listening is one of the most valuable returns from a social media marketing program. And, listening is the most important step in learning about social communities on the web. Listening and monitoring the buzz is important when starting out and on an ongoing basis to monitor conversations, identifying disgruntled customers quickly, and identifying the key automotive influencers in your dealership's marketing area. It is amazing how many social media monitoring tools that dealers have to choose from... And, most of them are amazingly inexpensive. :-)

3. Not Knowing BOTH the Formal and Unwritten Rules -
With every social network or online community it is wise to be an online lurker for awhile before participating ior contributing content. Especially when you are a car dealer or salesperson. Learn to “speak like they do” when getting engaged in these social networks, applying subtle gestures of etiquette will improve your dealership visibility and encourage people to build relationships. An example is within our own ADM community I have noticed it has become common practice to identify previous commenters who a statement is directed towards with an "@" symbol, as in "@Ralph"... Social networking, news and media sharing sites all have Terms of Service guidelines, but all online communities have guidelines for behavior that can only be understood by observing and participating. Ignoring these guidelines risks alienation by the community, and the customers who are members.

4. Leave the Turn to Earn High Pressure Sales Philosophy Behind - Being blatantly aggressive or constantly trying to sell in messaging and communications, then expecting traditional sales process outcomes are common behaviors by dealers that see social networks and online communities simply as content distribution channels for existing advertising campaigns. Overtly commercial messaging and sales solicitations violate terms of service in most social networks and online communities... After all, that why they sell advertising space! An automotive community sponsored by a dealer as a social network for “friends” and "like-minded People" isn’t going to accept interruption based messaging. Think of crashing a party and then trying to sell something to people who are talking about their favorite cars and sharing off-road driving pictures, and the disgust that a car salesman using high pressure sales tactics would generate. Provide information that facilitates relationships that lead to sales, and you’ll get better results.

5. Not Having a Documented Dealership Social Media Policy - Too many dealers seem to want to approaching social media marketing channels on a one at a time basis... Other dealers approach social media by placing links on their eCommerce sites rather than as a collaborative effort. An example would be a dealership where an employee starts a blog for the parts department and a service advisor starts something on Facebook, while a sales person creates a group on LinkedIn... While the Internet Sales Manager creates a dealership sponsored community using the Ning platform. Yes, I am not making this up! Not having a cohesive dealership policy and strategy that requires employees to work together is inefficient and almost always sends mixed messages to customers that participate in more than one social media destination or online community.

6. Starving Your Social Media Strategy for Resources - Such as not assigning staff after somebody leaves their job at the dealership. Actively listening and building relationships with communities is a full-time job. Also, its imperative to ensure community managers have the skill sets needed to articulate their objectives for social media in addition to utilizing tools that will resonate with their audience.

7. Not having a mechanism to assess ROI - Dealers that give the green light to pursue social media marketing are concerned with the bottom line. Its essential that a social media strategy includes mechanisms to assess business value. It might be a value placed on increased product awareness, solid sales leads or cost savings due to a reduction in support staff due to social media tools. ROI is easier to obtain if there is a stated goal for the social media campaign. Regardless of how value is determined, social media needs to be validated as a profitable marketing channel.

Learning from dealers what they think of social media as a topic and opportunity over the past few years has been enlightening. ADP's Digital Marketing and Digital Advertising teams get to talk to a substantial number of dealers each month that need help making sense of where social media marketing might fit within their overall marketing and advertising strategies. Those conversations vary, but an increasing number of dealership marketing managers clearly are aware of the social media marketing fundamentals.

In many cases, dealers want help from someone that has the experience to guide them in creating a social media strategy, execute some of the supporting tactics and provide tracking and measurement... Other dealers really have no idea how to proceed and need a focus on education and to take inventory on their existing social media profiles to help them create a social media strategy, tactical blueprint and assign tasks before getting into any additional tactical implementations.

What’s encouraging is that more dealers are looking more seriously at the challenges and opportunities of social media participation. Others understand that social media marketing is not the same thing as advertising, but rather an indication of consumer behaviors aided by technology. Successful social media marketing isn’t about the software and technology, it is about the people, both employees and customers! Personally, I am getting really worn out over the repeated use of the word "Social"... We should just replace it with the word "People", as in "People Media Marketing"....

If nothing else, remember that social media is like buying diamonds, you have got to focus on the C’s: Conversation, Connections, Community, Consumer, Control, Creative, Collaboration and Content. Success requires that dealers and their staff listen, and be transparent about intentions, “Deliver Value” and have a strategy. Do Not: fake, interrupt or focus only on short term sales.

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Tags: Automotive Social Marketing, Best Practices, Online Community, Reputation Management, Social Media Marketing, Social Network, Worst Practices

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Comment by Haley Paglia on November 22, 2009 at 5:11pm
Brian, I heard you make this point; "The most important hire in 2010 will be an Internet content writer" and as a Rottweiler and Canine Media Marketing expert I agree with you, but one of the areas that most Rotties believe the Canine Media Marketing supplier community can assist with is this area of generating copyright and "story" content... In fact, some of the work that me and my fellow Rotties have seen you and the PCG team doing in regards to creating and publishing content is in this area is a good example... The fact is that my pet human's team at ADP Digital Marketing has several clients that they create text based content for... Although they are loathe to admit it because then every client would want it, there are simply several high profile and large clients of their's that send them ideas by email, or their versions of a story by email, and the ADP Digital Advertising social marketers rewrite it, polish it up, ask for, or get some photos and videos and then they are off to the races publishing on various social and canine media networks. Most Rotties are not yet convinced that this is better than the dealer's own people creating and (more importantly) PUBLISHING content via their own accounts and profiles, but it is an alternative to hiring another person and increasing head-count in a dealership.

Excuse me, but I have to go chase a punk-ass lab that wondered into my back yard...
Comment by Brian Pasch on November 20, 2009 at 4:41am
Dealers will need to commit resources by dedicating employee hours each day to their social media marketing strategy. Regardless of whether you use an outside supplier like Brian Pasch, J. D. Rucker, Paul Rushing or my own team at ADP Digital Marketing, you will need to assign employee time in order for your social media marketing startegy to be successful... Otherwise, it will definitely fail. It is important as part of your "Social Media Tactical Blueprint" you allocate hours to each assigned employee, define what they will be required to do, when it must be completed by on a recurring schedule, how it is to be done and where the work will be done.

Ralph, this is a great discussion and I wanted to say that you I appreciate you being a steadfast advocate for social media education for car dealers. There are many good points in this article but the one I wanted to call out is the issue about the "time" requirements of social media.

Epson Printers and the IBM PC/XT


In the past 20 years, software automation has reduced the amount of labor needed to perform many tasks at a car dealership. In 1986, I remember working for VIP Honda in North Plainfield NJ to automate the process of filling out an automotive contract. The dealership asked me to create a custom piece of software that typed in the details on a car contract. BASIC programming language, Epson printers and an IBM PC/XT if I remember correctly. That program was hailed as a BIG time saver..and I smile at how silly that sounds today.

Since that time dozens of software applications have automated lead tracking, customer retention processes, car pricing, and more. Software, faster computers, and scanners have reduced labor costs at a dealership.

Social media bucks that trend because it takes real people to listen, think and respond. If you have a blog, it takes time to write meaningful content that keeps visitors engaged. Throwing up an RSS feed as your only source of content will fail.

If you have a Facebook Fan Page, it takes a plan and thoughtfulness to decide which posts will enhance the user experience and your brand message. Feeding in your inventory every day as a "special" event will lose people faster than you can add them.

Time, time and time. Who has free time?


Unfortunately, dealer staffing levels are stretched thin and they can be easily pulled into "putting out fires" every day. So what are car dealers to do who understand that they have to engage their customers online?

Dealers have to be very HONEST with themselves and ask if they have the right person on staff that can handle the task. They have to ask if that person be protected from distractions. If dealers can't "lock-up" their social media employee without distractions for 1-2 hours a day, then the execution and quality of the social media effort may fail.

If you don't have the staff or the structure, then bring in a consultant that can create your virtual social media employee. A full-time Internet content writer that is also keen on social media and SEO is a 40-50K a year job. An outsourcing partner can give you a fractional share of this role at considerable savings and that will make sure it gets done every month.

At Digital Dealer 7 I made a statement that I stand behind:

The most important hire in 2010 will be an Internet content writer

Dealers need to decide how they will keep adding content pages to their main website, content to their blogs, social media sites and a source to create press releases. Larger dealer groups can justify a full-time employee. Single stores will have to honestly evaluate their resources and decide to in-source, out-source or have a shared model.

This time around, the new marketing tools we see are labor intensive and not labor saving. The good news is that the ROI on that labor cost could very well be the best car dealers have ever seen in the past 20 years!

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