May 10, 2009
What do mothers really want on Mother's Day?
Posted by Gordon Smith

The NYT asks the perennial question and provides one of the standard answers: "To have someone else cook dinner." I cook for my wife every Sunday, so today is no exception, though I always try to do something especially geared to her tastes on Mother's Day. (Today, for example, we are having pan-seared Tilapia, a potato gratin, some veggies, and fresh strawberry pie.)

The NYT story also references a survey on the topic, which found that a small percentage of moms “would love to receive a car, money or a weekend away.” Well, we finally bought a new car, and our purchase happened to coincide with Mother's Day. The Chevy Malibu gets good reviews, and it suits our large family. The gas mileage is decent (33 mpg on the highway), since we went with the four-cylinder rather than the V-6. And the folks at Brent Brown Chevrolet in Provo were very, very motivated to sell, without being obnoxious about it. If you are car shopping in Utah Valley, talk to Brett Applegate, who was excellent.

Given that I have blogged about car shopping during the financial crisis (here and here), I feel obliged to offer some concluding thoughts on that topic. First, contrary to the idiosyncratic and ill-informed opinions of one of our commentators, we received all of the substantial discounts discussed in my previous post -- and more -- even though we were paying cash. No, I am not a crack negotiator. You would get the discounts, too. And I highly recommend saving up and paying cash, if you can swing it.

Second, I was planning to wait for the "cash for clunkers" program to make its way through Congress, but now that the details are emerging, it's quite probable that we would not qualify on this purchase, since we were getting rid of a compact car in favor of a mid-size. Not only would we be required to increase our fuel efficiency, but under both the House plan and the Senate plan, only vehicles getting 18 miles per gallon or less would quality for trade-in. If the plan becomes more expansive than I anticipate, we still have another fairly old car that I wouldn't mind trading for a new, compact, commuter/errand car, like the Honda Fit.

By the way, I wonder whether manufacturers would continue to offer rebates if the "cash for clunkers" program passed. In our case, the dealer took $3,500 right off the top in rebates and dealer incentives, and I would not be surprised if those evaporated (or were substantially reduced) if Congress stepped up to the plate. By substituting tax dollars for manufacturers rebates, we would simply be giving an additional subsidy to the automobile companies, not a bailout for the rest of us. This substitution would also call into question the behavioral assumption underlying the proposed program -- that people just need a small boost to trade in their old cars. If money were the issue, those people should already be trading in their old cars. Of course, this is a program that also has been widely criticized for its misguided environmental aspirations, so this seems like a good time to re-think the idea.

Third, this is a great time to buy because dealers are more interested in market share than profits. This is especially true for the American automobile dealers, which are looking to cut a substantial number of dealers. I never worked out whether it would be better to purchase a car from a marginal dealer, but I assume that someone on the cusp of extinction would have a great incentive to close sales.

In the end, we purchased a car that we would have been perfectly happy to walk away from, but one that is a substantial upgrade over our previous seven-year old vehicle. And the fact that we closed the sale on the day before Mother's Day made it all the better.

Now, back to the kitchen!

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