Raised pickups help boost Mich. VW store

Industry

Volkswagen is not known as a pickup brand. But LaFontaine Volkswagen of Dearborn is using pickups to attract customers who wouldn’t otherwise come into the store.

The Michigan store acquires used pickups and outfits them with a lift kit, beefy rims and tires, side steps and sometimes even fender flares. The trucks are then parked out front on the dealership lawn.

It’s prime advertising, considering that the store is located on Telegraph Road, a busy byway in Dearborn with a constant stream of passersby.

The dealership began selling lifted trucks three years ago when General Sales Manager Matt Szabla and Ryan Vandenbussche, corporate buyer for LaFontaine Automotive Group, decided to try something new.

“It just started with one Silverado Z71,” Szabla said. “It was the ugliest color ever — it was a teal green. But it sold right away.”

The quick sale signaled that the Volkswagen store was on to something.

“We took it and ran with it,” Szabla said.

“The team here embraced it as another avenue of sales.”

Since that initial sale, LaFontaine has made it a priority to have seven to 10 lifted trucks in its used-vehicle inventory at all times.

The dealership has homed in on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to finding a used truck, outfitting it and putting it up for sale.

Full-size pickups from the Detroit 3 — whether a Chevrolet Silverado, Ford F-150, GMC Sierra or Ram 1500 — are the VW store’s bread and butter to lift. Luckily for the operation, a hefty volume of big domestic trucks come off lease every month in the Detroit area, giving the store a wide selection to choose from.

But it still requires some hunting.

“We’re expanding every possible avenue of sourcing to find the right vehicles,” Vandenbussche said.

He has a list of desired features and options when he’s looking, including low miles and trucks that have an appearance package. He also prefers a V-8 or a diesel engine. When it comes to a prospective vehicle’s age, two years is the sweet spot.

Interiors also matter. Technology features such as Apple CarPlay are popular with buyers, as are center consoles, as opposed to a first-row bench seat.

Once Vandenbussche buys a truck, it is sent to an outside company for outfitting work. The cost of installing a 6-inch lift kit, 20-inch wheels and tires and side steps runs $4,000 to $5,000 per pickup. It takes up to two weeks for the vehicle to come back ready for sale.

The store tries to keep the trucks in the $32,000-to-$35,000 range, Szabla said.

LaFontaine sells four to five lifted trucks a month, and around 30 new VW vehicles each month, as well as 60 to 65 used vehicles.

“We’re in a blue-collar area in Ford’s backyard,” Mike Law, the store’s general manager, said of Dearborn, which is home to Ford Motor Co.’s world headquarters.

“Most of the people looking at buying these vehicles are blue-collar people. So we market it to what they want.”

The inventory innovation is something the store could not have obtained through the Volkswagen Certified Pre-Owned program for customers.

“We gave them an option at a VW store that they never would have considered,” Law added.

“We could have gone the way of VW CPO, and we would have been OK. But this was something that could drive profitability up considerably, and go against some of the norms in the industry today.”

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