Car dealers just love to play Santa

Last-minute shoppers weren’t only packing the mall and other retailers, they also were checking out cars at Tampa Hondaland.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR | Times

Last-minute shoppers weren’t only packing the mall and other retailers, they also were checking out cars at Tampa Hondaland.

LUTZ — Earl Kober doesn't consider himself Santa Claus. All the same, he dutifully drove a red, fully loaded 2009 Honda Odyssey to New Port Richey, smacked a big bow with a magnet on the hood and parked a few houses away from the man who purchased it as a Christmas gift for his wife.

"It makes you feel really good," said Kober, an Internet sales manger at TampaHondaLand. "Sometimes when you go a little farther for the customer it makes you feel like family."

Sales are sagging at car dealerships nationwide as a result of the slumping economy, and Honda­land reports a slight decrease in Christmas deliveries over last year, according to David Bills, the general sales manager.

In 2008, he said they had a dozen deliveries, down from 15 in 2007.

At Brandon Ford, sales may have slipped too, but there were exceptions.

Dennis Cadle said a Brandon couple bought their 17- and 18-year-old children customized Mustangs for the holiday and had them displayed on the showroom patio, complete with bows, for the kids to pick up on Christmas Eve.

He had four deliveries scheduled for this year, all Christmas Eve, all intended to surprise.

"You … see this stuff on TV with the wife coming out on Christmas morning and the car is parked in the driveway with a bow," he said. "But it happens in real life."

Randy Fitkin test-drove cars on Christmas Eve, eating up what little time he had before he had to make it to a Christmas party with his family.

"Our office closed up early, and I decided to use the time to check out some cars," he said.

He finally settled on a 2007 Scion tC for his daughter, Ali, who turned 16 six months ago and has been doing great in school.

Then he did some haggling and realized he was almost out of time.

"She's a really good kid, and she deserves it," he said.

It was just after 6 p.m.

Bills said his sales staff had a cutoff time of 8 p.m. for home deliveries because he wants to make sure they get home to their families for the holidays.

"Eight is late enough for it to be dark but enough time for everybody to get home," he said.

Patrick Abad of Clearwater Toyota said its cutoff time for personal delivery is 9 p.m. He was unable to provide comparative numbers for the service for this year over 2007.

Hondaland's Kober made three deliveries last year, but took some pride and satisfaction in orchestrating his sole delivery this holiday.

The customer came in Saturday and knew exactly what he wanted, which made it easier for Kober to find.

Then the two set up a dropoff time at a neighbor's house Christmas Eve morning when no one would notice. Kober brought the car up from Bradenton to Lutz to be inspected, then drove it to New Port Richey, where he affixed the tags, checked the shine and attached the bow before parking it in the neighbor's garage for safekeeping overnight.

He explained, "It's cool to be a part of something special like that."

Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at rmitchel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3373.

Car dealers just love to play Santa 12/24/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 24, 2008 10:01pm]

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