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Car sellers aim to make a new dealer

Time for a new car? So are you ready for unctuous talk, empty promises and strong-arm tactics from that proverbial high-pressure car sales rep?

A campaign is afoot to send that brand of sales pitch the way of the Studebaker. The National Automobile Dealers Association has a plan to train and certify dealership staff. Problem salespeople would be disciplined.

"That lying, dishonest, loudmouth salesman _ there is no place for him in the car business," said Gerry Perry, a dealer in Bath, N.Y.

That kind of salesman isn't on every showroom floor, by any means. Many times, though, slick sales tactics leave people feeling they've just been mugged as they walk out of the showroom. That's a problem for dealers, who are selling dreams and self-image as much as steel, rubber, glass and plastic.

"We're trying to put the fun back into buying a car," said Deborah M. Hopkins, consumer affairs manager for the trade group, which is introducing the plan this week at its annual convention in Dallas.

According to the new code of conduct, "a certified sales professional shall not employ high-pressure or unreasonable tactics . . . participate in "bait and switch' tactics; (or) misrepresent the final cost of the vehicle."

Training sessions were announced in New York, Ohio, Utah and Wyoming, but the program eventually will expand nationwide.

The program requires salespeople to take a one-day course on ethical and legal practices, with optional courses in sales techniques and consumer psychology. Then they must pass a certification test.

Certified salespeople also must have six months' experience and must finish product training offered by manufacturers of the vehicles they sell. They also must be recertified every three years.

"It's a super idea," said Dean Silvers, general sales manager at Swanson Chrysler-Plymouth in St. Petersburg, which recently attracted national attention for eliminating its sales staff and selling cars at low, non-negotiable prices.

Scot Allan, general manager of Fairway Nissan, Pasco Chrysler-Plymouth and Pasco Jeep-Eagle, said dealer managers don't always have a handle on what salespeople tell customers.

"You can tell them what to say, but they don't always do it," said Allan. "I think every car salesman should be proud of what they do. And if this would help, I'd go for it."

Randall Champion, new car sales manager at Jim Quinlan Chevrolet in Clearwater, said any problem with sleazy salespeople is probably more perceived than real.

"People see things with used car salesmen in movies, and blow things completely out of proportion," Champion said. Nevertheless, he added, the program "doesn't sound like a bad idea," if only to boost customers' confidence.

_ Information from the Associated Press was included in this report.