BASIC MATH: As new cars are introduced each fall, some folks find themselves heading toward auto showrooms. But many customers think a couple thousand dollar down payment and a $200-a-month lease will get a $30,000 Volvo. Salesman Lorn Quellette at Studio City Volvo-Saab says he never asks a customer, " 'Are you ready to buy a car today?' That puts them on the defensive." He sits them down to show them they won't come close. "Some are not good with figures whatsoever."
GO SLOW: Ogner Motorcars salesman Bob Morin in Woodland Hills talks with customers to "subtly" decide if they can afford the three Ferrari models, priced from $120,000 to $207,000. Often a mechanic joins them for a test drive on the Ventura Freeway. "They don't break any speed limits," he says. A six-speed manual shift Ferrari can reach 185 m.p.h., so at legal speed the car ambles in third gear.
UP TO SPEED: California is the nation's biggest new car market with some 1.5 million vehicles sold a year. But per capita, new sales here are down from a decade ago, says John Rettie, above, analyst at J.D. Power and Associates in Agoura Hills. Why? A weakened economy, an influx of poorer immigrants and cars last longer. Rettie owns a Ford Windstar minivan yet longs for a Jaguar XJ6 sedan. "But I can't afford it."
FULLY INSURED: An exotic car still needs insurance. A 40-year-old man in the West Valley with a perfect driving record who owns a $200,000 Rolls-Royce Silver Spur would pay $5,164 for six months of insurance, with a $1,000 deductible at 20th Century Insurance in Woodland Hills. Of the 1.1 million cars 20th Century insures, only three vehicles fall into the Rolls' price range.
BUG SECRETS: Charles Ellwood, head of the Volkswagen of America Design Center in Simi Valley, helped develop a sportier version of the VW Bug that is being driven in Germany on a private track to keep spy cameras away. At VW's local office, the doors have an elaborate alarm system to keep out snoops. "In the design business you don't talk about products," he says.