Citroen v Ford – my Surrey Motability experience

On Friday 24th February 2012, we went out to buy a new car under the Motability scheme. In the days leading up to the shopping expedition, I had spent some time checking out various makes and models online; comparing buying and running costs and reading the What Car reviews.

We narrowed it down to two choices: Ford Fiesta and Citroen C3 and made appointments to visit both dealerships for test drives.

Our final choice was being led by availability as our old car is off the road and we have to hire a car in the meantime.

The first appointment with David at Lifestyle Ford in Redhill went well. He listened to what our requirements were and checked what Fiestas were in stock for quick delivery. The test drive was good, nice car but more than that we both enjoyed the experience.

We were almost certain at this stage that we’d be buying the Fiesta but it’s a lot of money to spend without a comparison so we had to see the Citroen to be sure we were making the right decision.

So off we went to Abbey Citroen and got there about ten minutes ahead of our appointment. The first problem was that there was nowhere to park on the forecourt. Bill had to park up and run in to ask where the disabled parking was and was told “we were going to move a car off the forecourt for you as we knew you were coming.” Fair enough – it’s a small forecourt and we were ten minutes early.

We get out of the car and go in. We’re greeted and taken into a tiny office tucked away at the back somewhere. I’m lucky enough that I can walk but if you were in a wheelchair you’d never get into that office (although I asked this question and was assured wheelchairs do manage!)

We explained that we’d done our research and that C3 VTR+ was our choice of model, 5 doors, petrol and manual gearbox were all essential requirements but as far as colour and trims go, we were being led on availability as we needed the car ASAP…and that although I prefer black cars, I accepted I might not have too much choice with the options confined to what is available now.

Her first response was “you want top of the range!” I repeated that the decision was not being led by features but by availability and she started telling us about the D and DS which were “very nice” but one of these was only diesel. Nope petrol only – I said that from the outset.

I asked if we could drive a C3 and she went off to retrieve it from wherever it’s kept and brought it back to the forecourt for us and pulled up at the side of the road and came to collect us.

Then she got back in the driving seat and told Bill to get in the back! When I queried why we weren’t test driving, she replied “I’m going to take you somewhere quieter” in the tone of voice a driving instructor would use with a pupil on their first lesson! Aww bless this inexperienced customer!

Finally he gets to drive and I really like the car. I like cars that sound “meaty” and the C3 does have guts to it – which the Fiesta didn’t. I’m now convinced I want this car and not the Fiesta.

When we get back to the forecourt we pull up at the side of the road again and are ushered out of the car as she is eager to return it to its storage place. We’re given no time to actually explore the car in any detail as she was so keen to get the car away from us!

I have a wheelchair but don’t often use it unless I absolutely have to. We did need to check how it fits the boot though. I asked if we could check the boot of the showroom model which turns out to be the “top of the range” C3!

Up until this point she seemed not to be very excited by our choice of car at all…she visibly turned her nose up at the C1 and seemed to not be too enthralled by the C3 either.

But now she was in raptures! “Come and look at this interior! Doesn’t it look so much nicer than the one you drove? It’s got better seats and leather trims too!” to be honest she was right. It was a much nicer interior! It didn’t smell stale like the demonstrator car either although I do know that’s no reason to judge a car!

I concurred with her statements and asked when I could take delivery? “End of March” she replied…so what exactly was the point? I’ve already said (twice) that the decision will be led by lead time and not features! What’s the use of a snazzy interior when I’m stuck indoors for a month without a car?!

I asked if we could now go and check what cars are available for immediate delivery while Bill put the wheelchair away. I could see Bill was getting annoyed but I was determined to leave with a clear picture of what my options were.

But now it just got farcical and by the end I was trying very hard not to laugh!

The previous day at the Entrepreneur’s Circle meeting in Reigate we’d been discussing customer service and sharing stories of when we’d been wowed and at the other end of the scale, treated badly by suppliers.

The key message was what Nigel Botterill calls the ‘GAS Factor’ which translates to the fact that when dealing with your customers you have to “Give A Sh**!”

We’re in a car dealership where the GAS acronym is very relevant but they certainly aren’t giving a sh**!

Anyway I digress…Bill went to get the wheelchair out of the boot of the showroom model and couldn’t open the boot! They’ve disabled the central locking so it’s now locked inside! Off she goes to get the key, Bill packs the wheelchair away and we return to the office to investigate availability.

There are two women now and between them they start searching the database. The first woman announces that they are “searching the whole of the UK for us to get us the best car possible” I’m quite pleased with this because it feels like they’re finally ‘on the GAS’ and we sit there while they do their stuff for several minutes.

“This is it” the first woman states. “We’ve got this car in Birmingham which we can get down to Redhill in a couple of days.” That’s sounds good, the colour and trims are great – we’ve got lucky after all!


“The chances of you getting this car are zero!” announces the other woman “we can’t reserve this car until your paperwork is done by Motability and any Citroen dealer in the UK can sell this car between now and then”

Hang on! You’re winding me up right? It’s like behaving badly so you’ll get dumped – saving you from having to do the deed! You don’t want my custom?

Well I’m very stubborn and ignoring Bill’s “let’s just go” eye signals; I’m hanging in until the bitter end!

So very slowly I say “just tell me straight and categorically which car you can guarantee I can have quickly” and after another monologue about why we should choose the diesel option when we’ve already told them emphatically (three times now) that we only want petrol, they finally inform us we can have a C3 VTR+ petrol, 5 door manual in black!

In other words, the car I told them I wanted when I first sat down an hour ago!

We’re handed a brochure, their business card, a written list of the car features and the documents we need to bring in to process the order (I’ll give some credit for this as we didn’t ask for the information but it’s helpful service. Don’t crack open the champagne just yet Citroen…this is the only thing your staff did do right!)

We get up to leave and I explain we’re going to sleep on the decision but will be ordering tomorrow (Saturday 25th February)

“Erm…well…” says the first woman and calls over to her colleague “they want to order tomorrow but it gets busy on Saturdays!” Hello! We’re still here you know?!

Ah, it’s ok she hasn’t forgotten…

She turns to me and states “it doesn’t matter if you don’t order until Monday as Motability doesn’t work weekends!”

Sigh! You’re still not listening to me! I ONLY HAVE TRANSPORT TOMORROW! It matters to me!

They confer “ok well what we’ll do is share it. I’ll do a page, she’ll do another then we’ll be ok if it’s busy.” So the fact that we’re spending £15k on a car isn’t enough for us to take priority for ten minutes then?

This painful experience is over. We leave the showroom (after waiting for the doors to be opened so we could get out) trying very hard not to bump into the crowds of people in this busy showroom (it was empty!)

And yet again I get a vision of Nigel Botterill in my mind saying “it’s hard to spend money these days without getting pi$$ed off!” Hmm you ain’t wrong there my friend! This is business sabotage at its’ finest!

So Citroen: what a shambles! You may be spending a lot of money sending staff on courses to allow you to service Motability customers but you’re wasting your money on staff who don’t listen or ‘GAS’!

To Motability: If I was suffering from a mental illness I am not sure I would have coped with that experience without getting distressed or feeling overwhelmed. If I was reliant on a wheelchair I am pretty certain I would have been spared anyway as I wouldn’t have been able to get into the office – assuming they actually had a parking space I could use that is!

And to Ford: well done! David at Lifestyle Ford Redhill is a credit to you and Motability. He knows his stuff, loves the cars and was good company for a couple of hours!

What happened next?

We went back to Ford and bought a Focus! A much better car than the C3. Because Ford gave us a good experience, they ended up selling us a car for more money than we had originally intended to spend. We get a very nice car that was tons better than the C3 and didn’t have to endure the Citroen idea of service again!

Ford Focus Zetec from Lifestyle Fors Redhill

Our (soon to be) new Ford Focus Zetec

As a final note to Citroen, if we’d have received a decent service, we would have bought the C3 without a doubt. I wrote this blog because the hour or so we spent at your dealer was so bad it was hysterical. You only get one chance to make a good impression and you blew it!

What was funny was that on recounting this story to David at Ford when we went back, it turns out he’s heard the same story several times already about Abbey Citroen! I wonder how many cars they do sell?

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  1. June says

    Just had a very bad experience from Mercedes dealers in Sunderland. Felt like We were not up to their criteria of customer. Wanted a b class …Got phone call yesterday that the car had not been on order with motability but was ordered through Mercedes and the deposit was now going to cost 1400 instead of the 799 We agreed upon as Aprils prices were now in place. I am not paying 1400 for a leased car plus they wanted extra for cruise control so was going to cost nearer £1700 Just for a down payment. I need a mpv or similar as I have difficulty getting into lower cars … The motability specialist We were dealing with had a new job and was leaving that day. …I have had other motability cars in the past and hate this time my nerves are shot I havent slept all night

  2. says

    Hey thank you all for your comments.

    It is a bit hit and miss generally but the thing is that Motability are pretty strict on the sales guys and there is a lot of training they insist on before being designated as fit to sell

    By the nature of Motability, some of the customers will be very vulnerable and should be afforded a caring service.

    It’s a pity you can’t have the car you want. I thought I would have to compromise too given the urgency, but we did get lucky. It was explained to us that the renewal process starts 12 weeks before the end of the contract so next time I’ll be able to be more specific on trims and features etc

    Ford have actually exceeded my expectations again! I received a call yesterday to say the car is ready! We booked it on Saturday and yesterday was Wednesday! That’s an amazing turnaround!

    All in all I’m really happy with how it’s turned out. :-)

  3. Warkman says

    The problem in this country is the majority of dealerships are franchises and whilst the car manufacturer tries to get a standard operation, because of this they vary even between same manufacturer sites.
    Secondly, Motability does not make a lot of money for the dealers and thats why in the main, they give it ot the new boy or girl in the showroom. If you also hit them at the wrong time of the year (as this is now due to the new number plate) they have hit their targets and are not looking for sales with small commission.
    I am lookinmg for an automatic, and I have found the Nissan dealer with the Quashqai +2 the best, followed by ONE Mercedes dealer we went to, the other could not give a damn, and the Ford dealers a mixe4d bunch.
    None of the Ford dealers can get me an automatic S-Max t to drive (which is my first choice) and the waiting tijes for all the cras is 12 weeks. This is normal today as manufacturers do not have vast field of produced cars waiting for customers anymore and they are built to order now.
    As for Citroen, you had a near miss there. There is a reason they are cheap to the customer, they are a cheap manufactured car and personally i would not go near one with a barge pole (thats with 35 years automotive manufcaturing experiance behind me)
    I am surprised that the Ford dealer can get you a cr in such a short time as the paperwork has to be sorted at Motability operations and that can take a month! :-)

  4. RD says

    It’s swings and roundabouts. We had a Mondeo that needed the air con re-gassing. They took it in fixed a problem and I picked it up to discover they hadn’t sorted the air con, but some other problem Ford told them about! Booked in again, kept it another day, hour on the bus to get there (the 4th hour I’ve spent going backwards and forwards to the dealer on the bus!), they’ve not done it as it’s “near the end of the contract so motability won’t authorise it”. Serious complaining later, turns out this is complete and utter rubbish. Booked in again, finally gets sorted.

    Time comes to renew the car, we want the same again, no problem. This time it comes with rear parking sensors. Only it didn’t – despite all Ford motability cars coming with them and the salesman assuring us they’d been fitted as we picked up the car. Not knowing what they looked like or how they worked I assumed they were.

    A bit of research and phone calls later I discovered they weren’t fitted at all. Another day without the car whilst they sort that. I dread everytime they have to take it in for a service to be honest, they only thing they do well is wash the car. Step forwards Lookers of Sheffield, truly awful service.

    You’re probably wondering why we even went back? The mondeo is a great size and price under the scheme for our needs and we were happy with the car. Whilst the dealer was/is crap, they are the only ones in the city and whilst I could have ordered it elsewhere it would have been a nightmare to get it there for services or any problems

  5. says

    I think you made the right decision. Apart from the service Ford spares and servicing is cheaper.
    My experience of most main dealers is that they do not understand the customer and treat them with contempt.

  6. says

    Thanks for the blog Veronica. It’s great to hear good things about our Ford Dealers and I’ll make sure Dave gets a thank you call in the morning.

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