It was time to add to the family’s “fleet” of motorbikes. We’d been struggling over recent weeks to facilitate transport for the various members of our extended family to the places they needed to be, having only the brother-in-law’s
ute, one motorbike (older sister’s “Wave”) and a couple of pushbikes. My girlfriend, “Girl”, was coming up for her birthday and so it was that I decided the time was right to get “her” new motorbike.
With at least half a dozen Honda motorcycle shops in our town, (Honda sell about half of the 2.5 million scooters sold in Thailand every year), we had plenty to choose from. We went to the largest one and walked into the shop. There were a lot of sales staff on duty – at least 15 that I could see – where in a similar-sized dealership in Farangland you’d probably only see 3 or 4.
Girl had already picked out in her mind the bike she wanted, a Honda Click-i Forward AT (automatic transmission). It’s a pretty nifty bike and I had spent some time previously reading up about them on the ‘net. With a 110cc 4-stroke engine, fuel injection, electric start and a natty transmission/drive unit, their target market is the Teenager and Uni Student segment. They’re frugal – averaging 2 litres per 100km fuel economy – and come with some interesting safety features: a kick-stand cut-out that kills the engine as soon as the sides-stand is lowered (and will not allow the bike to start if the stand is down), a large (for their class) disc front brake and drum rear, which have a brake-balancing system that applies braking pressure to both the front and rear brakes if only the left hand-brake is used, as well as an interlock on the brake levers that will also prevent the engine starting unless the brakes are being applied.
Honda claim a top speed of over 120km/h, but I don’t know that many of these will ever be doing a lot over 60km/h during their lifetimes – since most scooters seem to run around at about 30km/h (if that). The list price (according to Honda) was 51,000 baht (AU$2,000) and, sure enough, the price on the card said exactly that. You can either pay cash or, as most Thais seem to do (especially the teenagers), you can use “Dow”. (This is the Thinglish word for a down-payment, followed by monthly instalments. For this bike, the “Dow” was 5,000 baht, however once you totted up the instalments, it would end up costing about 74,000 baht over the term of the contract.)
Since I was playing bag-man for the day (I had the cash in my side pocket), I stood back and watched, whilst Girl and and her older sister Dao had a look at the bikes, with younger brother Ton taking a keen interest too, as he would have some use of the bike, as well as it being the daily transport for both he and Girl to get to and from their respective educational institutions, which are quite close to each other. The reality was that the budget really only stretched to a different model, I think it was the “Wave” – which is hugely popular here and runs out at about 42,000 baht. It is a far more basic design, with drum braking front and rear and uses about 30-40% more fuel than the Click.
As everyone did the looking, a member of the staff came out with a tray of iced water, which was offered to everyone. Everyone – that is – except me, the one who was perspiring freely in the non-air conditioned shop. I didn’t say anything, but just filed this away. One of the other staff wheeled the two different bikes out so that everyone could have a look and feel session. I stepped forward and spent some time examining the controls, drive-train and brake setups. On finding out that the budget was just a little shy for the Click, one of the salespeople tried to do a straight switch-sell onto the cheaper model – which was only cheaper by a few thousand really. When Girl asked me for my opinion, I offered my thoughts that the Click was a better option, especially with its improved braking setup.
So it came down to tin tacks. I did think that it was a bit of a mistake having me along, since often as soon as a Falang is spotted the prices don’t move, unless they go up. I looked at the ticket on the bike and enquired what the “real” price was – how much did we have to shell out there and then to take the bike home with us. The answer was a blank stare and a finger pointed at the ticket. I offered 45,000, wondering if they’d at least nibble, but they remained firm; countering that the bike has lots of safety features and really is a good quality motorcycle. Girl, a little confused at the psychology of what I was trying to do, wanted to know what the problem was, so we walked outside while I explained it to her. I said that, so far, I wasn’t impressed and, if they didn’t at least smile, I’d just walk out the door and we would go somewhere else (like the next Honda dealer about 200m away).
Obviously business must be booming in that particular shop, because they weren’t the slightest bit interested in even discussing the price of the bike. If they’d even dropped 1,000 baht (AU$40.00) that would have been enough to show some desire to make a sale, but I think it was all too hard for them. By now we had 6 sales people standing around, barraging Girl and Dao in Thai about how the bike was very good and safe and the price was the price. As a final gesture, I pulled out the wad of cash from my pocket and counted out 45,000 baht onto the seat, arranging the bills in bundles so they could clearly see how much I was offering. The chief negotiator spoke to Girl. “Lady say you need 6,000 baht more to have bike". I looked at the lady, raised one eyebrow and scooped up the notes, put them back in my pocket and made for the door.
To be honest they’d lost my business with the glass of water. It was only a small thing, but the small things count.
A different experience.
Over the road we went and into an air conditioned paradise. There were about 8 staff there (the dealership was a bit smaller than the first one) and every single one of them stopped what they were doing, said “Sawatdee” with a wai and a smile, and one of the sales people stepped forward and asked if she could help. As Girl told her the reason for our visit, a second team member shot over with a tray of drinks, lovely iced water, handing one to me first, assuming that I was bankrolling the purchase – the Falang buying a bike for his girlfriend.
The sales lady showed Girl an identical bike to the one that we’d been looking at just a few moments before, a shining red Click-i Forward AT, and they started discussing the bike’s features. English terms, like “disc-brake” were sprinkled into the exposition of its many features, and the lady pointed out every safety feature in detail. An older lady, who seemed to be the sales manager, started talking to Dao and, once they’d introduced themselves, she asked for the name of “the Falang”, which Dao gave her. She then came over to me and said in broken English “Welcome to Thailand, Mr Ek. We are happy to help you today.” She asked me how I liked Thailand, what I thought of the town, then detailed for me the features of the bike and made mention that this particular one came with mag wheels rather than the usual spoked ones. As I’d finished my drink by this time, I looked for a place to set the glass down. Immediately it was taken from me and another put into my hand.
By now Girl had finished her chat and it came down to deciding on what to do. I had relayed to the sales manageress our experience across the road, the price they’d offered (or not as the case was) and said that if the deal was right, we’d take the bike with us there and then. She then spoke with the sales assistant briefly and marched into the owner’s office, emerging a few moments later with an offer down 4,000 baht from the original asking – and almost the same amount as the first dealer had wanted for the lesser model. I nodded, Girl nodded and I pulled out the cash and said “Yes”. Without further ado, we sat down and started the paperwork, nobody seeming to mind that it was now 20 minutes after closing time. A mechanic was summoned to take the bike off the showroom floor and get it ready to go, another glass of iced water appeared next to me, and Girl started putting her details on the sales forms.
By the time the paperwork and pre-delivery were complete, it was nearly 45 minutes since we’d walked in, but most of the staff were still there, chatting with Girl and Dao about what a great purchase they’d just made. Finally the bike appeared and was loaded into the back of the Ute. We’d made the decision not to ride it home without registration (or a helmet) – a very wise move as it happens for, as we drove away and turned to head toward home, we passed the local police doing another crack-down on people riding without helmets and other motorcycle-related infringements.
As we drove, we passed the shop we’d walked out of previously. I saw the sales person we’d battled with coming out the door and couldn’t help but wave at her. The look on her face as we drove past with a gleaming new bike tied into the back of the Ute was priceless.
Still feeling ill so no comments.