Editorial: Detroit must stay haggle-free

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The Big 3's "employee-price" promotions mark the biggest test of no-haggle pricing ever seen in the auto industry. Consumers like it. It's the way consumer goods are sold across retailing. Automakers have worked hard to build better cars and improve customer service, and no-haggle is the logical next step.

One-price selling is not a new idea in cars. GM's Saturn made this part of its defining strategy. Used-car superstore CarMax, an offshoot of Circuit City Stores, follows a similar approach, pitching that it gives "customers the opportunity to shop for vehicles the same way they shop for items at other `big-box' retailers by offering a broad selection of high-quality vehicles at low, no-haggle prices in a customer-friendly atmosphere."

Shoppers pay the price listed on the shelf for everything from soup (at Safeway) to nuts (at Lowe's). Nothing new there. But consumers are increasingly content to pay the offering price for high-ticket items-a $5,967 built-in fridge at Lowe's, a $4,599.82 Sony plasma TV at Amazon.com.

No-haggle pricing fits with all sorts of sales strategies: everyday low prices (Lowe's, Wal-Mart); promotions, sale prices and incentives (Target, Big 3 "employee discounts"); everyday high prices (high-end, full-price stores). The common denominator is that customers feel they're getting a fair deal.

Price negotiation will never go away entirely. Some customers relish the game; consumers will spend some $13 billion this year bidding on cars at eBay, convinced they're getting a better deal. Buyers will continue to negotiate their biggest purchase-the house.

GM sales and marketing chief Mark LaNeve told our sibling Automotive News the no-haggle aspect is "a contributing factor" to the stunning success of General Motors' employee-discount promo. Yet he said GM won't make no-haggle a permanent strategy. "We are not evaluating any kind of [long-term] program that would encourage one-price selling," he said.

That's the wrong answer for car buyers. Consumers like buying goods this way. Automakers and dealers need to find a way to make no-haggle part of the permanent solution.

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