I bought a new car recently. I try to keep my cars as long as possible, but the old one was causing me to wonder how long it would last without another expensive repair. That meant a trip to the dealership, knowing quite well that I was about to have the worst category of retail experience known. It doesn't matter if you are buying a cheap car or an expensive one - dealers treat all customers the same way. Haggle, make you wait while the sales person "I will try to get my manager to accept your price, but he is going to beat me up..." talks fantasy football with his manager as you wait. (If you are trading in a car, they will take your keys to look at your trade-in. You will not be getting them back any time soon, so be sure to bring an extra set of keys you can drive off the lot while they are playing this game to wear you down.) Make them wait while you enjoy a sandwich or read a book in the coffee shop across the street.
After you endure that nonsense, you get to talk tot he "finance manager" who will try to get you to by an insanely overpriced extended warranty contract. If that doesn't work for the dealership, they will be happy to offer you very high rate auto loan. Think of what is happening: The sales rep is telling you how great the car is while you are looking at it, then the finance person is telling you an extended warranty is really needed because the car will probably have a major repair after the warranty period is over. Be sure to ask the finance person if they think you should tell the sales person you will not be buying the car since he or she just told you it really isn't a very well made car.
Car dealerships are really parasitic IMHO. They use their intermediary status to extract as much as possible from customers, and in doing so alienate the customers from the manufacturers. The manufacturer spends a huge amount of money establishing a brand, designing cars they hope will appeal to the public, taking capital risk, and managing production. Think of the extended warranty pitch - it totally undermines the manufacturer since it implies the car really isn't very reliable. My previous car was a high end brand, but I detested the sales and service department at the local dealer so much I vowed to never buy another model of that brand, even though I really liked the car. But none of this is new to anyone who has purchased a car from a dealership, new or used.
Given the above, and manufacturers know all of it, I am surprised that Ford and Chrysler aren't jumping on the direct sales model, too. They probably will though; the dealership model makes far less sense now that consumers can learn more about a car online than most car sales people will ever know, since that is not what they care about. Before the internet, it was necessary to go to a dealership to look at a car, maybe get a brochure and see what the car actually looked like. Of course the buyer still has to test drive the car, but there is no reason manufacturers can't follow the Tesla model. This is a bit of a simplification, since Tesla cars in high demand and people are willing to wait for one. There is also a lot to be said for having inventory on a lot since it simplifies distribution and might help close a deal. But... I think every manufacturer would clamp down on the pathetic treatment of customers their dealers engage in if they were selling directly.
A friend of mine is thinking about buying a BMW M3, but I told him he should drive a Tesla first given that the two models are similar in price. The BMW might be a good car, but he dislikes the dealership experience as much as anyone. Why support the dealership business model if there is a choice? My thought is that my next car will be a Tesla not only because it is a great car, but also because I know my money won't support the jerks who run auto dealerships.
Given the intermediary advantage the dealer has when approached by a customer, it is no wonder they are fighting the direct sales model. They have a license to steal, and don't want to give it up. We have seen this before in music business. The good news is information technology will most likely level the playing field in the future, sending the business practices of car dealers to the case study guides of yesteryear, along with patent medicine, unregulated meatpacking and oil trusts.
In all fairness, I would like to encourage anyone who works, or did work for a dealership to offer objective reasons for their business model in case there is something I have missed. But given my experience, it certainly is hard to rationalize.