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Move Over, Cal Worthington : Would You Buy From a 'Video Car Lot'?

October 18, 1987|BARBARA CARTON | The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Denizens of the capital city can forget about cruising the car dealers' strip. Now they can shop for a truck or car from the living room couch. Sit back and turn on the television. Welcome to "Video Car Lot."

It figures that a show such as this would pop up in a metropolitan area where people spend more each year on their vehicles than on their food--$6,081 per household for the automobile, versus $5,640 for restaurants and groceries, according to the Greater Washington Research Center.

And, no wonder the show debuted on cable television in suburban Fairfax County, Va., where market research indicates that 45% of subscribers enjoy a "furs and station wagons" life style. They're defined by researchers as "new money, living in expensive new neighborhood, well-educated, mobile professionals-managers, winners, big producers and big spenders."

Fairfax. It's a car and truck dealers' competitive wonderland. No one could survive for very long without wheels. Even the grocery store seems two traffic jams away.

Neighborhoods are described in terms of commutes and highway intersections in terms of traffic backups. Last year, there were 30,852 car accidents in Fairfax and, as police spokesman Warren Carmichael said, "A number of them were more than fender-benders."

When the need for a replacement vehicle strikes, there's no messing around, either; a regional Ford sales manager has estimated that Washingtonians are more likely than the average American to drive a car off the lot immediately. They like to comparison-shop, too.

So, now, there's "Video Car Lot." Said Keith Johnson, 36, the show's producer: "My slogan is, 'The show that brings the ads to life.' "

A recent edition opened with the heavy beat of drums, a shot of a blond woman in a sparkling red dress, and a twirling blue Ford sign. "So, grab a pen, sit back and fasten your seat belts, because here we go, with 'VIDEO . . . CAR . . . LOT,' " host Eric Carlson said.

First stop on the television tour was billed as the "Land of the Conversion Van."

A gray conversion van flashed on the screen, with a price of $22,395. "It's got everything ," Carlson said. "Does it have a kitchen sink? Well, hey, if you've got the money, it's got a kitchen sink."

Already installed were a velour sofa bed, tinted bay windows, interior "mood lighting," a color television, deep pile rugs and a six-speaker stereo system.

Another van featured interior teak, a visor vanity mirror, a magazine tray and a CB radio, among other amenities--all for $21,995.

Why a CB radio? "If you don't have a telephone in your car," Carlson said, "a CB radio keeps you from being stranded, and when you're out on a long trip in your Lorain conversion van, you need everything you can get."

The program is less than a year old, and it plays on Sundays throughout the metropolitan area at 11 a.m., after the "Glorious Ladies of Wrestling." Same on Saturdays.

The shows attract at least 13,800 viewers each week, according to the Arbitron ratings. "It's not Johnny Carson," conceded Johnson, "but we're doing well."

For those who can't get enough of "Video Car Lot," Johnson, a former drummer with Washington's Starland Vocal Band, and his business partner, Ron Poland, just initiated a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week suburban cable channel devoted to cars. "The Auto Channel," is more a television bulletin board, though, with a photo of a car, background music, and a brief printed message.

Said Marlow Heights, Md., truck dealer Gene Solarczyk, who advertises on "Video Car Lot show": "When it first started off, we were a little apprehensive. It was different, and we wondered how many people would actually watch this on a Saturday morning. And, to our surprise, there were quite a few.

"I guess it's the people who go out and party late on a Friday night, and on Saturday mornings, they want to lay in bed and watch a little TV."

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