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Making Cars Fly

What does it take to sell a used car in this town? A silky-smooth personality and a lot of cheap SUVs.

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Victor Almonte, top salesman at Major World.  

Victor Almonte, the top-performing salesman at Major World, swaggers around the Major Auto lot in Versace sunglasses, nails freshly manicured, and the other salesmen stop and stare. “How does he do it? Beats me,” says Kevin Mac, a colleague. “You have to be superhuman to sell 40 cars a month. I mean, 40 cars!” That’s nearly two cars a day. “Victor is a smooth, smooth talker,” says Glennys Penã, who handles his financing. “The customer knows they can’t afford the car, but they’re laughing as they hand over the money. He’s that smooth.”

Major World, in Long Island City, claims to sell the highest volume of used cars (1,000 per month on average) on the Eastern Seaboard. On any given day, 75 salesmen work the lot, many clumped together at the entrance on Northern Boulevard, waiting for you, the unsuspecting buyer, to pull in. The fight over stealing customers (and commissions) can come to blows. The salesmen can’t take it outside, because they are outside. So, they go to the closest parking lot.

“We say, ‘Let’s take it to Pathmark,’ ” Mac says.

Almonte found this job by accident. He grew up in the Dominican Republic, one of ten brothers and sisters. In 1991, he moved to Queens, first working in a restaurant, then managing a bodega. He was making deliveries for Lexus when, about sixteen months ago, he came to Major to drop off a few spare parts. He was shocked: “I was like, ‘Oh, my God! Look at all these people.’ ”

Major is always packed. The advertising budget is more than $500,000 a month, and the sales trailer feels like a visiting room at a large prison. There are dozens of small wooden tables, and kids run around them playing tag and the salesmen pretend they’re so cute while they try to sell a $55,000 Cadillac Escalade ESV to a customer in sweatpants. Seeing it for the first time, Almonte thought, I can do this, and despite his poor English, talked his way into a job. He sold 30 cars his first month, earning a $3,000 bonus. His best month was 47 cars. Commission is 20 percent of the purchase price, netting Almonte an annual income that cracks six-figure territory.

His customers often have spotty credit and overdrawn bank accounts. They want what everyone else wants here: the right price. The car most coveted by Almonte’s younger customers is the Nissan 350Z. The 2004 model has a 287-horsepower engine (more than the 2007 Porsche Boxster) and goes from zero to 60 in 5.6 seconds (the 2007 Boxster takes 5.8 seconds). The 2004 Z costs $375 a month, rims not included.

Almonte’s secret? Think of selling cars as being like winning over a woman, he says. Be confident. Be funny. Be in demand. Be relentless. Once, Almonte was trying to sell a 2004 Range Rover Freelander to a woman from East New York. She agreed to the sticker price of $14,995, but clumsily left her wallet at home. She didn’t have her driver’s license with her or enough cash to take a taxi home to get her wallet. Almonte smelled a sale, though, and didn’t want to give her a chance to change her mind. So he gave her the keys to his BMW X3 (a leased 2006) and told her to drive home and come back with her wallet. She did, and he closed the deal. “I have to control my customers,” he says.


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