FARMINGTON — Members of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission drove more than two hours on Tuesday from Saint Michaels, Ariz., to the Hi-Country GMC Buick dealership in Farmington not to buy a car, but to see the new way the dealership now sells them to Navajo clients.
Using a device that looks like a giant iPad, Hi-Country Auto Group has rolled the car buying experience into the future.
Called a docuPAD, the touchscreen tablet covers an average-sized desk and affords the customer a closer and more interactive experience when buying a car.
Hi-Country Finance Manager Dean Spencer lost most his desk space to the surface-swallowing docuPAD, but it has been a worthy sacrifice, he said.
"Customer satisfaction has been phenomenal," Spencer said. "We noted the change almost instantly after we got it back in April of last year. Customers can see the contracts right up close, on a big screen, in full color, each step of the way."
With a stylus, customers can sign digital paperwork that previously was handled with a ballpoint pen and paper.
Of interest to Leonard Gorman, executive director of the Human Rights Commission, was a recent enhancement to the car dealer's new technological gizmo — translation of the process of buying a car into the Navajo language.
Gorman sat in the customer's chair on Tuesday to sample a video introduction of Hi-Country's auto purchase process, first listening in English and then in Navajo.
After the introduction, Spencer clicked through a series of order sheets and related pages on screen as Gorman inspected them, focusing on their ease of use for a Navajo-speaking car buyer. On the docuPAD, clicking on any box or data field on the digital paperwork popped up a window with a translation from the English into Navajo.
"In a single word: 'Wow,'" Gorman told Spencer. "As far as a Navajo speaker, it's really nice. I'm impressed."
While Gorman praised the accuracy and clarity of the translation, he recommended Hi-Country better distinguish between forms, noting complaints his office has heard from Navajo customers when negotiating the purchase of a car.
One sore spot is confusion over the difference between a "buyer order agreement" and a "final contract," which Gorman said would need to be clarified and explained in Navajo.
"The confusion of people who comes to our office is, 'What is this document?' 'What is that document?' What we do is we start reading (the English paperwork) and say this is what it means in Navajo language. 'This is not your contract, the way it reads,'" Gorman told Spencer. "There's a lot of gamesmanship (in car sales), a lot of information exchanged in the parking lot, and, to a certain point, in the Navajo's perspective, promises made but not kept. You have a wonderful story, but if it's not in the contract, all it is is a story. That's the part that needs to be clarified in the contract."
Gorman's office also emphasized Navajo complaints over trade-ins they believe have been approved on the lot but do not materialize in print.
"They thought they were trading in a vehicle, but now they're saying, 'I'm stuck with a bill,'" Gorman said. "Things like that do happen. That's why we're very interested in your work here at Hi-Country. To make that extra step is a wonderful effort. Our hope at the Human Rights Commission is that (the docuPAD with Navajo translation) becomes the standard in the industry."
Gorman began discussing the prospects of more inclusive language in car contracts with Hi-Country Owner Jeff Thomas and General Manager Ken Leroux after a meeting in April between Gorman's office and the state's Automotive Dealers Association.
Last year, Hi-Country, which has three docuPAD-enhanced dealerships in San Juan County, worked with Gorman's office to make their dealerships more Navajo-friendly.
"It's no longer one language. Language and customers' preferences have to be accommodated," Gorman said. " You've made some really good efforts to resolve these issues. That has to be a single thought. That they (the customer) made the right decision (when signing a contract)."
Thomas, who owns Hi-Country, added, "More important than that, is that they had the information to make the right decision."