It’s here: AI is ‘selling’ cars

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Don't miss out, the robot says : credit: © JLR
Tom looks into how new tech is selling old Land Rovers

Generally, I like to embrace new technology as it’s made life better in so many ways. I can research this column without having to leave my cosy armchair for example, and I won’t ever need to use Tippex on this page before I send it to Editor Martin.

I’m keeping a close but amused eye on this AI stuff though. I gave it a try on a bit of research for an article and it did a reasonable job, but there were some glaring errors and the style obviously wasn’t human.

Having seen how it worked I started to notice a trend though. I am now spotting adverts for Land Rovers which are quite clearly written by artificial intelligence.

Unlike old-fashioned classifieds in newspapers and the original inky Exchange & Mart, you don’t need to ‘pay by the word’ for modern ‘for sale’ ads. In fact, the internet sites encourage you to type to your heart’s content. So the laziest sellers have now swapped their usual few words, typed in shouty capitals, for the most fulsome prose which describes their car as though it’s a precious piece of art.

For example, a ratty 2006 Freelander which I had watched going through an auction reappeared on a local Facebook ad a week later, with a hefty mark up of £1550 on the £1700 hammer price.

The advertisement described it as ‘a true gem’ with a ‘spacious five-door configuration and iconic black exterior. It offers a perfect blend of rugged capability and everyday practicality. Whether you’re navigating city streets or exploring off-road trails, this Land Rover is up to the task. The engine runs smoothly, and all systems are in excellent working order’.

If that wasn’t enough to have you dialling, the advert continued: ‘Don’t miss out on this opportunity to own a meticulously cared-for Land Rover with an incredible history. Act quickly, as vehicles of this calibre tend to find new homes fast’.

Now I can understand this sort of nonsense might make some sense in a brochure for a brand-new car, but on cars like this Freelander I just want to know if it is still in one piece and if it is likely to pass the next MoT.

If someone can make £1500 by scooping up a car at auction and then getting a robot to write an advert for it, then good luck to them I suppose. It’d be nice to see them put in a little effort though – they even used the auction’s pictures and didn’t even bother glueing a new door mirror glass over the shattered remains of the original.

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It wasn’t the nastiest Freelander at that particular sale though – that award went to a repossession which was locked and had no keys or documents. Something looked a bit off with it in the pictures and I pitied anyone who had bid online without being able to hear when the auctioneer had warned buyers that they, “suspected the car was missing its engine but had been unable to confirm.”

Even with an engine these bailiff cars need a certain degree of bravery, and you can see the traders doing the sums in their head, adding up the value of the parts and the scrap value for the worst-case scenario, or working out how much it will cost to get a locksmith into the car and supply them with a new pair of keys.

An Evoque catches Tom's eye

One Evoque had me tempted initially though, mainly as it looked so good next to an equivalent non-bailiff car. The snatch-back was a 2016 SE Tech diesel in ‘Grade 1’ cosmetic condition. Without access to the keys, its mileage was listed as unknown, but it had 28,000 at the last MoT nine months previously and did 3000 miles a year according to the last three (advisory-free) tests. The guides said it would cost £21,000 at a dealer, £17,500 in a private sale and £13,500 at an auction. It sold for £12,600, which would more than pay for a set of keys but seemed strong money for what was still a bit of a gamble.

The alternative was a 2012 2.2 diesel, which was the posher Prestige trim and was painted in the currently fashionable dark green with cream leather. Unlike the newer car it’s not ULEZ-compliant and is more expensive to tax. The mechanical report noted a few irritating faults too, and there was no service history.

To add to its woes, the poor Evoque had picked up numerous dents and knocks over its 88,000 miles and the inspector noted ‘previous repairs to the offside’ – if they are that obvious it’s never good.

It sold for £5900 – a grand less than the guide book values and proof that buyers really don’t like cars like this which have obviously been mistreated. Perhaps someone will go through it and make it look pretty, replace the mismatched tyres and magically ‘find’ a service history. I’m keeping an eye on the adverts to see what the AI robots make of it.