As I sit here pounding away at my computer, it is obvious how important computers will be to marketing in the automobile business.

The computer already is essential to the creation, engineering and manufacturing of the automobile. It's impossible to imagine a modern assembly plant without hundreds of computers, large and small, helping to run the operation.

But we really haven't seen the same kind of revolution in the marketing of the 15 million cars and trucks sold each year. It's true that whenever you start talking about big volume, people start to consider computers. But the sale of vehicles, one at a time, is a totally different proposition.

Today's dealership, even the most modern dealership, has plenty of computing power in the back shop. Look around almost any service department and you will see plenty of computers from record keeping to diagnostic equipment. The modern parts department relies on its computers, because without them most counter people wouldn't know what they have, where to find it, how much it costs or when to re-order it.

The computer also runs the finance department. It is the rare dealer who doesn't keep his complete financial statements on one of the widely known computer systems that make the owner's life simpler.

But it's different in the sales department. The customer walks in and kicks tires, picks up brochures and discusses his likes and dislikes with a salesman on the floor. It's only when the salesman starts to discuss numbers that some sort of computing power enters the customer-dealer relationship.

Tomorrow will be different. The customer will use an interactive computer that will give information as well as gather it. While the computer has found out the prospect's age, income, address and family size, it will also tell the prospect what models are available to fit his family's lifestyle and which are available for demonstration drives. The computer already knows there is a trade-in and can even estimate a price and monthly payments.

The salesman will still be the crucial link. The need to relate and talk to a real person won't change. People don't buy cars from a computer. Change is coming to the showroom, but the human factor will always be important.

You can reach Keith Crain at
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