The Internet: It's not `if,' it's `how fast?'
For dealers who are dragging their feet in the hope the Internet will fade away, time's up. It's a simple choice: Move aggressively to the Web, or go bust.
Speakers at last week's Automotive News Retail Technology Forum here hammered home these points:
Dealers will not go the way of the dodo bird.
The Internet will not reduce dealers to delivery boys for manufacturers and Web entrepreneurs.
Retailers still own the customer relationship. It's theirs to lose.
But there's a flip side. Online buying services exist because too many dealers botched the job of taking care of customers.
The Internet is the newest of the new wave of retail sales ideas, and it's almost certainly here to stay. How many cars and trucks will be sold through the Net is hard to say, but many shoppers will use it as a research tool.
The Internet gives consumers everything they ever wanted to know about car buying, but couldn't find in one place: sticker prices, invoice prices, freight, holdback, optional equipment, incentives and finance terms.
The shopper will be better informed and drive a harder bargain than in the past. And shady dealers will find their deceptions won't work anymore.
The doomsayers are sure the Internet will mean the end of the franchised dealer system. Such 'experts' overlook or simply do not understand such dealer activities as used-car appraisals, used-car sales, service and repairs, warranty work and leasing.
One thing is for sure: The automakers do not want the headaches of retail sales.
The franchise system will survive, but it will change. The dealers who do not embrace the change are the ones who are in trouble.