Dealers and automakers have a new tool: The iPad

The iPad, Apple's hot new tablet computer, has been on the market only since April. But already it has become a tool for dealers, automakers and at least one finance company.

Ohio Mercedes dealer Bernie Moreno was one of the iPad's early adopters.

The day the iPad reached stores, he had his daughter wait in line so he could be among the first buyers.

Moreno, president of Mercedes-Benz of North Olmsted, near Cleveland, started using the iPad in his dealership right away.

"The idea is: How can you use this to your advantage and improve your experience and separate your dealership from everybody else?" he said.

The device is thin, wireless and graphics-rich. Its display is large enough that sharing information on the screen is easier than with a smart phone. It costs $499 to $829.

Dealership employees can carry the device with them as they work with customers, instead of staying behind a desk.

For Moreno, the hand-held device has proved to be handy for checking in vehicles as they come off lease. The entire transaction can be handled right at the car, with the customer participating in the walk-around inspection.

Moreno is also one of 40 Mercedes dealers helping Mercedes-Benz Financial test an iPad app that launched last month. The app is a portable version of MB Advantage, an online system that dealers use for finance and insurance transactions, such as credit applications and vehicle-specific marketing programs.

Moreno was already using the iPad when he learned Mercedes-Benz Financial was working on the app.

The iPad app follows on the finance company's smart-phone app, which lets customers pay their bills using a mobile device.

"It's an opportunity for the dealer to integrate the sales and financing processes," said Andreas Hinrichs, vice president of marketing for Mercedes-Benz Financial. That eliminates the need to take customers away from the car and into a separate office to handle F&I matters, he said.

But the iPad also has value as a symbol, Moreno said. It shows customers that the dealership is not just high-end, it's cutting-edge.

"It sounds kind of corny, but it's pretty cool," Moreno said. "They're blown away by the iPad in the first place."

In Europe, Volkswagen AG has launched a digital customer magazine, called DAS, especially for the iPad. DAS is short for Digital Automotive Space.

At Hyundai, buyers of the Equus luxury sedan will get an iPad, rather than a traditional owner's manual, when the vehicle debuts this fall.

Hyundai Motor America CEO John Krafcik told reporters at the New York auto show: "Who reads a 300-page manual anyway? Instead, they'll have a gorgeous color touch screen, loaded with the manual electronically, as well as photos of the whole Hyundai lineup."

As of early June, Apple had sold more than 2 million iPads worldwide. Moreno said that even when the novelty wears off, the device will remain useful.

"You find more and more ways to use it," he said, and "you wonder how you ever did without it." c

You can reach Leslie J. Allen at