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DONNA HARRIS

Could iPads be the next big sales tool at dealers?

Donna Harris covers automotive retailing Automotive News.
The ads going into the NADA convention sounded promising: A new device will revolutionize sales at car dealerships. They’re referring to the iPad and various automotive applications vendors are hawking on the show floor.

Some vendors suggest the iPad could take the place of the personal computer. Dealers agree it’s a handy device, one that could help make the car sale become more transparent for the customer and easier for salespeople and finance managers.

For Scott Smith, president of Sonic Automotive Inc., the nation’s third-largest dealership group, the iPad is part of the group’s “secret sauce,” a component of a refined sales process he believes will give Sonic a competitive edge.

“We are investing heavily in Apple,” says Smith. “In a word, it’s mobility. We are rolling out pieces of equipment and apps this spring. What we have is proprietary -- nobody else has anything like it.”

Mercedes-Benz Financial Services USA liked the device so much it gave an iPad to all Mercedes-Benz dealerships. It was working on an application for the iPad even before Apple launched it.

The F&I manager can walk the customer through finance options while walking around the car, making the transaction more convenient. There’s no need to re-key information into a desktop computer, so it reduces the likelihood of error.

“It creates a true luxury experience,” said Andreas Hinrichs, Mercedes-Benz Financial’s vice president of marketing.

But will it replace the personal computer? Even Hinrichs says no. He thinks the dealership employees will still need to work out of their offices.

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