DONNA HARRIS

Dealers will be expected to upgrade virtual stores, too

Donna Harris covers automotive retailing for Automotive News
Dealers have been groaning under pressure from automakers to upgrade their bricks-and-mortar stores.

Industry consulting firm Urban Science predicts manufacturers also will begin nudging dealers to improve their virtual dealerships this year.

Why? Urban Science said at a press briefing today that it expects a substantial increase in Internet traffic and leads because of changes in new-vehicle technology and a jump in new-model introductions.

Though some dealerships field Internet leads promptly and efficiently, others are weak at handling online traffic. And automakers are concerned about the impact on their brands and ultimately on their sales.

Dealers can expect tighter standards covering the vendors they use, their response times to online leads, their Web sites' function and appearance, their training for employees fielding leads and their Internet staffing levels.

The thinning of the dealer body and the rise in new-vehicle sales is leading to fat profits for surviving dealerships. But it's also clear that the boost in profits will come with more pressure to invest in operations.

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