Audi sees iPad app as major sales tool

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WASHINGTON -- Audi wants young car buyers to feel more comfortable at its dealerships. Executives think there's an app for that.

This month Audi of America launched a software package for Apple iPad tablets, called Sales Assist, that lets shoppers compare Audi models with rival models, configure an Audi vehicle or see what's available in a dealer's inventory.

Audi offered subsidized iPads to dealers late last year and delivered an initial batch of 2,000 to dealers in early January. Each has the Audi logo etched on the back.

Audi has now gotten orders from 220 dealerships, about 80 percent of its U.S. network, and will deliver 1,000 to 2,000 more devices in coming months, said Mark Ramsey, general manager of digital retail operations at Audi of America.

"When you look at Millennial and Gen X consumers, they have a much more open shopping experience," Loren Angelo, director of marketing, said in an interview at the Detroit auto show. "When they have the opportunity to use a new-media tablet-type solution in the shopping experience, it makes them much more comfortable."

The software package also includes negotiation and finance tools that can complete digital forms quickly.

Audi is just the latest brand to make a push into tablets since the iPad went on sale in 2010. Ford Motor Co. launched a sales app in 2012 called Showcase, and General Motors followed suit last year with an app called Dealer SalesAssistant.

Josh Weeks, an Audi dealer in Danbury, Conn., said he planned to deploy Audi's sales app in his showroom in late January.

Weeks says he often sees a salesperson run to a computer to get an answer to a customer's question — but by the time the salesperson returns, the customer has pulled out a smartphone and has found the answer. Tablets could save time.

Says Weeks: "We're in a world today where an employee who does not embrace this technology will get left behind in a hurry."

You can reach Gabe Nelson at gnelson@crain.com.


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