DAVID BARKHOLZ

Dealers radiate resolve, not complacency, at NADA

David Barkholz is a reporter for Automotive News.David Barkholz is a reporter for Automotive News.
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If strong U.S. vehicle sales have caused dealers to become complacent, it failed to show at the NADA convention.

Dealers flocked to New Orleans for ideas.

It's not sexy, but fixed ops software, especially for the service drive, was a hot item.

Dealers such as Jeff Kahlig, CFO of Kahlig Auto Group in San Antonio, spent time at the ADP Dealer Services booth learning how ADP's new electronic payment system for service could save minutes and improve customer satisfaction by allowing clients to pay remotely.

Bob Karp, ADP senior vice president of North America operations and sales, said dealers are looking to improve throughput in service given its outsized contribution to store profits. That story could be heard across the giant exhibition hall in vendor booths from Reynolds and Reynolds and AutoPoint to Xtime, VinSolutions and AutoMate.

New Web sites also attracted dealers' attention.

Thankfully, the days of dealerships running one Web site for personal computers and another for mobile devices appear to be numbered.

So-called responsive Web sites that sense the type of device a visitor is using and adjust the screen for a consistent experience were shown by several vendors, including Dealer.com, Dominion Dealer Solutions and Naked Lime.

But Cobalt and Haystak Digital Marketing jumped to the head of the pack with their behavioral or adaptive Web sites. They use cookie-tracking to see which vehicles shoppers viewed, then automatically serve the shoppers photos and information of those vehicles.

For example, a shopper who researched a Chrysler 200 sedan on a dealership's Web site -- and sometimes elsewhere -- would see photos of the Chrysler 200 and current incentives upon returning to the dealership's Web site.

As a unit of AutoTrader Group, Haystak can expect to give dealers adaptive Web sites with visibility into shopper behavior on shopping sites AutoTrader.com and Kelley Blue Book as well as other group holdings.

Cobalt also is capable of tracking the shopping behavior of anonymous individuals at its thousands of dealer Web sites as well as those of several carmakers.

Software innovation in auto retailing, which has lagged that of other retailers for years, is coming on fast.

Encouragingly enough, dealers at NADA often had to wait in long lines to get their first look.

You can reach David Barkholz at dbarkholz@crain.com. -- Follow David on Twitter and

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