DETROIT -- The retail auto industry is being disrupted by technology and pulled in multiple directions by consumers that want it all, said Janet Barnard, president of auction giant Manheim.
But automotive retailers should stay razor focused on one thing, she added: Connecting people to the right vehicle.
“When people think about buying or leasing a car, automotive retailers are still the number one resource,” Barnard told the Automotive News World Congress Wednesday. “They are essential to the purchase experience and we have to keep it that way.”
Barnard said linking people with vehicles is a unique advantage for the industry that should not be put at risk.
Keep that advantage
She said Manheim and its parent, Cox Automotive, along with its suite of companies, can help dealers and manufacturers keep that advantage with things such as vehicle valuation and pricing tools.
She said Manheim in particular can help the auto retailing industry reduce the time and steps associated with reconditioning, inspecting and delivering used vehicles.
Those products and services, she said, allow retailers “to spend more time engaging with customers while increasing turn time.”
Cox Automotive also owns such well-known industry brands as Kelley Blue Book, AutoTrader and Dealertrack.
Barnard also participated on a panel that discussed changing consumer trends and the opportunities and challenges involved in adapting to those demands and expectations.
Panelists Marti Eulberg, director of brand management at retailer Sonic Automotive, and Robert Pietsch, senior director of autos at Twitter, agreed that social media can turn consumers into product advocates who can help a brand sell more vehicles.
Pietsch said consumers want to have a relationship with the brands and places with which they do business. “In the automotive specific arena, we’ll see that almost 40 percent of our audience will tweet an automotive brand,” he said. “The not-so-good news, but the opportunity, is that 5 percent will get a response” from a representative of that brand.
He said brand loyalty and positive feelings toward a brand or automaker increase significantly among consumers who get a response. He said automakers are missing an opportunity to take advantage of that trend.
Eulberg said social reviews are peer-to-peer validations that work well for Sonic’s EchoPark standalone used-car stores. She was the architect of those stores.
Sonic ranks No. 5 on Automotive News’ list of the top 150 dealership groups based in the U.S., with retail new-vehicle sales of 135,932 units in 2014.
“As we get more social reviews and the social reviews validate what we’re saying about the brand,” Eulberg said, “it has allowed us to do what we set out to do in the marketplace, which is, be a disrupter in the used-car segment.”
She added: “Consumers allowed us to do that.”
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