Sonic will offer online car-buying

Dyke: Works seamlessly

By early next year, Sonic Automotive Inc. will launch an online sales initiative, called Sonic Digital One-Stop, that will allow consumers to shop for a vehicle, get a trade appraisal and complete the purchase online without setting foot in a store. A Sonic employee will deliver the car to the consumer, possibly as soon as the same day.

"A large part of our customer base will still want to come to the dealership and put their hands on the car," Vice Chairman David Smith said. "But with smartphones and other technology, the ability to view a car online is so good, and the quality of vehicles is so good, that fewer people will have the need to test drive it."

Sonic, which started developing Sonic Digital One-Stop about six months ago, plans to launch it by year end or in the first quarter.

The Charlotte, N.C., dealership group is working with "a couple" of vendors on development, said Jeff Dyke, Sonic's executive vice president of operations. He declined to name the vendors or disclose the project's cost.

The technology integrates with Sonic's One Sonic-One Experience technology. "It's not coming from a third party," Dyke said. "So it all works together seamlessly."

Sonic introduced One Sonic-One Experience at five dealerships in Charlotte in 2014. It offers no-haggle pricing with the goal of completing a purchase in 45 minutes or less using one sales rep armed with an iPad. The nationwide rollout is expected to take all of this year.

Sonic Digital One-Stop will require "four to five pieces of paper" to be signed at delivery to meet state laws, Dyke said.

"That could literally change overnight," said CEO Scott Smith. "You can buy a house with your signature on an iPad. The holdup is government regulations."

You can reach Jamie LaReau at jlareau@crain.com -- Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jlareauan

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