Sonic to pilot online financing tool

Starting in September, EchoPark customers in Colorado and San Antonio will be able to use an app to obtain a dollar-figure appraisal of their vehicles good for 14 days for a trade-in or outright purchase. Photo credit: DAVID PHILLIPS

Sonic Automotive Inc. late next month will pilot an online car-buying tool that will allow customers to prequalify for financing on specific vehicles. The tool, being developed in partnership with Capital One, will start with one or two lenders and add more.

The tool, tentatively called Digital One Stop, will allow customers of Sonic's used-only EchoPark store in New Braunfels, Texas, to choose as much of the car-buying process they want to do online, minus a few signatures still needed in the store or upon delivery, said David Jezierny, vice president of application development for Sonic and EchoPark.

Jezierny said the technology and tool will quickly give customers options. The prequalification includes only a soft pull of a customer's credit.

"This isn't a 'probably you qualify,' " Jezierny told Automotive News. "This is a real deal, and they're working with other lenders and a third party to host the decisioning model so that we could plug other lenders in. So it isn't just Capital One. Eventually, on the new-car side, you could have the captives involved in this."

Sonic hopes to roll the tool out across the EchoPark footprint, which now includes seven stores, and bring it to a Sonic new-car dealership in a similar pilot, he said. In the future, the company hopes to incorporate a way for customers to pay down payments over the Internet, Jezierny said.

The dealership group has been working on the technology with Capital One for several months. Capital One also will be able to take the completed tool and offer it to other dealerships to use, Jezierny said.

"We're always working to enhance the experience for our dealer partners," a Capital One spokesperson wrote in an email, while declining to comment further.

Appraisal tool

Also starting in September, EchoPark customers in Colorado and San Antonio will be able to use an app to obtain a dollar-figure appraisal of their vehicles good for 14 days for a trade-in or outright purchase.

Through the CarCash app, customers will be asked about their car's condition, mileage, trim level and options. They'll need to scan the vehicle identification number and provide nine to 11 vehicle photos, Jezierny said. The process should take customers about 10 minutes, with a purchase offer from Sonic showing up through the app six to seven minutes later, he said.

"It has two purposes," Jezierny said. "One, you want to find out what your trade's worth before you show up at the store. Great, we're going to give you a real number. If you describe it correctly, here it is, no games and no range like most companies. And then the other piece of it is, if you just have a car you want to sell outright, to us you're bringing a car to our doorstep. So we like that."

The app and the CarCash vehicle buying arm are part of the evolution of EchoPark, Sonic's 4-year-old used-only brand, said Jeff Dyke, executive vice president of operations for Sonic. The CarCash app will help EchoPark acquire inventory, he said.

"This is a huge move for us and a great opportunity to help grow the business," Dyke said.

Sonic of Charlotte, N.C., ranks No. 5 on Automotive News' list of the top 150 dealership groups based in the U.S., retailing 133,728 new vehicles in 2017. It retailed 123,489 used vehicles for the same period, ranking it No. 6 on Automotive News' list of the top 100 dealership groups in used-vehicle sales.

You can reach Melissa Burden at mburden@crain.com -- Follow Melissa on Twitter: https://twitter.com/MelissaMBurden

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