DETROIT - Chrysler Corp. has remodeled its site on the World Wide Web, but whether it has improved its marketing effort remains a question.
'The challenge is not only to know how many people are dialing into the Web site, but who they are and whether they are 12-year-olds or new-car buyers,' said Richard Everett, Chrysler's director of technology. 'Measurement software has always been the big challenge of the Internet.'
Added a Minneapolis-area Dodge dealer, who uses Chrysler's Web site, 'There's no way for us to get direct leads.'
Chrysler's site lists two to eight dealers, depending on ZIP code, but the potential car buyer cannot contact the dealership through the Web site.
So it is impossible for Chrysler or the dealer to determine, with any accuracy, how many sales are being generated through Internet hits.
In other words, Chrysler, like other manufacturers, cannot calculate the return on investment of its Web site (www.Chrysler.com).
But Everett thinks the measurement problem will be solved by computer software. Whether it is or not, Chrysler's Web site had to be made user friendly to reach its full potential as a cheap marketing tool that projects brand images into the homes of American consumers.
A year ago, Chrysler took control of its corporate site from advertising agencies and retooled it.
'They've obviously redesigned the site,' said Bernadette Tracy, president of NetSmart Research, a New York-based consumer consulting firm. 'The home page (the title page and index) is really cool.'
Unlike many Web sites, she added, Chrysler's always lets users know where they are within the site.
'And,' Everett said, 'it's brought to you by the factory, which certainly brings a considerable amount of credibility.'
Chrysler was trying to protect that credibility when it made its corporate Web site available, free of charge, to its 4,600 dealers a year ago. Another reason for that altruism was the company's legal concerns about its dealers setting up their own Web sites.
'You can't control the content, the art, or the usage,' Everett said. 'And we don't have the Internet police to make sure that if we provide a link to (a dealer's independent Web site), that their site has the same type of product information, accuracy and standards that we have in here.'
Chrysler dealers who set up their own Web sites don't receive any assistance, such as design or content, from the manufacturer.
That's just fine with a Chrysler dealer in Portland, Ore., who set up his Web site 16 months ago.
He described Chrysler's Web site as a directory of dealers. 'I don't want to be in a directory,' he said. 'I want to market all of my dealerships.' He said he might 'hyperlink' (connect) to Chrysler's Web site, 'but as the main meal, I don't see it.'
Still, according to Chrysler, 90 percent of its dealers have signed on for the Web site.
The next step for Chrysler is to develop a more advanced site.
Everett said it would give dealers their own page within the company's Web site. He called it a system that will enable dealers to go into their site, change their welcoming letter, update their new- or used-car inventory and present any other marketing information they choose.
And users would be able to dial either directly into the dealer's site or hyperlink into it from Chrysler's site.
In Chrysler's Web community, there would be a library of company approved graphics such as its logos, badges and tag lines. 'Therefore,' Everett said, 'we don't run any risk of somebody using something that they shouldn't.'
The company's goal is to create a system that provides dealers with all the tools they need to market their stores on Chrysler's Web site.
Although he would not give any details, Everett said Chrysler will test a pilot program this summer. 'We think there's a way to connect consumers to dealers electronically in very unconventional ways,' he said.
The Minneapolis dealer said Chrysler will begin testing a technology in September that enables users to e-mail dealerships from the company's Web site.
Everett said Chrysler's current Web site differs from others because it enables consumers to build their vehicles with options, just as the company would assemble them in the plant.
He said: 'When they're done, the vehicle they see on the screen and the price they see on the screen reflect exactly what they'd get if they ordered it from a dealer.'