FLAT ROCK, Mich. - Despite Manheim Auctions Inc.'s status as the world's largest wholesale auto auction company, the auction business was just a side note at a media briefing last month.
Manheim officials visiting the company's Metro Detroit Auto Auction here discussed everything from management software and Web sites to paintless dent repair and vehicle certification.
In just two years, Atlanta-based Manheim has become a player in all of those markets as it seeks to cash in on its automotive experience and become a one-stop shop for car dealers.
Manheim's latest addition is Manheim EasyCare, a vehicle service contract program for independent used-car dealers. Manheim created the program with partner Automo-bile Protection Corp. of Atlanta.
Manheim EasyCare began in June as a pilot program in Georgia. Last week Manheim introduced Manheim EasyCare at its auctions in Michigan, North Carolina and Virginia. It will be available in all other states by the end of 1999.
Manheim will offer the program at all 60 of its U.S. auctions.
Through the program, independent dealers can sell their used-car customers several levels of service coverage. The dealers determine the retail cost of the contracts, figuring in their own profit.
Manheim hopes to bring stability to a market where the bankruptcy of some service contract providers in the late 1980s left a number of independent dealers holding the bag.
Rick Hartnett, owner of Platinum Auto Brokers of Atlanta Inc., an independent used-car dealership in Marietta, Ga., said he switched to Manheim EasyCare because he knows Manheim will be around to back service contracts. 'I just feel you've got more behind you when it says Manheim,' Hartnett said.
Hartnett, who sells used luxury imports and sport-utilities, said he can compete better with other dealers by providing his customers with 7-year/100,000-mile Manheim EasyCare coverage.
'Even if you don't make anything on (the service contract), you've closed the deal,' he said.
In the past, Automobile Protection's EasyCare service contracts have been available only to franchised dealers. The company is the exclusive supplier of service contracts to Honda dealers for non-Honda used vehicles.
'If you can handle Honda, then that gives us a lot of confidence,' said Manheim President Dennis Berry.
Dealers also can provide a base warranty through the EasyCare certified program, which is similar to certified programs offered at used-car superstores and franchised dealers.
Manheim estimates about 10 percent of its EasyCare dealers will choose the certified option.
Manheim EasyCare fits neatly with Manheim's Tracker Plus dealership management software, launched in June. Independent dealers who use the Windows-based system will be able to add a Manheim EasyCare service contract to a purchase through the simple click of a mouse.
Manheim's relationship with Automobile Protection also will benefit Manheim's AutoConnect Web site. Automobile Protection has agreed to market the site, which offers free used-vehicle listings to dealers, through its 160 sales representatives.