DaimlerChrysler Corp.'s Five Star dealers can now attract more Internet sales with a national auto-buying service on the World Wide Web.
The service, called Get a Quote, was scheduled to go online last Friday, Jan. 29, after an 18-month test in Maryland and California.
The service lets a customer pick a car or truck, specify optional equipment, give that information to a nearby Five Star dealer and receive a quote within 24 hours.
Only Five Star dealers may participate in Get a Quote. DaimlerChrysler is using it to persuade its dealers to improve customer service and earn Five Star status.
Customers can find the Get a Quote icon on the Jeep, Plymouth, Chrysler and Dodge brand Web sites.
Get a Quote was launched as a pilot in June 1997 for customers and dealers in Maryland and California.
'It's selling cars, it's bringing in traffic,' said Rich Everett, DaimlerChrysler's director of strategic technologies for sales and marketing.
He could not provide numbers, but Everett said enough vehicles were sold to warrant expanding the program.
At Thompson Automotive Group in Baltimore, sales from the pilot were meager, said Dana Duke, marketing research manager for the Dodge-Chrysler-Plymouth-Jeep group. But the new Get a Quote is easier and quicker to navigate, Duke said.
'There were glitches with the pilot,' Duke said. 'But this new one looks really good. It's a whole lot more user-friendly.'
The individual in charge of answering Get a Quote customer requests must be patient, Duke said.
'You do get a lot of shoppers,' he said. 'So it is an investment in time. But I think it will pay off.'
With suggestions from the Maryland and California dealers, Get a Quote was redesigned four months ago in preparation for the national rollout.
The new Get a Quote lets customers type in as much information about a vehicle as they desire, or just provide the bare minimum.
'We wanted to make it faster, cleaner and simpler,' Everett said. 'We've done that.'
DaimlerChrysler has 1,313 Five Star dealers, who meet various standards for customer service. They account for 50 percent of DaimlerChrysler Corp. sales volume. So far, 700 Five Star dealers have signed up to provide Get a Quote. Five Star dealers may participate in Get a Quote for no charge.
Mercedes-Benz dealers are a separate dealer network and do not participate in the Five Star program.
Participating dealers must respond to each Get a Quote customer, Everett said.
The automaker wants dealers to provide a quote within 24 hours or within one business day.
All quote requests will be funneled through a Web-based customer management tool, said Patrick Kittle, DaimlerChrysler's manager of retail strategy.
This tool will keep track of the age of the requests.
'If we find the dealer has quotes in excess of 72 hours, he is out of compliance, and we will begin a procedure to take him out of the program,' Kittle said. 'Timely response is the most important standard (of Get a Quote) we adhere to.'
DaimlerChrysler has asked participating dealers to funnel all Get a Quote requests through one trained individual.
During the pilot, DaimlerChrysler found that 70 percent of the customers requested a dealer response with the quote by e-mail.
Get a Quote will be advertised beginning Feb. 10 with banner advertising on the Internet.