Forget the franchise laws. Never mind the flap over factory-owned dealerships at Ford Motor Co. and General Motors. Put aside GM's recent failed attempt to sell off-lease vehicles directly to Texas consumers over the Internet.
Do that and you will be thinking like John and Jane Doe, online car shoppers. Consumers are clueless about the squabble between dealers and factories over online auto sales. Dealers fear the factories plan to bypass them and sell directly to consumers via the Internet.
In fact, consumers are so oblivious that most buyers who purchase through an Internet buying service believe they are buying vehicles directly from the factory and simply picking them up at dealerships, according to a study released last week from CNW Marketing/Research, a Bandon, Ore., research firm.
If I were an automaker who wanted to circumvent dealers - or at least gain greater control of online transactions - I would take advantage of the confusion the next time I lobbied for dilution of the state franchise laws. Customers who already believe they are buying vehicles directly from the factory will want to protect their right to do so.
If I were a dealer, I would find the study's conclusions unnerving.
Many state franchise laws prohibit factories from selling vehicles directly to consumers. Manufacturers could argue that the prohibition hurts online vehicle sales. That is just what happened in Georgia during the last legislative session, and the manufacturers caused quite a stir in the local press.
Though the dealers got their restrictions passed, the manufacturers discovered the Internet could help build a pro-consumer case against franchise laws. Consumers don't care about franchise laws, but they do feel they have a right to shop over the Internet.
If I were a factory, I would see the Internet as another arrow in my quiver. If I were a dealer, I would be busy promoting myself as an e-commerce advocate to deflect claims that franchise laws protect dealers at the expense of Internet sales.
In other dot-com news,Giggo.com, the e-commerce division of debis Financial Services Inc., DaimlerChrysler's finance arm, has joined the LendingTree Network, an online loan marketplace that matches consumers with lenders competing for their business.