Though the National Automobile Dealers Association's latest Internet sales figures for dealerships were flat (see related story at top of this page), dealers should continue to invest in their Web sites.
NADA's latest data show that the average new-vehicle sales per dealership have not budged in the past three years. The average remains about five new vehicles a month.
But Web sites provide relatively inexpensive advertising, and the NADA numbers likely underestimate the Internet's impact on vehicle sales.
The Internet's influence over car sales is growing rapidly, but it is difficult to measure from a survey of dealerships. Dealerships have been negligent about tracking where their traffic comes from - whether prospects found the store using the Internet or a local newspaper ad.
And while many customers use the Internet to research car sales, few are willing to consummate the deal online. For that reason, few dealers grasp the impact of the Internet on their sales.
As more consumers use the Internet to shop, dealers have no choice but to invest in a Web site. In the not-too-distant future, a good, well-promoted Web site could become as valuable as a high-traffic corner lot.
Without a Web site and proper online links, a dealership will miss drive-by traffic on the information highway.
In other dot-com news:
InvoiceDealers.com, an online buying service, has struck a deal with a competitor, carOrder.com, to expand its territory. When shoppers hunt for cars in an area where InvoiceDealers.com has few dealer partners, the lead will be handled by carOrder.com.
AutoNation Inc., the nation's largest dealership group, has dropped the 18-hour, live chat room from its Web site. The chat room, which allowed prospects to talk to customer-service representatives on the AutoNationDirect.com site, did not generate enough traffic to justify the cost, according to Mike Maroone, president of AutoNation's retail group.
Lithia Motors Inc., a Medford, Ore., publicly held dealership group, has entered an agreement with software developer Navidec Inc. to upgrade its Web site, Lithia.com.
Cars.com, an online classified advertising service and vehicle shopping service, has struck a deal with telstreet.com, a retailer of wireless phones, for a phone giveaway promotion, 'Calling All Cars.'