ARLINGTON, Va. - Saturn dealers will always be needed to service and deliver new vehicles no matter how far the company goes in selling cars and trucks online, says Cynthia Trudell, chairman of Saturn Corp.
While she endorsed the dealers' role in online business, she is less definite about how profitable the sales would be for them.
Dealer profits are a matter to be decided by the company and its retailers, Trudell said last week. 'So I really can't comment where that would ever go long term until we see the full effect,' she added.
The interview came after statements last week by Mark Hogan, president of e-GM, General Motors' electronic commerce unit. He said Saturn would be the logical choice if GM adapts some version of its Brazilian online strategy for the United States.
Few options, lower price
Hogan touted GM's success in completing online more than half the sales of the Celta small car in Brazil. The car is available in only five colors and with two option packages. So it is easy for GM to fill customer orders from cars built and placed in staging areas. The price for an online buyer is 6 percent less than the price for one who buys at a dealership from dealer stock.
Jerry Holloway, general manager of Saturn of Alexandria, Va., said it would be wrong and contrary to the Saturn philosophy to have different prices for online sales.
'I would not be happy if they went that route,' he said. Dealers are going to put as much effort into keeping online buyers happy as they do with traditional showroom customers, he said.
But, he added, he's also confident the company will listen to dealer concerns, as it has in the past.
The day when such questions will have to be answered may be closer than is generally assumed.
Trudell said Saturn's online customers already are able to select options, submit body styles and equipment and apply for financing.
If the desired vehicle cannot be found in the area, the dealer orders it from the factory. Pink 'sold' signs are placed in the car's window, and the vehicle is given priority in distribution, Trudell said.
Cars are being delivered in 17 to 19 days after being ordered, she said.
'The Internet was a natural extension for us,' she said, referring to the company's streamlined operations and no-haggle pricing.
Total Web deal is in future
Online buyers must still go to a dealership to complete transactions and pick up their cars.
The next step under Saturn's plan will be to let buyers complete transactions online.
Trudell, interviewed Wednesday, Dec. 6, during a press briefing about her company's upcoming sport-utility, the Vue, wouldn't say when that final step will occur.