Eric Armstrong of Hendrick Chevrolet in Norcross, Ga., hunkers down over his PC monitor. He is intent on making sure the General Motors Vehicle Order Management System, or VOMS, is operating correctly and carefully is checking the status of his orders.
'A few times I caught it dropping one or two order items,' says Armstrong, 38.
A computer jockey and former body shop technician turned sales manager for Hendrick Chevrolet (hendrickchevy.com), Armstrong thought he knew the system well. But in February, GM changed it.
The updated version requires dealers to configure options and submit priority-coded orders against GM allocations. The system bypasses constrained vehicle orders - those in limited supply - for dealers who haven't sold the ones on their lots.
This year, constrained models include the GMC Yukon XL, Suburban, Corvette, Tahoe, Silverado and Sierra models with Duramax 6.6-liter diesel engines.
Dealers who show low inventory - meaning they sell the most - get the most constrained products.
Armstrong likes the revised order process because it's simplified. But he sees drawbacks.
'As long as you understand the system, you can get anything you want,' he says. 'But you'll get the product that's available or allocated if you don't pay attention. And if you don't properly input orders, you're going to miss out on your allocation.'
Now in its third year, VOMS continues to perplex dealers who say the technology is complex and not truly market-driven.
'It's like a roulette game and just too cumbersome. There's too much you have to do to get to the finished product,' says Gerry Serrano. He is director of fleet and commercial vehicle sales at Courtesy GMC-Pontiac-Buick (courtesygmclv.com) in Las Vegas. 'I don't know any dealers who are thrilled with it,' he adds.
For its part, GM continually is tweaking the system to be more user-friendly. More changes are on the way in the third quarter.
So where's the rub? Consultants suggest a disconnect is occurring as manufacturers roll out increasingly high-tech features to dealers struggling to keep pace. Complicating the picture is that many of GM's 7,700 U.S. stores use outdated equipment. And technology investments are lagging.
Dealership e-commerce and training consultant Paul Montessoro, president of Paladen On-Line of Boerne, Texas, believes the digital divide is causing a huge cultural shift in brick-and-mortar dealerships.
'Dealers didn't see the OEMs step up to technology early in the process. Now there's a high degree of change. It's requiring dealers to become literate in e-commerce fast and that scares them,' he says. 'It's change on top of change.'
E-commerce consultants estimate that perhaps 80 percent of industry dealers are using older 286 and 386 Pentium processors with slower modems. Wiring and equipping small-to-medium volume stores with high-speed 700 megahertz and above systems can run more than $250,000.
Bob Muiter, 49, GM's distribution director for vehicle sales, service and marketing, says a transition is occurring as dealers learn they must move from an old computer environment to high-speed digital and Windows-based technology.
Dealers under pressure
Dealers such as Hendrick Chevrolet, which has 75 employees, are pedaling hard to come up to e-speed.
Hendrick is part of the 60-chain Hendrick Automotive Group (hendrickauto.com). In January it took over Timmers Chevrolet of Norcross, which had shared one computer in sales. By June, Hendrick had installed 13 new Windows 2000 Pentium2 NT systems, which networked with the Hendrick group. It also added five PC stations, voice mail and pagers for an undisclosed cost.
Pete Kelly, 44, Hendrick Chevrolet's general manager, says the first month was like 'stepping back into the 1970s.' He knows from experience that dealerships are struggling with VOMS.
'On the sales side, VOMS has been extremely limiting in what you can do,' Kelly says. 'They (GM) talk about it as a sales system, but it's really a production system. We put in what we want to order, and they give us what they build.'
Dealer Carter Myers at Colonial Auto Center in Charlottesville, Va. (colonialautocenter.com), who holds Buick, Pontiac, GMC, Cadillac, Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Suzuki franchises, says Ford and GM are taking too long to get the ordering systems right.
'With VOMS, we constantly check the constrained computer list to see why we can't get orders,' he says. 'Automakers have done a great job with manufacturing and just-in-time assembly. Manufacturing efficiency looks good, but it's wreaked havoc on the retail end. The computer hasn't helped fix it. VOMS helps the factory a great deal, but it puts tremendous pressure on dealers to turn into computer operators.'
Dealer Ed Levy at Golling Pontiac-GMC in Lake Orion, Mich., says the system has improved markedly since its launch, and the major complaint he hears is on constraints. 'The level of angst existing then is virtually nonexistent now,' says Levy, a member of GM's VOM Order-to-Delivery Dealer Advisory Board.
Myers, who also serves as vice chair of the National Automobile Dealers Association board, says GM is making progress on VOMS and listening to dealers more than in the past. 'They're moving more toward a Web-based consensus process, except for VOMS ordering. They need to move it all to the Web' for easier access, he says. Some dealers agree additional factory training would help the situation. But the question is: Who pays?
ADP-owned Sandy Corp., GM's Troy, Mich., training consultancy, coaches new dealerships or those having significant ownership changes, courtesy of GM. Dealerships otherwise stay updated on VOMS through GM's Lotus Notes bulletins, interactive distance learning broadcasts, reference manuals, CD-ROMs and computer-based training. Or they do what Hendrick Chevrolet did: Hire inside and outside training consultants. And shell out about $10,000 a month.
Lillie Guyer is project manager for the Automotive News Information Technology section. She can be reached at [email protected]