LOS ANGELES Mazda North American Operations will change its Web site this year with the aim of getting customers into vehicles a lot faster.
According to a dealer source, Mazda will link the build your car feature on the companys consumer Web site to dealer inventories in the customers vicinity. The closest matches to the customers vehicle choice, cross-referenced with dealers closest to the customer, will be listed on the site.
After customers pick the vehicles they would like to test drive, they can use the site to schedule appointments with dealers.
The hope is that when a customer arrives at a dealership, the car will be ready and the salesman will be aware of the customers desires.
David Matthew, Mazdas manager of Internet marketing, said the system will be installed as a patch on the Web site and dealers should not have to buy additional software. Current Web site work is performed by Dimension Data.
The new system, by making appointments rather than just generating leads, marks a proactive effort by Mazda to get customers into a dealership.
Charlie Hughes, CEO of Mazda North American Operations, said the program is aimed at the 70 percent of Mazda buyers who use the Internet for an average of five hours of research before entering a dealership.
We want the salesman to help the customer make the vehicle purchase, rather than spend the first half hour qualifying what each other knows, Hughes said.
Hughes wants dealers to take the Internet more seriously in the sales and service areas and spend accordingly on training.
The game here is how to harness the five hours of homework a customer has done so that the customer is working together with the salesperson, said Harry Mehterian, general manager of Don Kott Mazda-Kia in Carson, Calif., a store owned by Sonic Automotive.
Six dealers have been involved in planning the program, and three are piloting it. Hughes declined to identify them.
Although the profit for stand-alone Mazda stores has doubled this year, it remains below the National Automobile Dealers Association average. According to the 2001 J.D. Power and Associates Dealer Attitude Study, Mazda dealers grossed $1,110 per vehicle before finance and insurance income, the second worst in the industry after Daewoo.
Were being modest about this with our dealers, Hughes said. Its not like were Honda and can say, OK, this is what you are building.