It wasn't too long ago that a lot of people were predicting the demise of the automobile dealer in America.
They were convinced that the Internet was about to revolutionize the retail business and that all of us would be buying everything on the Internet.
Even some automobile companies believed that the independent dealer would fade away.
In addition, some people thought the automakers would conduct online reverse auctions, with suppliers bidding ever lower prices for everything that goes into a vehicle.
Well, we all know that the dealer thrived, and the supplier auction died a hasty death. The Internet might work well for selecting and ordering books, but it didn't work very well for buying a car.
A lot has changed since the heady days of the Internet bubble.
The retail automobile dealer is alive and well, and the Internet is everywhere, performing a quite different function from those overblown predictions.
Today, consumers are far better informed than ever before. Not only do they know more about the product, they know more about the dealership. They learned it on the Internet.
The Internet has become a great informational tool for the automobile industry and the consumer.
Today's consumer can find out everything about a new car, including the invoice price and the average transaction price in the area.
The dealer can communicate with the customer on the Internet and use the Internet and e-mail as a low-cost medium to alert the customer about sales and service opportunities.
But the face-to-face relationship endures. No one has found a substitute for the one-on-one interaction in an automobile dealership. Whether it's talking with a service writer, who figures out the customer's problems, or a parts manager, who finds the part the customer needs, most of the activities in a dealership still involve people dealing with people.
Just as he or she has for 100 years, the automobile dealer is changing. And the dealer will continue to change as technology evolves. But the personal relationships will always be an important part of the car business. That's what makes this business special, and that's what will keep this business special.