Like other dealer Web sites, AutoNation's dealer Web sites being tested in Atlanta allows shoppers to browse vehicle inventory, select a vehicle, schedule test drives, obtain a no-haggle price quote and apply for credit.
But the process differs from typical online auto shopping in three critical ways. The customer can:
1. Complete the financing process and schedule payments online.
2. Trade in a vehicle on the Web through a transaction that is separate from the vehicle purchase.
3. Choose to pick up the vehicle from a dealership or arrange home delivery.
Since the program was launched in July, AutoNation says, it has received 200 to 300 inquiries a month.
In the past 30 days, AutoNation says, it has sold one car a day completely online in Atlanta.
"As the pilot builds, we expect that to increase," says AutoNation spokesman Marc Cannon.
AutoNation Direct provides a firm trade-in value and a firm purchase price on a specific vehicle reserved for the customer.
Cannon says the company is using the pilot to develop processes for handling customers who owe more than their trade-in is worth and customers who have poor credit.
The AutoNation program still faces other serious hurdles. For example, it will have to comply with various state laws, such as mandatory waivers that buyers must sign to verify that they were not coerced.
Sid DeBoer, CEO of Lithia Motors Inc., says Lithia also is testing start-to-finish e-car sales at its used-car dealership, L2 Auto, in Denver. But he says AutoNation's pilot is more advanced.
Lithia's site does not offer home delivery, but the store would ship a vehicle at the customer's request, he says. And Lithia's test involves just one store, although it intends eventually to roll out the program to all of its used- and new-car dealerships, DeBoer says.