Apple Computer's iPad tablet computer has been on the market for barely six months, and luxury brands already are incorporating it into their retail sales, delivery, service and finance operations.
Most recently, Acura announced that a stripped-down version of its consumer Web site will be turned into an iPad application to help dealership staff speed up the selling process.
Instead of a detail-rich consumer site, a salesperson's iPad version distills talking points and provides quick videos to help make the sale, said Dave Heath, Acura senior manager of sales communications.
"These are short little bits of communications," Heath said. "No customer is going to wait 30 seconds for a video to load."
Acura was working on a smart-phone application for salespeople but realized that the small screen -- and the need for personal space between the salesperson and customer -- would render the app useless, Heath said.
The larger iPad is a different matter. Simple navigation and large drop-down menus mean salespeople can navigate the app while walking and talking with customers. A section for post-sale vehicle delivery is part of the software. The app will be online in January.
"The app helps the salesman explain things you can't see, like 'Super Handling All-Wheel Drive' or the 'ACE' body structure, in a customer-friendly way," Heath said. "It's about assisting, not taking over, the sales process. It's to the point. It's not about making the dot-com site mobile."
Heath said an iPad application for the finance department is being developed to explain the F&I process. Apps also are being developed for service managers to explain such matters as why brake rotors need to be replaced.
Audi has developed an iPad application for the A8 flagship, which goes on sale Nov. 17.
A8 shoppers can use the iPad to view features and configure a car. Special iPad areas have been set up in 115 Audi dealerships, alongside the paint and leather samples.
"It is a little bit of dealer theater," said Johan de Nysschen, president of Audi of America.
Audi also will use the iPad to walk a customer through the car's features at delivery time.
Audi expects to use the iPad for other applications, such as syncing a mobile device with the car and optimizing the car's entertainment system, said Scott Keogh, chief marketing officer.
De Nysschen said iPad applications eventually will be available for all Audi models.
Hyundai Motor America is taking the iPad to another level, giving one to any customer who purchases an Equus luxury sedan. The iPad will be a virtual owner's manual and the key way to communicate with the dealership when service is needed.