Two public dealership groups are testing the use of touch-pad tablets in their service drives, giving customers more transparency into service repairs.
Lithia Motors Inc. and Penske Automotive Group Inc. expect the tablets to increase efficiency and improve customer service.
"The transparency is really the key," says Ron Stoner, Lithia's vice president of fixed operations. "The technician can take a photo of what's wrong with a car, then e-mail it to the customer's e-mail. That allows the customer to forward that e-mail and photo to someone else for a second opinion. The more you gain a customer's trust, you keep that customer."
The tablets that Lithia and Penske are testing are integrated with their stores' dealership management systems. A service adviser uses a tablet to scan the customer's vehicle identification number to bring up the repair history. The service adviser inspects the vehicle in the service drive and prepares a repair order on the tablet, using it to show options and price estimates to the customer. A technician can use a tablet to take photos of faulty parts in need of repair and electronically send the photos to the customer.
"At some point, we'd like to get it to where we're using it for sales, too, and all our inventory is on it. But we're not there yet," says Tony Pordon, Penske's executive vice president of investor relations and corporate development.
Penske started testing the service tablets in February at five of its stores, Pordon says.
"You want to increase your efficiency and not have your customer having to run inside, stand at a service desk, then run and print something out. That's the old way of doing it," Pordon says.
Penske, of suburban Detroit, ranks No. 2 on the Automotive News list of the top 125 dealership groups in the United States with retail sales of 154,829 new vehicles in 2011.
Lithia launched its test in November at Seattle BMW, Stoner says. Lithia expects to evaluate the test results in May.
Lithia, of Medford, Ore., is ninth on the list of the top dealership groups with retail sales of 44,537 new vehicles last year.