CHICAGO -- vAuto’s Access: Velocity conference here has been an eye-opening experience for the senior management of Cox Automotive -- formerly the AutoTrader Group -- as well as the 160 dealers who are attending by invitation only.
Executives from AutoNation, Mullinax Group and scores of other dealerships have both lauded Cox Automotive for the things it does right and pulled no punches about the things that need fixing.
At a morning session Thursday, President Sandy Schwartz admitted that Cox Automotive is still wrestling with integrating the software companies bought over the past four years, including vAuto, VinSolutions, Haystak and others.
Dealers asking questions from the audience wanted to know when Cox Automotive websites would become industry-leading. Schwartz said websites are a “pain point” for Cox Automotive and the company has made improving them a top priority.
Another attendee asked whether third-party sites, such as AutoTrader.com, were threatening to encroach upon such dealer profit centers as financing. Schwartz answered that Cox Automotive had no intention of financing loans for car buyers, only providing access on AutoTrader.com and KBB.com for shoppers to determine monthly payments and get convenient information about what they can afford.
To Cox’s credit, higher-ups in Cox Enterprises, the parent of Cox Automotive, joined Schwartz on stage, including Alex Taylor, Cox Enterprises executive vice president, and CEO John Dyer.
When they weren’t grilling Cox executives, though, dealers talked about why they are big spenders with AutoTrader.com and the company’s dealer software providers. The three-day conference ends Friday.
Brian Benstock, vice president and general manager of Paragon Honda in New York City, said vAuto’s inventory management tools, which help him buy and sell vehicles, have been instrumental in the growth of Paragon into one of the leading sellers of preowned vehicles in the nation.
Jim Schmidt Chevrolet-Buick and Jim Schmidt Ford in tiny Hicksville, Ohio, have more than doubled used-vehicle sales in the three years since the dealerships signed up with vAuto software, said Jim Yoder, the stores’ general manager.
The highlight of the conference’s first two days was a luncheon speech by Erik Weihenmayer, an outdoorsman and author who has overcome blindness to climb to the summit of Mount Everest and kayak the length of the rapids-filled Colorado River running through the Grand Canyon.
Weihenmayer inspired with tales of relying on his teams to reach his goals and implored attendees to never let adversity block dreams. His organization, No Barriers, helps people with handicaps build confidence by taking on outdoor challenges.
Conference organizer Dale Pollak, founder of vAuto, raised more than $225,000 from conference attendance to donate to the nonprofit Foundation Fighting Blindness.
Pollak lost his sight to eye disease as a young man.