Toyota and General Motors are on the right track in their efforts to make it easier for their dealers to know where ordered vehicles are and for them to more accurately say when they will arrive.
GM's VINView, launched last year, uses the OnStar embedded telematics system to enable real-time updates of the vehicle's physical location as it traverses from factory to retailer. Meanwhile, Toyota's Project ETA, which will launch this year, will send alerts to dealership personnel as the vehicle crosses milestones on its path from production through delivery.
Some automakers, notably BMW, already have well-established systems in place for customers to track their ordered vehicles, even when they cross an ocean to get to their destination. Other automakers would be wise to follow their examples quickly, if they haven't already done so, for reasons that are even more compelling than increasing customer satisfaction.
Here's why: For decades, auto dealers have dreamed of transforming their basic business model from one in which consumers buy from existing inventory to one where customers order their vehicles right from the factory, much as many do in Europe. Such a transformation would greatly reduce a dealership's carrying costs — while ensuring consumers get exactly what they want.
Now, thanks to inventory shortages that have altered consumer expectations, that transformation might be within reach. Automakers and dealers must work together to make ordering easier, more transparent and more economically advantageous to consumers than buying off the lot.