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Online dealerships ease process of buying autos

Get a price quote online for that Jeep Grand Cherokee you've always wanted   

July 1, 1998
Web posted at: 1:50 PM EDT

by Bob Wallace

(IDG) -- Why visit a car dealership when you can outfit your dream vehicle online and have the dealer of your choice e-mail a price quote to your home?

Chrysler Corp. this week detailed a program that will make that possible using the Internet.

In a two-state pilot program, the automaker found that this type of online price quoting led to twice the sales as that of walk-in dealership showroom traffic.

"This shows that our creating a showroom in the home works," said Rich Everett, director of strategic technologies at Chrysler in Auburn Hills, Michigan. "Consumers can get the information they need without leaving their homes."

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"This is a concept in its infancy, one that will eventually become mainstream," said Chris Denove, director of consulting at J.D. Power & Associates' retail and distribution practice in Agoura Hills, California. "But today, shoppers are using the 'net as an information tool, not as a means of avoiding dealerships. So I don't think shoppers are looking to avoid the traditional dealership process."

General Motors Corp. has a similar program, GM BuyPower, under way on the West Coast, he noted.

The Chrysler scheme pulls actual dealerships into the shopper's practice of using the Internet to gather information and choose a vehicle.

A consumer need only visit a company World Wide Web site - Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth or Jeep - and click on the "Get-A-Quote" icon. After selecting and equipping a vehicle, the customer chooses a dealer, and the setup is e-mailed there.

The dealer must respond with a price quote within 48 hours and let the consumer know if the desired vehicle is in stock or must be ordered from the factory, Everett said. Participating dealers need a PC with a browser, Internet access and a 'net-trained person to do the work.

So far in the California/Maryland pilot of the system, 29 percent of consumers who received quotes bought the vehicles, said Christine MacKenzie, manager of retail strategies at Chrysler. She wouldn't say how many consumers received quotes. A couple of thousand vehicles have been sold this way, she said.

Technology has been something of an impediment to the pilot. "Some dealers are really into it and see it as the way the world is going. But others don't want it because they're intimidated by the technology," MacKenzie said. The program, which is due to go nationwide in the fourth quarter to the automaker's highest-ranked "Five-Star" dealers, has one Dodge dealer concerned.

"Part of the selling process is selling the dealership and what it has to offer," said Charles Arbeene, general manager at MetroWest Dodge in Hudson, Massachusetts. Getting consumers into the dealership is key to that, he added. "Would I be interested in participating? I don't know yet. I need [more] details on the program," Arbeene said.

Offering the program to only its highest ranked of 4,000 dealerships might not be a good idea, Arbeene added. Chrysler is revising its Five-Star status, and only 17 percent of its dealerships have met the requirements so far. "You'd have a lot of dealers up in arms because there's more non-Five-Star dealers than there are Five-Star dealers. The program might not work," he said.

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