October 30, 2003, 12:00 AM

Driving car sales into the 21st century

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BuyPower averages more than 1.5 million visits and more than 3.5 million dealer inventory searches per month. That traffic generates more than 1 million annual Internet sales leads for dealers and helped GM sell more than 200,000 vehicles in 2002.

The online advertising campaign, dubbed “Prepared,” is running on several major automotive web sites. Banner ads show how BuyPower helps consumers become better prepared to shop for and purchase a vehicle.

A corresponding sweepstakes ran in September on NetZero.com’s consumer automotive portal. Shoppers could enter to win a new GM car or truck.

Dealers say they are pleased with GM’s changes to the web site and new interactive retailing strategy. “There are 25 GM dealers in my metropolitan area. If BuyPower helps direct leads my way, I consider that to be a great marketing advantage,” says Bill Krouse, vice president and general manager of Polar Chevrolet in White Bear Lake, Minn.



A co-operative Ford/dealer web strategy

Many dealers describe their interaction with automotive manufacturers as a love-hate relationship, but Ford Motor Co. is giving dealers a reason to love the home office: a national web site that delivers serious sales leads.

Almost three years ago, Ford took its dealer relations council’s advice and formed a joint venture, FordDirect, to showcase new make and model information and generate Internet leads for local dealers. The company has a separate administrative and marketing staff, and uses Ford’s advanced customer relationship management technology to send detailed Internet sales leads and vehicle purchase summaries to FordDirect dealers.

Both dealers and Ford consider the joint venture a success. Each month, more than 3.5 million unique visitors log on to FordDirect.com to research inventory or prices and find a dealer near them with the vehicle in stock. That traffic is helping Ford and a network of 3,500 FordDirect dealers sell more than 160,000 new cars each year.

“We are capturing the Internet channel with the help of the dealer,” says Steve St. Andre, president and chief operating officer of FordDirect. “It’s a sales win for both sides.”

In the volatile automotive business, dealers often are at odds with manufacturers on business issues such as the controversy over manufacturers selling cars directly through factory stores or Internet sites.

But because dealers own 80% of FordDirect and exercise considerable clout in managing the company, Ford dealers say their joint venture is proof that retailers and manufacturers can work together.

“This is the first automotive dealer/manufacturer joint venture, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to make it work,” says Bill Keith, vice president and general manager of Freehold Ford, Freehold, N.J., and FordDirect chairman. “The Internet holds great promise to market and sell cars, and FordDirect intends to build on that promise.”



Chrysler takes the portal route

DaimlerChrysler Corp. may be the smallest of the Big Three automotive manufacturers, but that isn’t stopping the company from launching big Internet sales lead generation plans for its Chrysler Group dealers.

Beginning this fall, about 4,300 Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge dealers will be able to utilize DealerCONNECT, a company web portal, to access all localized Internet leads from a single online source. Most U.S. dealers are already connected to the portal, while dealers in Canada and Mexico are to be added by December.

Like other big automotive manufacturers, DaimlerChrysler operates multiple web sites and external links to third-party research sites such as Edmunds.com and Yahoo’s vehicle research portal. Previously, dealers had to download the leads from separate sources.

Now all leads will be sorted, packaged and delivered to individual dealers through DealerCONNECT. That includes all e-mail and phone inquiries coming into DaimlerChrysler from toll-free numbers listed on its corporate web site and others.

The dealers receive more than 2.1 million Internet leads each year from DaimlerChrysler, so having the leads customized and easily accessible through a company intranet will help dealers initiate and close more web sales.

Dealers also can use other applications on DealerCONNECT to download marketing, advertising and promotional materials and to create custom e-mail campaigns.

“E-business solutions at the Chrysler Group are designed to enhance the shopping and vehicle ownership process between our dealers and customers,” says Christine MacKenzie, vice president of dealer operations for the Chrysler Group. “DealerCONNECT improves the speed and effectiveness of factory-to-dealer communications.”

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