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Auto dealers make e-mail shoppers wait

March 19, 2002

Attention online car shoppers: Unless you live near a dealership and offer more information than just your name, count on waiting up to eight hours to get your questions answered.

In a sign that the Internet might be losing its sales luster, more dealership owners are allowing e-mails from potential customers to sit unopened longer than they did in 1999. Owners also are more skeptical of ``car buying leads'' supplied by independent online car selling businesses such as, a survey released Tuesday indicates.

Forty-three percent of the 100 U.S. dealership owners interviewed said they took as long as eight hours in 2001 to respond to e-mail questions about buying a car, according to a survey by Electronic Data Systems Inc.'s Automotive Retail Group based in Troy, Mich.

In 1999, more than half the owners responded to e-mails in less than an hour.

Forty dealership owners also said they rate the quality of leads from third-party sources as poor or very poor. In 1999, most rated the leads as average or above average.

Wesley Lutz, owner of the Extreme Dodge dealership in Jackson, Mich., said dealers have learned that unless the customer is from the area and is serious enough to leave a name and a telephone number, chances are it isn't worth pursuing.

``What am I going to do with someone who e-mails me from Kansas,'' Lutz asked.

Lisa Uhl, AutoTrader's director of corporate communications, said car selling is a price game and AutoTrader provides the matchmaking mechanism to link dealerships and customers.

``We give the customers and dealers an equal playing field. We also give dealers tools to track their advertising,'' she said.

Uhl said dealership owners might be frustrated that customers are using the Internet to ask five dealers for quotes but only going with one.

AutoTrader said 7,000 dealerships use its services nationwide.

By Jeff Bennett, Detroit Free Press. Copyright © 2001 siliconvalley and wire service sources.


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