Thursday, May 27, 2010

Can the iPad Revolutionize Auto Sales?

There is always that moment in the car dealership when the customer, seated in the potential new purchase, is pulled from the vehicle and led to a cubicle only to sit and watch as information is slowly entered on a desktop computer.

A new approach, being tested by Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz dealerships starting this week, aims to keep shoppers near the car rather than in a cubicle by letting dealers access information from Apple Inc.’s iPad. Mercedes-Benz Financial, which provides loans and leases, will equip 40 dealerships with an iPad loaded with its MB Advantage application. Dealers can use the application to see the latest discounts and begin the credit application process.

“We wanted to bring the mobile revolution into the dealership,” Andreas Hinrichs, vice president of marketing, said in an interview. “The iPad is consumer centric but there is a business side to it as well.”

Under the pilot program, dealers enter the vehicle identification number of the car the shopper is looking at and find which rebates or discounts are available. They can also begin the credit application process for a new customer or already have the information available for a returning shopper. On the leasing side, dealers can use the iPad to enter the condition of the returned vehicle while the customer watches, providing more transparency in the process.

“When someone came in we would go out with a pad and a pencil and scribble down all the problems, like a scratch here or a dent there and then go back to the desk and enter everything in the computer,” said Bernie Moreno, owner of Mercedes-Benz of North Olmsted, Ohio, who is already using his own iPad on a limited basis to handle leased vehicles.

Moreno, who will be among the dealers in the pilot program, has connected his desktop to the iPad, which he now carries with him outside when the customer arrives. “Now I can do it all right in front of the customer and it just gives us more of a sense of credibility,” Moreno said.

If successful, Mercedes-Benz Financial may distribute iPads to all of its 350 U.S. dealers.