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Internet has changed game for motor vehicle buyers and sellers

By Mark Glover
The Sacramento Bee

Face-to-face car selling has evolved into something resembling speed dating. According to numerous industry sources, a typical car-buying experience can be done in as little as two hours, including the trip to the finance office and signing all required documents.

As it has with so many industries, the Internet has changed everything.

Consumers who once had little to work with beyond the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, or MSRP, and other basics listed on a vehicle’s window sticker now have oceans of data available to them via car sites such as Edmunds.com, Cars.com and AutoTrader.com. Prospective car buyers can easily obtain MSRPs on any vehicle, along with the invoice price, exhaustive lists of standard features and thousands of available options.

Today, it’s not unusual for a car buyer to walk onto a dealer lot knowing the exact motor vehicle model and features they want, right down to the exterior paint color. And they’re typically versed in just how much the dealer paid for the car.

“I would say the No. 1 change from a generation ago and now is the explosion of information available to consumers,” said Brian Maas, president of the Sacramento-based California New Car Dealers Association. “Even in just the last five years, everyone walking into a dealership has a smartphone. They can take a picture, go on the Internet, check the price on any comparable car or check out all the features, all while they’re standing there at the dealership.”

The result, Maas said, is that ultra-informed consumers have “adjusted the burden to the salesperson on the sales lot. In some cases, (the customer) is more knowledgeable than the salesperson.”

To match that kind of determination, car dealers and their sales staffs have likewise turned to technology. Using laptops and tablet computers, sales personnel regularly keep in touch with customers via email and conduct searches for specific auto models with a few quick keystrokes.

David Rodgers, senior vice president and general manager of the John L. Sullivan Automotive Group, which includes California’s John L. Sullivan Chevrolet and Roseville Toyota in the Roseville Automall, was a car salesman back in the 1980s. He remembers when the tools of the trade were “a ballpoint pen, a necktie and a (paper) notebook. Now, it’s a ballpoint pen, a polo shirt and an iPad.”

Jambert Corpus, who primarily works direct sales and leasing at ForAnyAuto’s Nissan of Elk Grove, said he is happy to work with “educated” consumers: “I think it’s very productive when the (customers) have the information and know what they want. It streamlines the process. In my experience, it makes the job easier.”

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