Dealers returning from January's NADA Con-vention in Orlando must have been reaching for the aspirin.com.

More so than in even recent years, the Internet took center stage, supported by what seemed to be a new Internet-based service announcement every five minutes. And while many have embraced the Internet as a new marketing and information channel for their dealerships, others are still sitting back and saying, "Show me the money!" So who's right? Both.

Let's put this whole scene in perspective; out of the glaring hype. Let's look at other communications medium revolutions.

Radio was thought to be the death sentence for daily newspapers. Who would possibly read information in a newspaper when they could listen to it on the turn of the century marvel - the radio? Well newspapers are still a fixture today.

When television came on the scene in the late '40s and especially the '50s, this certainly spelled the demise of radio. Who would want to waste time listening to just voice, when both picture and sound were available. Radio also survived and thrives in spite of the TV revolution of 50 years ago.

Now we are being told that the new kid on the block, the Internet, will change everything. Well, will it put newspapers, radio and television in the dustbin? Don't bet on it.

Will the Internet totally revamp the way dealers sell new cars and other dealership services? For some yes, for others it will merely represent yet another way - channel if you will - to sell to and service dealership customers.

So both the dealer embracing and focusing on Internet sales channels, and the dealer sitting back looking for someone to show him the money are, at least partially, correct in their analysis of the Internet phenomenon and how it will impact the new vehicle dealership.

Those embracing the Internet will learn how to employ this new channel and will see it take its place along side the more traditional selling models. We are unlikely to see the Internet put showroom selling out to pasture. Both can and will survive and probably prosper.

Dealer skeptics are also correct in assuming that the Internet hype is, so far, much to do about relatively small percentages of total new car sales. However, this position ignores the fact that some (OK, quite a few) dealers are very successful selling via the Internet.

However the skeptics should realize that staying behind the learning curve is bound to hurt their chances of competing in the future. Dealers out in front with thriving Internet selling departments are gaining a foothold with a new brand of customer; one that is Internet-savvy and information hungry. Those who are content to sit back and wait for this marketing channel to develop further may just wake up and find that it is too late.

The dealers with successful Internet departments and those waiting in the background both must continue to move forward into the brave new .com world - and in the new universe of the super-fast Internet, change comes at blinding speed.

By the end of 1999, an estimated 196 million Internet users were on-line worldwide. In the United States alone, an estimated 115 million will be on-line in 2000. The message is clear: get online, or suffer inevitable loss of market share!

Jim Muntz is the publisher of Auto Retailing on the Web, a monthly newsletter that explores the ever-changing Internet and its relation to automobile retailing, published by WD&S Publishing. He is also a consultant to NetGain, a new one hour live interactive program premiering on ASTN March 6.

He can be reached at www.dealersedge.com or 800.321.5312.