Then again, I’m not so young. I’m a bit grayer than I was five years ago when Ward’s began its e-100, the industry’s first ranking of dealerships based on Internet-related sales. The gray, I suspect, is due in part to the last minute deluge of submission forms that require processing.

As I put together the ranking, the one question I ask each year is, “Will anyone catch Dave Smith Motors?” After four consecutive years in the No.1 spot, it is a safe bet to say “Not in the near future.” And in Idaho, of all places.

Ward’s developed its e-100 ranking in a bet the Internet would become an integral part of dealership operations. History has proven us right. But in all honesty, it was our readers who alerted us to the growing importance of the Web.

The ranking highlights what’s going on in the industry. It’s always good to see the competition among the Internet directors – and there is plenty of it. But I’ll let you in on a secret: competition among the vendors is even more intense. They all want to lay claim to having the most e-dealers as their clients.

We realize, as with any ranking of this sort, there is room for criticism. The most common complaint: not all dealers count Internet sales the same way.

Ward’s always has defined an Internet sale as one in which the customer contact begins online and is managed by a dedicated Internet department – with the understanding that eventually the customer goes offline to complete the purchase.

Some dealers, not many, do not include the phone leads the Web generates (as when a shopper gets a phone number from a dealership or third-party website). Galpin Motors Inc. in North Hills, CA, doesn’t count such phone calls because owner Bert Boeckmann believes the brand is so strong, people go to the website just to get the phone number.

Ward’s, however, believes the phone is an important tool and should not be discounted. The listings on used-car sites such as Cars.com and AutoTrader.com generate much more phone traffic than e-mails for dealerships. We consider, as do most dealers, those leads to be Internet-driven.

The Ward’s e-Dealer 100 goes beyond merely ranking dealerships. We use the ranking to uncover those dealers who are stretching the boundaries and creating clever and ingenious ways to use the Web to help them sell more cars and make more money. Some dealers are further along in the process, while others develop strategies based on their culture and needs.

Basing the ranking only on sales initiated by e-mail leads or online purchase requests would fail to tell the entire story.

Ward’s is convinced the Internet should encompass all facets of the dealership. Today, a good Internet manager is at the nexus of everything that goes on in the store.

Internet managers can aid their dealerships by creating e-mail databases to help the service departments and body shops generate more customers. They also can create more traffic for the showroom and develop the Internet-lead management system to be more of a customer relationship management program for the rest of the dealership.

O.K., it’s easy for us to say what to do. We get to sit here in our ivory tower (actually, it’s brown) and dispense advice. But it originates from those dealers who appear on the Ward’s e-Dealer 100 year after year. We’re just telling you what they tell us.

cbanks@primediabusiness.com