When Apple Inc. came out with its innovative iPad this year, Mercedes-Benz Financial quickly saw how the device could benefit auto dealers and their customers.

Consequently, the firm has become the first automotive captive finance firm to equip dealerships with the tablet computers, providing mobile access to a proprietary point-of-sale system called MB Advantage.

So far, 40 Mercedes dealers in the U.S. are using the mobile devices to offer easier access to marketing programs for specific vehicle models, faster responses to credit applications and more efficient return of leased vehicles.

The ultimate goal is to provide iPads to finance and insurance staffers at all 350 Mercedes stores in the nation.

“We see the iPad providing wireless mobility, information and flexibility on the showroom floor,” say Andreas Hinrichs, Mercedes Financial vice president-marketing. “The iPad will provide a competitive advantage to our dealers by increasing their service levels through a more flexible financing process.”

He says the size and versatility of the computer tablets make them compatible to access MB Advantage and to make the dealer system more mobile throughout the dealership.

“Instead of pulling a customer into the F&I office to look at something on a computer terminal there, dealership people can use the iPads anywhere,” says Mercedes Financial spokesman Jack Ferry.

It is part of the captive lender's mobile strategy that began in October with a novel program that lets customers make lease and loan payments from smart phones. The firm has collected 5,000 payments totalling $3.6 million that way.

Then came an enhancement in March that lets people manage their Mercedes Financial accounts from their mobile devices. That has resulted in more than 2,000 payments totaling $1.5 million.

The firm currently is monitoring iPad usage at the selected dealerships and collecting feedback from dealers and the field staff.

From that feedback, Mercedes Financial will make potential improvements to the MB Advantage's iPad application before putting the devices in the hands of all Mercedes dealers later this year.

A dealer currently using the mobile system says it helps customer relations. “The iPad with MB Advantage gives us tremendous credibility with our clients,” says Bernie Moreno, president of Mercedes-Benz of North Olmsted, OH.