If roads could be built as quickly as the information superhighway, there would neber be a traffic jam or a pot hole. What was once a figurative little dirt trail where scientists and professors exchanged information with the federal government has been paved with thousands of lanes connecting exit ramps literally around the world.
Not surprisingly, the automative industry is beginning to take full advantage of this popular information port with untold potential. Nearly every automaker lurks, ready to grab cyber surfers and dazzle them with slick ads and other product information. And automotive supplier sites are popping up daily, although with less of a clear-cut, collective objective.
Suppliers such as GE Plastics are going after customers and potential customers with highly technical product information. Others, including Siemens Automotive and United Technologies Automotive, are there to build image or supply information to the media.
"We get just about all positive feedback," says Joyce Ruppert, manager of information programs for GE Plastics, about her company's Internet site. The site offers a product database of GE Plastics' materials, design and processing guides and a "Tech Tip of the Week," covering issues such as testing, coring, ultrasonic welding and various failure analyses.
"We thought it (usage) would be dominated by education groups," says Ms. Rupert. "But 60% to 70% of the users are commercial." She adds that 75% to 80% of the users who fill in the on-line survey are molders, automakers and design consultants. Some 1,300 to 1,400 visit GE Plastics' web site every day.
Between 230 and 450 people visit UTA's home page each day, says Michael Scholl, manager of public relations. The web site offers users company background, biographies of key personnel, news releases, news about employment opportunities and product and technology information. To date the UTA home page has host-ed visitors from The Netherlands, Finland, Germany, the United Kingdom and numerous automakers and other suppliers.
"We want to be able to offer people in the industry day or nigh access to information about UTA," explains Mr. Scholl who says his initial target audience was media. "We're going to put more of the technical stuff on the site eventually."
Developing a home page on the Internet can be a costly venture, from $50,000 to $1 million, depending on the complexity of the graphics and the amount of information presented, says one source. UTA saved money by developing the presentation internally. "That is unusual," related Mr. Scholl. "Most people don't have that capability." The extent of UTA's Internet investment is a modest annual registration fee and $3,000 to $5,000 for a dedicated 486 desktop computer.
Other suppliers are strictly on the Internet as either a service to consumers or to build name recognition of the company in the general public.
Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., for instance offers corporate news, new product information, tire-care tips and a calendar of blimp appearances. It's here that you learn that there will be two Goodyear airships at the Indianapolis 500.
Siemens Automotive is part of Siemens Corp.'s $200,000 to $250,000 Internet effort. Siemens' plan is to create name and brand awareness among the American public. All 18 of Siemens' U.S. business units are represented on the site, which offers recent press releases, company background and basic product information.
Spokesman David Ladd says the site is experimental and that "we don't have a lock on who's using it." He does relate a story about a call he received from a member of the trade press who asked for information about a new product announcement on the site.
Small suppliers as well as large are setting up shop on the information superhighway. Lesser known vendors on the Internet include McMahon Steel Supply Co., Maxima Plastics, Autotech, Old Line Plastics Inc. and numerous small machine tool shops.
If there is a downside to suppliers on the Internet, it's in trying to find them. Suppliers rarely show up in standard search engines provided by America On-Line, Compuserve and Prodigy. The best bet for finding a specific supplier is typing in the name of a particular company. If it's there, you'll find it. If not, perhaps the company is stuck in a traffic jam.