About a year and a half ago it seemed I couldn't turn on the TV without people of all ages and races asking, "Are you ready?" Ready for what?

After a while (all right, a long while), it dawned on me that these smug people from around the world were asking me if I am ready for the Internet. Asking if I'm prepared to take advantage of a technology that would change my life forever. Yeah, rrrrright. The Internet is fun, but changing people's lives? C'mon! It's just another fun fad. Like CB radios in the '70s. "You've got mail, good buddy." "That a 10-4.com."

Admit it, back in 1997 I'll bet you agreed with me. That is until you made it to the 1998 NADA convention in New Orleans or the 1999 NADA convention in San Francisco and ran smack into THE WEB. From seemingly out of nowhere the Internet was everywhere at NADA. You couldn't throw a stone without hitting big flashy booths, big billboards, big bus banners and big-deal press conferences all trumpeting the power of the Internet to sell more new and used cars and trucks.

I'll bet many dealers thought there was TOO much hype and information about the Internet for the average non techno-geek person to absorb. And, the fact is, there was! But we can't blame the messenger.

Internet technology and all its applications are growing faster than most of us can ever totally understand. You can't pick up a newspaper or industry publication today without reading about the latest Internet product or service. In just the last six months, I have used the Internet to buy countless birthday, Mother's Day and Christmas gifts; to invest in the stock market; to bid on assorted items over Internet auctions; and even "look' for a new car.

This was accomplished by a Baby Boomer who thought technology had reached its zenith with the introduction of TV remotes and microwave ovens. Yup, I think it is safe to say the Internet has indeed changed my life, both personally and professionally. Industry experts think its impact on automotive retailing will be just as dramatic.

"Almost half of consumers surveyed say they may use the Internet when shopping for their next vehicle. That includes people who today do not have online access." - Associated Press. "Within two years one out of four customers will buy a car via the Internet." - Chrysler Corp. "40% of new-car buyers used the net for help in the shopping process in 1998. That compares with 26% of all buyers of late-model used vehicles (1994 model year or newer)." - J.D. Power & Assoc.

"The number of used cars researched or bought via the Internet will reach 17 million in 2003, up from 4.2 million in 1998." - Forrester Research.

"Some dealers see it as an opportunity. Some see it as a threat. I think it's definitely the wave of the future." - Dennis Virag, president, Automotive Consulting Group.

"Internet agents are invading many other parts of the shopping experience. They are now threatening one of the auto industry's most profitable areas - finance." - Tony King, Boston Consulting Group.

"Although today less than 1% of auto loan applications are taken online, that number could jump to 40% by 2005." - A Killen & Assoc. study.

"Internet shoppers need expediters, not high-ballers who only want to pump up their commissions. It takes training to change this thinking, and dealers who fail to handle Internet leads properly will have deep trouble." - Tom Vann, owner Hillsdale (MI) Chrysler-Plymouth.

Steve Walker was a television news reporter, anchor and executive producer for 12 years before joining ASTN in 1988. Contact Steve at swalker@pwpl.com.