Bell & Howell is helping approximately 1,500 General Motors dealerships lose their old-fashioned microfiche parts catalogs by putting the parts numbers on line. Eventually, even the higher-tech compact disc and DVD parts catalogs may be replaced by the Internet-based catalog.

“We're trying to penetrate all segments of the market to give smaller dealers the ability to get away from microfiche,” explains Milton Revmatas, senior product manager at Bell & Howell, which hosts the site at its facility in Richfield, OH. “Microfiche will, some day, eventually be eliminated.”

The company's Internet Electronic Parts Catalog for GM will allow dealership service and parts personnel to quickly identify the correct parts needed for vehicle repairs using a standard web browser like Explorer or Netscape. Subscriptions to the service start at about $60 per month.

“You can do a parts look-up in seconds,” says Mr. Revmatas. “With microfiche you have to go physically to your stack, pull it out of the sleeve and put it in the microfiche reader.

“There are plenty of dealers who use microfiche today,” he continues. “If they want to look up a part for a 1990 Chevy Camero, they have to pull that specific microfiche out, put it in the reader and then scan the different pages to get to the specific area of the catalog.”

Once the dealership finds the part it needs on line, it goes to its usual sources to acquire the part. Already, time is being saved. Yet, true time saving and part acquisition streamlining will come when the on-line parts catalogs are integrated with the in-house dealer management systems and the sources of the parts themselves. All of these advancements are in the works, says Mr. Revmatas.

“In July, dealers will be able to enter a VIN, and the catalog shows parts that apply to that vehicle to minimize errors,” he says.

Bell & Howell's CD and DVD parts catalogs already are integrated with the store's DMS. The on-line system could be integrated in six months.

“Our current turn-key product integrates with over 70 dealer management systems,” Mr. Revmatas says. “We aren't doing that with the Internet EPC yet. The integration with the in-house system with the Internet EPC is coming in the future.”

He adds that Bell & Howell will continue to add more features to the on-line parts catalog as time goes by, including linking it with the delivery mechanism so dealership personnel can point and click and wait for the part to arrive.

“It's difficult to say when that might happen,” says Mr. Revmatas. “There are a lot of variables there. As technology moves forward and the pipeline is broken in terms of speed so that you have that instant response, as the infrastructure improves in dealerships, I can see this someday in the future replacing CD and DVD media. It's definitely not here today.”

In the meantime, low-volume parts dealers still using microfiche parts catalogs can expect to improve the speed in which they identify the proper parts for repairs at a relatively low cost.

“We built the Internet EPC for GM with minimal requirements,” Mr. Revmatas says. “We recommend minimum 28.8 modem, but most of the standards today are 54. It's usable and we built it with that in mind. The requirements are so simple they could use the product with a phone modem.

“The Internet EPC is a low-cost, value based solution for the microfiche community, but that doesn't mean that any dealer can't use it. Any GM franchised dealer in the world could subscribe to this.”