A study of 100 dealers indicates that hundreds of millions of dollars of information tech-nology equipment and capabilities go unused at dealerships across the country.

Only 28% of the retailers surveyed say they utilize 80-100% of their computer system's capabilities, according to the study commissioned by the EDS Automotive Retail Group.

Last year, 55% of the dealers questioned said they were utilizing 80-100% of their computer capacity.

This year, some 57% say they use between 40% and 79% of their computing capability. Last year 41% said their computer utilization was in that range.

Another 11% in the new poll say they're using between 20-39% of their computing capability, up from 4% last year.

EDS estimates the wasted information technology in the automotive retail industry at between $184.9 million-$335.9 million.

The problem is traceable to employee training and turnover, says Matt Parsons, marketing manager of EDS' Automotive Retail Group.

He says computer users generally retain 30-40% of the training they receive. Factoring in the high level of personnel turnover at dealerships, Mr. Parsons estimates that in a matter of a year or two, only 5% of the original training is being utilized.

"We need to change the training model," says Mr. Parsons. "We need to deliver it to the person's desk top and infuse it into their work flow."

He also says dealers themselves need to be more aware of what their systems can do so as to fully utilize their investment in technology.

Other findings from the EDS infor-mation technology survey include:

* Dealers are slightly less satisfied with the performance of their computer systems than they were last year. On a 1-5 scale, dealers in 1998 were 3.61 satisfied. In the 1999 survey, they were 3.19 satisfied.

* Only 5% of dealers are "very satisfied" with the overall price and value of their IT system. Last year, 26% were "very satisfied."

Seventy-six percent, however, say they are either "somewhat satisfied" or "satisfied" with the price and value of their computer system. That's a 10% improvement over last year.

"As a whole, dealers are at least somewhat satisfied with their systems," says Mr. Parsons. "But we believe that dealers are seeing advances in other industries and would like to be able to follow suit."

* 52% of dealers use between one and three third-party Internet services. 27% use none. Only 4% use more than six independent Internet service providers.

* 68% of dealers have personnel dedicated to Internet sales, a slight drop from last year's 76% response.

"It's impossible to take a traditional sales person and re-tool them for Internet sales," says Mr. Parsons. "They end up treating them like a traditional walk-up customer instead of people who are armed with information."

A big change from last year's survey is how quickly dealerships respond to Internet sales inquiries.

In 1998, only 6% of dealers said they responded to Internet inquiries in an hour or less. In 1999, that figure had leapt to 51%. Of the 51%, 76% say they respond in less than 30 minutes.

"This is a very good sign," says Mr. Parsons.

It's also indicative of how dealers are perceiving the Internet.

Says dealer Toby Wells of Southern Pines, NC, "Two years ago, the question was, 'What's the Internet?'

"Last year it was, 'O.K. I know what it is, now what?'

"This year it's, 'So how do I make money off it?'"