Toyota Motor Sales is assembling what it expects to be the largest virtual network in the automotive industry — Dealer Daily.

Once this new system is installed and operating in most Toyota and Lexus dealerships, the manufacturer expects to use it for the bulk of its dealer communications, which will eliminate reams of paper and, as the system develops, save time and money.

Dealer Daily will replace the company's current Toyota Dealer Network, which is 20 years old.

Lexus dealers got the system first, since the new Lexus LS430 is the first vehicle designed to be programmed by using Dealer Daily downloads.

Installation of the MCI-UUNet dedicated line and necessary circuitry began last summer. Because the system also requires a local area network (LAN) within the dealership, reviews of current dealership infrastructure as well as plans to install or upgrade existing LANs currently are underway.

“Some dealers had to start from scratch,” says Irv Miller, vice president in charge of Toyota's Office of the Web. Now, all but 10 of the 190 Lexus dealers have the hardware in place. The only hurdles for the other 10 dealers are technical issues with local phone companies.

About 300 of 1,200 Toyota dealers now are installing and testing Dealer Daily. By the end of 2001, Toyota expects 800-850 dealers to be using the system, which in its early stages is limited to parts ordering and warranty submissions.

Mark Miller Toyota in Salt Lake City, UT, installed Dealer Daily nine months ago. At first, only the parts department used it.

“We used it for all ordering and returns,” says Rob Merrill, the dealer-ship's parts manager and information technology manager. “It's faster than TDN and easier to use. Ninety percent of the work is done on one screen.”

Mr. Merrill estimates that Dealer Daily saves him 10 to 15 minutes per day in the parts department alone. Features added since save him even more time, such as the on-line claims for damaged and missing parts, which used to be written out by hand. “That has saved me hours,” he says.

Other parts-related content added to the Mark Miller Toyota system over time included the ability to order dealer support materials like sales brochures and owners' manuals.

Today's Dealer Daily is a mere appetizer compared to the feast that is on the horizon, says Mr. Miller. “It'll be rolling out gradually, but we're going to continue to add content.”

“Some dealers had to start from scratch.”
— Irv Miller, Vice President External Affairs, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

That content eventually will include automated F&I forms, an inventory management and vehicle ordering component, on-line training, a virtual trade area for dealers to help find vehicles for customers at other stores and a customer relationship management (CRM) section.

The Miller dealership already is filing warranty claims and financial statements on line. Dealer Daily also has tools for employee records, customer satisfaction and accessing recall information.

Perhaps the greatest benefits of Dealer Daily come to the service department, where, one day, technicians will be able to access instant service bulletins and repair manuals for every model and year of Toyota and Lexus vehicles. Parts catalogs also will be updated much more quickly than before.

Then there's that capability to re-program vehicles on-board computers, which saves the time and cost of replacing modules. Most of Dealer Daily's content will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Dealers will be charged a monthly fee that will range from $700 to $1,800 per month. “It's going to cost more than what they pay now, but they'll be getting a much better value,” says Mr. Miller, the Toyota executive.

“The initial response from the dealers was ‘why change something that was working so well?’” he says. “There are huge efficiencies at the dealership. The dealers who are using it now say they're already seeing huge efficiencies. There will be a significant number of human resource man-hours that can be eliminated. Pilots are going exceedingly well.”

The true beauty of Dealer Daily will be evident when it integrates with a store's dealer management system (DMS). That, for example, would eliminate the need for double entry of data.

“A huge hurdle has been the interface between us and the DMS providers,” says Mr. Miller.

Major system providers have agreed to help make that happen. “Then we go from tricycle to Harley,” he says.

Adds Mr. Merrill, “If I had an interface with the DMS, I'd be jumping for joy.”

Will there be a day when the Dealer Daily can manage the entire customer experience from the time he or she walks in, through the sale and into the service department, and onto the trade in and the next purchase?

“That is the direction we're heading, as soon as possible, but I'm not going to sit here and tell you when that's going to happen,” says Mr. Miller.