It's obviously not the only important thing happening in automotive retailing. But using the Internet to sell cars is exciting, ambitious and revolutionary.

THIS ISSUE OF WARD'S DEALER BUSINESS PRESENTS a first for the industry.

It's our premiere e-Dealer 100, a list of innovative dealerships which have made the greatest strides in using the Internet to foster vehicle sales.

We all know the Internet is a growing trend. Some say it's an explosive trend. Like any explosion, it has fallout. Some third-party lead generators are in trouble. Some original bold claims of Internet influence have proven to be exaggerated, or at least premature. And many customers remain reluctant to buy a $25,000 vehicle by clicking a few computer screen icons.

Still, the Internet is a tremendous sales tool, as evidenced by the dealers who recognized its potential, built web sites and set up Internet sales departments in their stores.

It's happening, and happening at a fast pace. So, Ward's Dealer Business decided to rank the top 100 dealers who use the Internet effectively to move the metal.

Some Internet referral services have put together lists of their top selling dealership customers.

But our e-Dealer 100 is the first independently assembled industry-wide effort of its kind.

Because it's a first and because the e-dealing phenomenon is relatively new, we improvised a bit on the criteria.

Our established Ward's Dealer Business 500 and Megadealer 100 are based on traditional criteria, particularly sales revenues and units sold.

For the e-Dealer 100, we relied on units sold, which represent a more reliable measure of on-line vehicle sales.

We also had to come up with a definition of just what is an Internet “sale.” We defined it this way: a customer initiates contact with the dealership via e-mail, and a designated Internet staffer handles the subsequent sale. This takes into account that, with any Internet sale, a customer ultimately must go off line and into the dealership.

One of the missions of this magazine is to track trends in the industry. Accordingly, it's important to track the wild world of the web. It's obviously not the only important thing happening in automotive retailing. But using the Internet to sell cars is exciting, ambitious and revolutionary.

The Internet accounts for only 4% of vehicle sales today. That's quickly growing. While few people actually buy cars on the Internet, 27% this year compared to 13% the year before say they went on line as part of the purchase process.

Michael Jackson, head of AutoNation Inc., says the Internet is one of those inventions that come along once in a 100 years.

“So we should consider ourselves lucky that we were here when it first happened,” he says.

Industry experts join Ward's Dealer Business:

Four industry experts will write regular articles for Ward's Dealer Business magazine, beginning with this issue.

Ron Martin will write a monthly finance and insurance column. He is the author of a new book, “The Vision of Finance and Insurance — A training narrative.” He heads a company aptly named the Vision of F&I.

The F&I sales veteran says that department's sales techniques can cause customer satisfaction problems if not performed right.

“My method is a high-road mentality that starts with the premise that a sale occurs when there is a transfer of enthusiasm for a product from the seller to the buyer.”

Debuting with a monthly column on dealership business practices is Certified Public Accountant Don E. Ray, co-managing principal of George B. Jones & Co., whose clients include several major dealerships.

Mr. Ray is abreast of the trends in the automobile business, including innovate tax ideas, the buying and selling of dealerships, and buy-here pay-here operations.

His first column — in a new section on dealership management — offers tax strategy tips.

Darin George starts his monthly column in our Vehicle Sales & Marketing department. His column format takes its cues from an actual sales meeting.

Mr. George is founder, owner and chief instructor of the Automotive Sales College, which offers sales training courses.

Mr. George, a former car salesman, fervently believes in raising the professionalism of modern dealership sales staffers.

Yet another dealership veteran, Gary J. Naples joins us with a kick-off column on parts management. He'll periodically contribute articles to our Fixed Operations department.

Mr. Naples brings with him 20 years of parts management experience. He is the author of two books, “Beyond the Numbers: Managing the Assets of an Automobile Parts Business” and “By the Numbers: Principles of Automotive Parts Management.”

He says many parts managers underestimate the business management expertise and knowledge that's required to efficiently run a parts department.


Steve Finlay is editor of Ward's Dealer Business. His e-mail address is: steve_finlay@intertec.com