Integrating Smartphone Technology in Car Dealerships.

Recently a client asked me, “How do I know if somebody snaps a picture
of the QR code in the ad I placed?” Well… there really is no way to know
if a Smartphone camera takes a picture of a QR code. Smartphones must
have a QR code application (app) installed to decipher the photo of the
QR code. When the code contains a phone number that is auto-dialed that
phone number would be tracked to that specific QR code, thus providing
the metrics every dealer wants. There are quite a few free QR code
reading and code generating apps available for the Android, iPhone and
iPad platforms (I counted at least 18 QR code apps on the Android
Market), so customers that are technology savvy can use the app for free
and businesses can create QR codes on-the-fly.

Incorporating QR codes in your conventional marketing strategy is just
one way to use Smartphones to communicate with a quickly growing segment
of the public. Over 285 million people, over 91% of the population have
mobile phones in the U.S. and nearly 40% of those phones can access the
Internet. It’s predicted that within the next 12 to 18 months the
percentage of Smartphones will reach over 60% penetration.
There are many great Smartphone apps available today that truly engage
car buyers, car enthusiasts, vehicle owners, car dealers and automotive
industry professionals. The apps I’ve highlighted in this article only
scratch the surface of what’s to come for mobile technology and
application development in the near future.

Applications for Car Shoppers and Owners:

All car manufacturers look for ways to improve communication with owners
and potential customers and to attract brand fans and car enthusiasts.
Kelley Blue Book, a trusted resource that appeals to both the general
public and industry professionals, has a free Smartphone app that lets
users find the market value for vehicles, view videos and reviews and
locate local dealers.

General Motors has Smartphone apps for vehicle owners including
myCadillac, myChevrolet, myGMC, and myBuick. These apps display all the
practical and functional features a car owner wants to see and provides
the Owner’s Manual right on the customers Smartphone. Customers can
locate a dealer, schedule service appointments or get roadside
assistance when they need it. Also offered in the apps are a parking
reminder to find your car in parking lots and access the OnStar MyLink
service used to unlock the doors, remote start the vehicle, and check
the vehicles status.

Ford has incorporated “AppLink” with their Sync system. Sync is an
in-car connectivity platform that allows drivers to make hands-free
calls, control music and other functions with simple voice commands.
Owners of Android and BlackBerry Smartphones (the iPhone will soon be
included) will get in-car access to such services as Pandora Media
online radio and Stitcher Smart Radio with the Sync AppLink, which
allows cars to run a variety of other Smartphone apps.

The Chrysler Group (Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram) has new apps for
Android, Blackberry, and iPhone platforms for some 2011 models. They
provide vehicle operation, maintenance and warranty information, as well
as product feature video demonstrations, connections with fellow owners
via the company’s brands on social media sites, access to customer care
and 24-hour road-side assistance and other features depending upon the
model.

“CarLocate QR Scanner” is a proprietary Smartphone app by Reynolds and
Reynolds that reads a QR code on the vehicle’s window sticker (aka: the
Maroni) and immediately links you to the CarLocate.com mobile site to
view all the details about that vehicle. The customer must be at the
vehicle to use this app, or the QR codes can be provided on a website
like eBay or Craigslist (what a time saver!). With this type of app
dealers can get 100% track-ability since the vendor will have website
metrics to provide regarding how many records were viewed from your
dealership.

The race is on. Smartphone apps are being developed at supersonic speed
by automakers. Toyota now has an app allowing customers to get the
latest Toyota info, live Twitter feeds and the ability to find the
nearest Toyota dealership, which is perfect when traveling. Some of the
latest Smartphone apps by manufacturers are: My Acura, Audi –
CarMonitor, BMW – M Power Meter, Kia – Optimap, Lexus Enform Mobile,
Mazda Assist, Mini – Mini Link, My Nissan Leaf, Porsche – gForce, Saab
Automobile, Scion Owners, Smart – Smart Drive U.S., and Volvo On Call.
These apps are continually improving with more options and features.
Updates are pushed to the Smartphone via the application making it easy
for vendors to provide the latest and greatest.

Applications for Salespeople and the Dealership:

General Motors has Smartphone apps for Cadillac and Chevrolet
salespeople; called the Cadillac Mobile Workbench and Chevy Mobile
Workbench. The content in these apps is not intended for use or viewing
by consumers. The Mobile Workbench apps are designed to provide relevant
tools and information to sales personnel from their mobile device. The
apps are feature rich with the ability to locate a vehicle of interest
in dealers inventory or from trading partners’ inventory. It displays
available exterior and interior color choices, checks for current GM
offers, compares vehicles against key competitors and displays the top
ten selling points for each vehicle. There is a VIN barcode scanning
function used to verify the dealerships’ current in-stock inventory.

“MobileAppLoader”, a company out of Canada, develops Smartphone and iPad
custom apps for your business and car dealerships or dealer groups that
can pay off big-time. For a one time investment under $2,000 and a
small monthly charge of $35 or less, your dealership can have a
full-blown application for the iPhone, iPad and Android operating
platforms. Costs can be reduced by choosing one or more operating
platforms. Included features will vary per operating platform. You can
expect to see links and graphics for: Contact Us (Call, Directions, and
Email), info links, a link to your online inventory (pictures,
specifications, and vehicle details), a service appointment request
form, an “about us” page and links to the social networks (Twitter,
Facebook, YouTube). You’ll be able to send visual alerts and
notifications or appointment reminders to the customer. The customer can
retrieve a history of past appointments dates, repairs, etc., a loan
calculator, a settings link (Add to Contacts, One Touch Call), a news
page about the brands you sell, and even a customer testimonial page. If
the app is offered to customer for free it’s a win-win for the customer
and the dealership. The dealership may be able to recoup some of the
cost by offering the app for 99¢ or more if they believe that customers
would be willing to pay for the app.

Applications for Dealership Wholesale Buyers and Used Car Managers:

There are some easy ways for car dealers to get instant information for
their wholesale buyers, both in-house and when traveling. They can
quickly appraise vehicles and determine retail market values (in
real-time) using subscription based services and proprietary Smartphone
applications.

“vAuto Inc.”, a company based in Oak Brook, IL., provides a
sophisticated, real-time “Live Market View” for the used car market. If
your dealership is using vAuto services to stock, appraise, price and
market your used car inventory then this app is for you. Dealers are
able to access CARFAX reports as well as all third party guidebook
values including vAuto’s real-time “rBook” (a retail pricing guide for
identically equipped vehicles in your market). The vAuto app provides
the ability to snap a picture of the VIN barcode with your Smartphone
for instant decoding.

“Autoniq LLC.”, has a Smartphone app that uses a photo of the vehicles
Bar Code to obtain pricing guides by Black Book, NADA, Galves, and
Kelley Blue Book and market reports from every major auction in the
United States. You can get a vehicles history report instantly by
accessing CARFAX. This is a very useful Smartphone tool for dealers that
send wholesale buyers to auto auctions. Besides the subscription fees
for Autoniq, the associated CARFAX and/or other vehicle history
reporting provider fees apply based upon the existing dealer agreement.

“Dealerslink, Inc.”, provides another option to read the vehicles Bar
Code and buy used cars through their wholesale used car network. The
“FastBook VIN Scanner” app allows a car dealer to scan the vehicle VIN
bar codes with their Smartphone cameras. Once the VIN has been scanned,
FastBook allows users to simultaneously book out NADA, Kelley Blue Book,
MMR, Black Book and checks Carfax, AutoCheck, and Dealerslink for
comparisons. Dealers can also buy and sell wholesale used cars by
shopping online via Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, Enterprise
Rent-a-Car, and Manheim auto auctions. It is a quick and convenient way
to acquire inventory without the expense of travel and time away from
the dealership. This may be the perfect solution for dealers with a
small staff.

The new mantra should be: “Dealer Beware!” Smartphone apps are popping
up like dandelions arming buyers with knowledge, information and
pricing. Dealership owners need to be careful not to allow this new
hand-held technology and an “app happy” staff to change your current
business model or strategies. You’ll know when you reach the technology
saturation point when you and/or your staff begin to focus on working
these applications instead of using them as the tool they are meant to
be. All too often using applications becomes the job.

About the Author
Neil Gale was born in Chicago, Illinois, and now resides in St. Louis,
Missouri. Neil holds a Ph.D. from the London Institute for Applied
Research in Business Management. As a business and Internet consultant,
Neil founded his third consulting firm, DrGale.com, which specializes in
the setup and development of Business Development Centers and Internet
Departments. As an accomplished website designer and developer, he has
led website, advertising and marketing projects for Fortune 500
companies including Montgomery Ward, GE Aircraft Engines, Monsanto
Company, AT&T and Lucent Technologies. Neil is considered a true
master of mobile marketing, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Search
Engine Marketing (SEM), corporate branding and social media, all of
which result in generating more sales or sales leads. Neil Gale is there
to assist you in your businesses advertising, marketing, and website
needs. He can be contacted by http://www.drgale.com, email at
info@drgale.com or by phone at 800-736-1036. For more information about
Dr. Gale view Neil Gale’s LinkedIn Profile.

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