Public car dealer groups grow online sales


Penske Automotive Group Inc. executives say the company has embraced multiple digital sales options, with a focus on an omnichannel experience. Omnichannel refers to technology and processes aimed at providing a seamless buying experience for consumers whether they shop online, in-store or both.

For Penske, that focus includes its own Preferred Purchase platform that allows consumers to shop online for new, used and certified pre-owned vehicles at Penske’s franchised dealerships, the online buying platform for its used-vehicle-only CarShop stores co-developed with Cox Automotive and the various branded digital retailing tools developed by automakers, including BMW, Mini, Toyota and Lexus.

“Our omnichannel strategy focuses on customer lifestyle and continues to evolve with the changing landscape,” CEO Roger Penske said. “We focus on providing flexible buying options that allow customers to proceed at their own pace in buying their next vehicle or servicing their existing one.”

AutoNation Inc. didn’t specifically discuss digital vehicle sales during its first-quarter earnings call, though CEO Mike Manley said overall customer traffic increased in the quarter, both digitally and at physical stores. He added that AutoNation continues to build a “compelling customer value proposition through the combination of our digital tools and physical assets.”

Lithia’s DeBoer said Driveway aims to generate $1 billion in incremental revenue this year and that more than 97 percent of the platform’s transactions in the first quarter involved customers who had not done business with the group during the previous 15 years.

Lithia has introduced a new-vehicle shopping experience in Driveway, DeBoer told analysts.

“Expanded functionality for new includes the convenience of seeing all applicable incentives and rebates factored into pricing upfront, along with instant online financing approvals,” DeBoer said. “These new features have meaningfully improved our conversion rate and increased the volume of new vehicles sold.”

Dan Clara, Asbury’s senior vice president of operations, said customers who use Clicklane convert at nearly twice the rate of customers who submit traditional Internet leads, though he noted that “we won’t see the full potential until inventory levels normalize.”

Clicklane buyers generally have higher credit scores — the average tops 700 — compared with traditional customers at physical stores, said Clara. He added that those customers gravitate to Asbury’s tool because of its transactional capabilities.

“That consumer does not want to go through the traditional process and go spend three or four hours in a store and are taking full advantage of the technology that we have out there that makes it a lot more efficient to buy and acquire that inventory where they want to, how they want to and at the time of the day that best benefits the guest,” Clara said.

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