DaimlerChrysler in Hot Pursuit of Rivals Online

FRAMINGHAM (07/21/2000) -

After idling for months, DaimlerChrysler AG has launched an extensive upgrade to its U.S. consumer Web sites and this week expanded Web services to its top-notch Five Star dealers.

But despite the upgrades, which include improved access to vehicle prices, the firm continues to trail rivals General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. in terms of its online capabilities, analysts said.

For example, GM launched Gmbuypower.com two years ago and added new features, such as payment calculation, dealer look-up and links to third-party sites for comparison shopping in April. And Ford created an independent company with Trilogy Software Inc. in February to operate its consumer Web sites.

Officials at Stuttgart, Germany-based DaimlerChrysler said the company was laying the groundwork for a wide-scale upgrade, which now gives dealers and consumers access to internal databases and financing systems.

Through the Five Star dealer Web sites, car shoppers can search a dealer's inventory for vehicle availability, configure models for colors and options, get suggested pricing and apply for online financing.

The Web initiative should save consumers time before they visit a dealer because they will be able to check for specific vehicles and learn the manufacturer's suggested retail price, said Tom Peyton, senior manager of e-commerce at DaimlerChrysler in Auburn Hills, Mich. Although the sites won't list the final price of the vehicles, he said, they will include messaging boards from which consumers can negotiate prices with dealers.

"Customers want to see the price, the invoice price and the price to buy for today, and the second thing they want is inventory," said Peyton.

Of DaimlerChrysler's 4,500 dealers in the U.S., 2,400 are Five Star dealers, which means they have met strict customer service criteria set by the firm. For example, Five Star dealers guarantee that they will answer Web leads and respond to electronic pricing requests within 24 hours, Peyton said.

"We hope that this will be an additional incentive for [non-Five Star dealers] to change their processes," he added.

Analysts said DaimlerChrysler's efforts still fail to meet the needs of car buyers.

"If consumers expect to be overwhelmed by a consumer-friendly process that is all online, they are going to be disappointed" by DaimlerChrysler's Web site upgrades, said Adam Weiner, an analyst at Gomez Advisors Inc. in Lincoln, Mass.

Still, DaimlerChrysler's enhanced Web presence is a critical first step that's needed for the firm to stay on par with its rivals, said Hiro Mori, an analyst at Automotive Consulting Group Inc. in Ann Arbor, Mich.

However, "it looks a bit late compared to GM and Ford," he said. "It's a patchwork and was put together quickly, and you're still not getting pricing."

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