The internet might be losing its sales lustre as more dealership owners allow e-mails from potential customers to sit unopened longer than they did in 1999, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

A survey released this week indicates that dealerships are also sceptical of ‘car buying leads’ supplied by independent online car selling businesses such as AutoTrader.com.

Forty-three percent of the 100 US dealership owners interviewed said they took as long as eight hours in 2001 to respond to e-mail questions about buying a car, according to a survey by Electronic Data Systems' Automotive Retail Group based in Troy, Michigan. In 1999, more than half the owners responded to e-mails in less than an hour.

Forty dealership owners also said they rate the quality of leads from third-party sources as poor or very poor. In 1999, most rated the leads as average or above average.

Wesley Lutz, owner of the Extreme Dodge dealership in Jackson, Michigan, said dealers have learned that unless the customer is from the area and is serious enough to leave a name and a telephone number, chances are it isn't worth pursuing, the San Jose Mercury News report said.