Vauxhall, General Motors‘ British operation, predicts a steady growth in internet sales but is not forecasting the subsequent demise of its vast dealer network anytime soon.

Vauxhall’s relationship marketing and new media manager Paul Confrey said that dealers were gradually becoming “centres of fulfilment” because, via internet sales, the customer and Vauxhall were taking over more of the sales process.

“However, in the short term, only a very small number of buyers want a ‘shrink-wrapped’ deal, most still want a ‘touchy-feely’ one,” Confrey said.

Vauxhall held what is believed to be a UK car maker’s first-ever event exclusively for automotive websites yesterday at a country hotel near its Luton, Bedfordshire, base.

Agreeing that there is a current trend for buyers to research on the ‘net but close the deal in a showroom, Confrey added: “We believe that our current business model [for internet sales] reflects that and doesn’t disenfranchise our dealers.”

Confrey confirmed that the current Vauxhall internet sales activity is very much a “bricks and clicks” operation.

“In November 2000 we became the first UK manufacturer to offer all our cars on-line and in February the internet was the single most popular place for customers to buy our cars, bigger than any individual dealer outlet, and we expect to sell around 3,000 ‘on-line’ this year.”

That will represent about three percent of Vauxhall retail sales this year. Fleet buyers cannot purchase on-line.

“Our research shows that 60 per cent of buyers have internet access at home and 70 per cent at work and we estimate the internet influences 30 to 40 percent of our sales,” he said.

Although the customer and Vauxhall do some of the work involved with the sale, the dealer still has a major role to play: he offers the test drive at the customer’s home, verifies the condition and value of the part-exchange (UK-speak for trade-in) and arranges the final transaction and finance.

Dealers also provide essential backup: “Our research shows that people won’t travel very far either to buy used cars or to have their cars serviced,” Confrey said. “It’s essential to have good geographic contact points for customers.”

To view related research reports, please follow the links below:-

General Motors Strategic Review

Automotive b2b – Strategic threats and opportunities in the automotive supply chain

Global Car Forecasts to 2005