Eyes On The Future: Self-Driving Cars and Dealership Sales Processes

August 20, 2013

I paid particular interest to this week’s Automotive News story that examines how self-driving vehicles could be a perfect fit for older drivers and those with disabilities.

And while I was impressed to learn how much “semiautonomous” driving features and technology exists in cars today, I realize it’ll likely be many years before self-driving vehicles clear the regulatory and safety hurdles needed for them to gain critical mass with the car-buying public.

But then I pondered a bigger, perhaps more profound question: If tomorrow’s cars don’t need drivers to drive them, will they require salespeople to sell them?

I think the correct answer is that the sales of self-driving and more conventional vehicles in the future will require less direct involvement with dealership sales teams, and the nature of their role will largely depend on each customer’s interest and willingness to use technology to complement their buying/shopping process.

For example, a recent webcast from business consulting firm Frost and Sullivan suggests that 20 percent of future dealership showrooms will feature “augmented reality,” “gamification” and 3D technology to help customers continue a highly personalized shopping experience that starts online. Sales teams, meanwhile, would essentially step into the sales process if/when customers need them.

In some ways, the study’s futuristic take on auto retailing isn’t all that surprising.

Many dealers today are incorporating technology into their sales processes to minimize the “disconnect” that occurs when customers find a car online and contact a dealership. Similarly, dealers are streamlining their F&I and sales processes to be more cost- and customer-friendly—which sometimes means putting these traditionally distinct responsibilities and roles in the hands of one highly trained individual armed with e-commerce-type technology and tools.

In addition, some dealers are seeing a small, but growing, number of customers who are willing to buy cars without a test drive and, in effect, want to complete deals in the same way they buy other goods and services online.

Taken together, all of these developments indicate that the experience of buying and driving vehicles in the not-too-distant future will be dramatically different than it is today. The upshot for dealers: With change comes opportunity, and those who effectively embrace it first will reap the biggest rewards.