Automotive Disruptors Are the Forewarning of “Icebergs” Ahead for Dealers

Ridesharing, electric vehicles, subscription models, fintechs, and other disruptive forces are floating ever closer to the dealer’s path

“I’m king of the world!” exclaims Leo DiCaprio’s character Jack in the famous scene from the smash film Titanic. It was the height of the character’s joy because everything was going his way.

But it did not last. (Spoiler alert!) We all know what happened to the Titanic in real life.

We’ve heard the 20/20 hindsight technical analysis of all the critical decisions made by survivors, captain, crew, and even the designers of the ship itself. We also know about the iceberg and the forewarnings that they heard, but ignored.

Today, potential automotive icebergs exist, and they are also inevitable in the future. The decisions made by dealer principals now determine their impact on dealerships when they come.

What are the icebergs? They are the disruptors that move between the relationship of consumer and dealership: things like ridesharing, electric vehicles, subscription models, and the various fintechs floating ever closer to the dealer’s path.

These disruptors are amazing to behold, offering new business opportunities while being potentially devastating to those who underestimate the impact of their figurative 70% mass lurking under the surface.

I am not trying to scare you, but dealers who think that they will remain “king of the world” may not fully grasp that consumers, dealerships, and the industry have entered uncharted waters.

We need to know where these disruptors are, how to navigate them, and, when that moment comes, how to make the right maneuvers. Start by asking these questions:

  • What is working against us? Misinformation, mismanagement, and misfortune often combine to lay waste to the best-laid plans of mice and men. Reluctantly relying on antiquated processes is still the norm in many dealerships.
  • What is working for us? Moving the dealership from traditional and manual to digital has opened up infinite possibilities. The same consumer-driven technology that is changing our business is leading to connections through consumer experiences.

Course correction

Course correction requires dealers to acknowledge they no longer sell cars. Consumers don’t just buy cars anymore. They purchase experience, delivered as a convenience.

Dealers who bundle consumers’ transportation needs—knowledge, comfort, value, flexibility, and service—and deliver it to their doorstep or through genuinely enjoyable in-store experiences—will rule the seas, at least in their local markets.

How engaged is your dealership in this race for who will own the car shopper’s mind when that decision moment comes? Robust engagement also includes educating buyers about why they should buy your vehicles, and enticing them to use your service and retail parts departments, accessories center, collision facilities, and F&I aftermarket department.

The new sales funnel creates exciting opportunity to grow your aftermarket product penetration and profitability. The strategy involves “seeding” desire for aftermarket solutions at the many touch points a customer interacts with to buy a vehicle: online, in the media, and at the dealership.

In this new sales funnel, multiple engagement tributary processes allow you to introduce aftermarket products in ways and in channels consumers use today, so you connect services to their lifestyle dreams before and when they make a vehicle decision.

This shifts consumer focus from attributes of ownership to how aftermarket products help provide them an enjoyable, worry-free vehicle experience.

To this point, consider that the dealership traditionally engages customers at walk-in (including internet leads), a phone up, or a referral or repeat customer. To engage across multiple touch points is to recognize the moments they are making critical decisions that will eventually lead them to your doorstep, and provides an engagement presence at every choice.

Avoiding icebergs

Where is your digital presence when consumers make critical decisions about transportation needs? Think with Google identified the following key automotive shopping moments; my elaboration of each follows:

  • Which car is best: Consumers seek answers on OEM, third-party, and dealer websites.
  • Is it right for me: Is it convenient to find this answer?Does your digital presence permit online finance, trade evaluation, credit check, and other tools?
  • Can I afford it: Do your tools help shoppers determine this?Do you push your financing tool in streams other than your website? Consider placement as part of digital banner, targeted ads, and third-party car-shopping sites.
  • Where should I buy it: Can consumers compare across multiple dealerships?
  • Am I getting a deal: Do yourdigital touch points let consumers calculate this, and does market-pricing technology provide confidence your price is fair?
  • Can I finance without going to the dealership: Are you still counting on reeling the customers into the store before sharing such essential information?
  • What am I missing: How far up the sales funnel can shoppers learn about you and aftermarket products that help them protect their vehicle investment? Consider providing gaming videos or augmented reality that touch all senses to elaborate on these products’ value.
  • What happens after I buy: Are you marketing your service department? Can shoppers view a video or interactive accessories library to experience their vehicle “wearing” the accessories they desire? Market your retention and loyalty programs upstream—and after the sale as well—to reinforce the advantage of these programs to customers’ budgets and vehicle protection.

Writing recently for Forbes, former U.S. battalion operations officer and Blackhawk helicopter pilot Chris Cancialosi, founder of management consulting firm Gotham Culture, noted several ways that using outdated thinking and technology can sink your ship:

  • People spend more time navigating administrative tasks than they do engaging with customers and each other in value-added ways.
  • Technology is evolving at such a rapid pace that it becomes increasingly difficult to compete if your business relies on outdated tech.
  • Outdated tech, or cobbled together solutions, limits your ability to respond to the needs of your organization and changes in the market.

Understand there is a sea change. Align with vendors that have the proven vision, technology, and attitude to deliver cross-channel digital retail success for your USS Auto Dealership.

Let these partners help you reach, engage, influence, and provide convenience to shoppers wherever they are in their shopping journey, and touch them through sales, F&I, service, warranty, parts, follow-up, and follow-on retention programs.

Jim Maxim, Jr. is president of MaximTrak, a RouteOne company, and chief digital officer for RouteOne, a provider of digital F&I platforms for dealers. He is an F&I visionary recognized by CIO Review magazine, a frequent panelist and speaker at various F&I conferences and summits, and a contributor to automotive retail media about evolving F&I technologies. Reach him at

Jim Maxim, Jr.


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