What if buying a car was as simple as going on Amazon.com and buying a large screen TV?
AutoNation believes that day will soon be here.
The country’s largest auto dealer is launching a new service called SmartChoice Express, promising customers they can pick out the car or truck they want, fill out the paper work at home and then make a short visit to their AutoNation dealer where the vehicle will be waiting.
“When the customer arrives, they walk in and there is the car they reserved,” said Mike Jackson, CEO of AutoNation. “They have a printout of what they agreed to for the price and it just makes a very easy, seamless experience for our customers.”
Jackson hopes he can take one of the biggest negatives for car buyers, visiting and dealing with an auto sales people, and turn it into a competitive advantage for AutoNation.
“They don’t want to have to drag themselves from store to store,” said Jackson when asked if he realized how frustrated car shoppers are with auto dealerships.
For most Americans, buying a car is their second biggest purchase after buying a home. Given that many people now opt to rent instead of buy a house, maybe purchasing a vehicle is the biggest financial decision many people will make.
Are they ready to do most of the buying and paperwork online before they even get to a dealer?
Jesse Toprak, chief analyst with Cars.com thinks so.
“I think what AutoNation is offering will appeal to a lot of people,” said Toprak who saw a demonstration of SmartChoice Express at an AutoNation dealership in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
“Car buyers are tired of spending two or three hours in a dealership, this might be a better option for people used to buying so many things online,” he said.
Here’s how AutoNation’s SmartChoice Express works.
Customers go to the AutoNation website and look at all the cars in the company’s inventory. With 277 stores spread across America selling more than a half million vehicles last year, AutoNation believes it has the inventory to meet the desires of 95 percent of those looking for a new or used vehicle.
Once you find the model you want with the features you want, you can begin negotiating or haggling for the price you are willing to pay.
AutoNation will have staff standing by ready to negotiate, though the company believes the pricing it offers will be competitive and close to the final transaction price.
Once customers have settled on a price, they can handle much of the paper work, including setting up financing by working through the SmartChoice Express web site.
Depending on the location of the vehicle you bought, AutoNation will tell you when it will be at your nearest AutoNation dealership.
If you have all of your paper work signed in advance, AutoNation believes it can have you in and out with your new vehicle in under a half hour. Those working trade-ins or who have specific issues they want to discuss with the dealer will take a little longer.
Jackson believes going online is the way more and more cars and trucks will be bought and sold in the future.
“When you come to the store, the only thing that is left is the enjoyable part of the experience,” he said. “If you want to make a change we can quickly do that for you, but you are empowered. We know everything that you have done online and you are going to have a very convenient easy and enjoyable experience.”
Will car buying really be enjoyable?
While Jackson and AutoNation are trying to take the stress out of buying a new car or truck, the process is far from pleasant for millions.
Some of it is because spending thousands of dollars is not a normal a normal every day experience. Some of it also surrounds the fact that the paper work and discussions that go with buying a vehicle and setting up financing is often drawn out for hours.
Finally, many auto dealerships have hurt themselves by hiring sales people who lack the people and customer relations skills buyers want.
Toprak believes AutoNation could help change that experience for millions.
“If they can make buying a car online and picking it up in person seamless and smooth, then this could give them a competitive advantage,” he said.
AutoNation will start rolling out the SmartChoice Express service at dealerships in southern Florida on December 11th and then expand to other stores next year.
Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com.