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New technology challenges dealers, buyers

March 30, 2012
New cars are growing so complex — and owners manuals so voluminous — that automakers are encouraging dealers to add staff geeks or go high-tech to explain features.
Lexus in late March announced that it is creating two new positions at each of its 230 dealerships around the country: a “vehicle delivery specialist” to show buyers how the cars work during purchase; and a “vehicle technology specialist” to troubleshoot snafus after the sale.
The learning gap underscores how automakers have become engaged in a tech war, seeing it as a key way to distinguish their brands.
Lexus’s rivals in luxury cars, which typically have the most complex tech systems, are coming up with their own approaches to walking customers through the nuances of infotainment, navigation and communication systems, not to mention how to set the air conditioning:
• Cadillac has developed an iPad app that explains how to use its new CUE infotainment systems, coming first on the XTS sedan. The app is for dealer use now, but customers will be able to get it, too, at the Apple App Store.
• Infiniti salespeople use iPads to show customers technology features and coach them in their use.
• BMW uses a website to tell clients whether their smartphones can be paired with their cars but relies on the old-fashioned approach for the rest, making sure salespeople are fully versed in the models’ innards.
Sure, there are owners’ manuals. But nowadays they can run to more than 800 pages.
“We’re finding customers won’t take the time to read through that,” says Vince Salisbury, a Lexus dealer training manager. “They’ve paid for the features on their car, and they should be educated on how they work.”
Lexus took the action after seeing how successful some dealers have been in hiring technoogy specialists so that customers don’t have to rely on salespeople or service advisers for those issues.
One dealership, Sewell Lexus in Dallas, Texas, recruited its tech specialist, Alex Oger, from a local Apple Store. Oger’s mission: “How to take this car that has so many capabilities” and explain features “so it’s something the customer wants.”
Oger says many customers have a “eureka moment” when they figure out a task.