News > The car dealership: a century of no progress

The car dealership: a century of no progress

 - 26/10/2016

When the first ever car dealership opened its doors to the public in London on October 22, 1897, it was a revolutionary idea and one that meant consumers no longer had to travel to a manufacturer in person to inquire about buying a vehicle. However, in the 119 years since, while every other aspect of the automobile has moved on, the car showroom has remained resolutely in the past, until now.

It may seem that we're in the midst of the most exciting, innovative period of automotive history, but the fact is that with the exception of a few years in the 1970s and '80s, the car has been in a constant state of evolution.

"The Tesla Model S may seem like a great car," explains Doug Hill, Beaulieu's (the UK's national motor museum) Museum Manager and Chief Engineer. "But in terms of innovation look at the history from 1896 to 1906. In 1907 the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost arrived and in just that period, the development of the motorcar was absolutely phenomenal."

Indeed the difference between Karl Benz's original three-wheel car patented in 1886 and the Silver Ghost is like stepping out of a biplane and into a jet.

However, head to the closest car dealership and interactive displays notwithstanding, things are pretty much identical to when the world's first dealership opened its doors on October 22, 1897 - 119 years ago.

Even though digital is de rigueur, according to JD Power, by October 2015, only 39% of car companies in the US marketing had a website optimized for smartphones or tablets.

Marques have been quick to join social media but car buyers are turning to these networks not to click on ‘like' but for advice and guidance on potential purchases and tips as to how to avoid dealing with commission-fueled sales assistants.

"Social media plays a large role in many consumers' lives, so it's not surprising that it's one of the tools they're using during the vehicle-shopping process," said Mike Battaglia, vice president, automotive retail at J.D. Power.

Still car companies are finally moving with the times -- you can buy a Tesla or a BMW completely online and earlier this year a Nissan dealership in Spain made headlines for conducting the entire sales process via Twitter. But in terms of really changing the concept of the dealership so that it reflects modern times, it's Hyundai that has taken the first truly revolutionary steps.

Two years ago it opened its first Rocker Hyundai store in the UK and with it the world's first ever "omni-channel" dealership. Located in a shopping mall, visitors can go from browsing to part-exchanging their old car and owning a new one without ever speaking to a salesperson or even stepping foot in the store if they so wish.

The concept -- where everything is geared around the shopper, and where salespeople working on commission have been replaced by salaried assistants with strong retail backgrounds -- has been hugely successful. In the first 12 months the first store received 163,000 physical visitors and sold enough cars to put it in the company's dealer top 10. Two years and five industry awards later there are now three Rocker Hyundai stores all located in UK shopping precincts.


Photo: ©Hyundai