PORTLAND, Ore.—Just like walking into a clothing store and trying on different outfits, the same concept is making its way to the land of car buying.
Take for instance a customer who has just agreed to purchase a new pickup truck at a car dealership. Before going to the finance and insurance manager to close the deal, imagine that the customer can "try on" different accessories—running boards, perhaps, or a roll bar and some Safari lamps.
A Web-based system developed by EyeVelocity Inc. makes this possible. An image of the truck is called up on a large-screen TV or on a desktop computer. With a few clicks of a mouse, the customer can see how that truck looks with bed rails, a bedliner or any other aftermarket accessory designed to fit that vehicle.
Similar types of systems have been available in some tire dealerships that use tire and wheel "kiosks" in their showrooms.
Through use of a computer program, a customer can call up a photo of his or her vehicle, then see how various custom wheels will look on it before actually making a purchase.
On April 10, Portland-based EyeVelocity launched its new system. It is designed to help car dealers increase their sales of aftermarket accessories and to give customers a handy way to personalize their new or used vehicle before they leave the showroom.
Ford and Lincoln-Mercury dealers will get the first crack at the EyeVelocity system. Ford has taken an undisclosed equity stake in EyeVelocity, which is planning an initial public offering.
EyeVelocity eventually will offer its system to all dealers.
Buy or lease
Dealers lease the EyeVelocity system for five years. The cost will vary depending on the size of the dealership. On average, a dealer will pay about $750 a month for the software, hardware, installation, training and monthly maintenance and support. Dealers also may purchase the system.
Ford is expecting about 60 percent of its Ford and Lincoln Mercury dealers to lease or buy the EyeVelocity system, said Kathleen Merchak, Ford's vehicle personalization marketing and sales manager.
Twenty-five Ford and Lincoln Mercury dealers have been testing early versions of EyeVelocity during the last year. Ms. Merchak said dealers in the pilot have increased their revenues from accessory sales by 25 percent—an increase of about $150 in profit per vehicle.
At Bowen-Scarff Ford in Kent, Wash., aftermarket accessory sales were virtually nonexistent. Since installing EyeVelocity, the dealership has been selling about $10,000 worth of accessories a month, said dealer principal Mark Scarff.
"You don't have to display or stock all that inventory," Mr. Scarff said. "Instead, you have a virtual showroom of accessories." Two salesmen and one administrative assistant at the dealership are now dedicated to aftermarket accessory sales.
Bowen-Scarff Ford now is using the third generation of the EyeVelocity system, formerly called the MACRO system.
Here's how it works:
After a customer decides what model to buy, the salesperson or aftermarket parts manager calls up a picture of that exact model on a TV screen or computer monitor.
The customer personalizes that vehicle by installing different accessories. Any number of accessories can be combined with the image of the vehicle, as long as they were designed to fit that vehicle.
The customer gets a printout of the desired accessories and prices. The customer can roll the cost of the accessories into the financing. Installation of the accessories is then scheduled.
This procedure takes the accessory out of the box and lets customers first see what they're buying, said Scott Waldron, senior vice president of e-Commerce at EyeVelocity.
"This will help us increase the penetration of our accessories on new vehicles sold," Ford's Ms. Merchak said, adding that dealers also can sell non-Ford accessories.
All of the digital photography of vehicles and accessories is done at EyeVelocity's studio in Portland.
Through dedicated telephone lines to serve the dealerships, the company uses the Internet to update the dealer systems once a day with new accessories and prices.
EyeVelocity also generates revenue through a fee-per-accessory sale from the accessory manufacturers, Mr. Waldron said. "This gives the accessory manufacturers an effective, new outlet to help them expand their business."
EyeVelocity eventually will market its system to motorcycle, boat and recreational vehicle dealers as well, he said.