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5/26/2010
02:50 PM
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Mercedes Revs iPad Tool For Dealers

The iPad's Safari browser, rather than a custom app, is being used to deliver loan and leasing software to salespeople.

Inside Apple's iPad: FCC Teardown Photos
(click image to view gallery)
Inside Apple's iPad: FCC Teardown Photos
Mercedes-Benz Financial is working with 40 dealers to see if having software on an Apple iPad makes it easier to sell cars.

Using an iPad, salespeople will be able to show payment schedules, check promotions based on the vehicle identification number, and start the loan process. Wireless access means they can do it all while keeping the car shopper near the vehicle he or she (hopefully) covets.

Getting Mercedes-Benz Financial's software to run on the iPad was much less complicated than creating an app for the iPhone.

The company, which provides loans and leasing through Mercedes dealers, already had a robust, Web-based portal that dealers accessed via Internet Explorer from PCs. Dealers used it to access proprietary software called MB Advantage for tasks such as checking promotions and applying for loans.

Making MB Advantage work via the iPad's Safari browser took some adjustments so it could run without Flash, and to resolve some presentation issues related to size, scrolling, and frames, said Gary Bell, Mercedes-Benz Financial senior IT manager. But the company's IT team and contractors could do that work. By comparison, when in 2009 Mercedes Benz Financial created its iPhone application, which consumers can use to make payments and manage their accounts, it had to bring in more specialized developers.

To the salesperson, MB Advantage looks like an app on the iPad, since it has a custom icon they can put on their startup screen. The software also can be used during lease vehicle return, as employees can assess the vehicle's condition and record any damage into an MB Advantage application.

The iPad "created a new market segment" of devices and opened up this possibility, said Andreas Hinrichs, VP of marketing for Mercedes-Benz Financial. The iPhone was too small to be practical for MB Advantage, and previous tablets felt too much like niche devices. Just as it was quick to jump on the iPhone, the company wants to be an early adopter of innovative technology. It will be up to dealers to decide how best to use them as part of the sales process, Hinrichs said.

This is part of a broader mobile strategy for Mercedes-Benz Financial, said Hinrichs. It has expanded beyond the iPhone to make its consumer app available on other smartphones, and has collected $5.1 million in loan payments through the smartphone apps. Through the summer, it will assess the iPad use by the 40 dealers in the pilot group to decide if it should expand to all 350 dealers.

Mercedes-Benz Financial will be open to other tablet computers if they come on the market, just as it expanded to smartphones after its initial launch with the iPhone. "We want to stay somewhat device independent," said Hinrichs.

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