Rob Mancuso gave me a copy of a 1976 Automotive News column my dad did on Rob and his dad, James Mancuso.
Rob back then was 25 years old and running the family Cadillac dealership in suburban Chicago. The article centered on him as a young dealer and on his father as a success veteran of automotive retailing.
The elder Mancuso trained his son well as a next-generation dealer. Young Mancuso's ads back then said, "Before my father taught me to sell cars, he taught me to sweep floors." Accompanying that was a picture of Rob Mancuso holding a broom.
A couple of years ago he wrote a book about the trials and tribulations of young dealership successors. The book is entitled, "Assuming the Position, A Family Business Survival Guide." It offers great advice.
The elder Mancuso, who owned a chain of dealerships, was forward-looking back in 1976. He was quoted in that 24-year-old column as saying, "There have always been ups and downs in the auto business, but people are wedded to cars; they need them to live. So times will change for the better...Meanwhile, sell what people are buying - service, used cars, rentals, parts."
My dad as an auto journalist and Jim Mancuso as a dealer had a friendly relationship. Rob and I have kept that going in our generation.
He sold his dealership interests to AutoNation Inc. a few years ago. He's now senior vice president/eBusiness at Aon Warranty Group. He was on a panel I moderated at an e Auto World conference in San Diego.
Selling cars on the Internet is a hot topic these days. So is selling finance & insurance to a somewhat lesser extent. But Internet warranty selling is fairly new - and hasn't achieved a high profile - yet.
"People know you are out there, but I don't think we cracked the major potential," says Mr. Mancuso. "The warranty business on the web will increase in time. For now, though, no one knows many of the answers. That's what is both fascinating and frustrating at the same time."
Fellow panelist Michael Kammerman, president of Warranty gold.com, markets and sells extended service contracts on the Internet.
He says firms such as his are partners with dealerships. That can be a tough sell to dealers, however.
"We don't feel we're in competition with dealers," he says. "They do, though."
Mr. Mancuso says Internet warranty firms are less in competition with dealers than with the dealership F&I manager "because they see us as taking potential money out of their pocket."
Yet, he adds, consumers are plugging into e-commerce more and more, and it would be a missed opportunity not to offer extended warranties on the web.
Autobygel?: At that same e Auto World conference, Sean Wolfington, co-founder of Cybercar, a firm which builds dealer web sites, warns that if you register a URL site, make sure also to register assorted spelling variations of your name.
If you don't, someone else might, he says. He cites the following off-beat example:
If on your computer you type in autobytell.com with two ls, rather that the correct autobytel with one l, you end up at an entirely different destination. It's a portal page with various links - none of them to Autobytel.
Those links include Stonage.com, Autoweb.com and AutoVantage - all competitors of Autobytel.
Another link is for a product that abates skin stretch marks. It's called Jimi-Gel.
Point of order: I avoid trading barbs with the competition. But the publisher of a competing magazine crossed the line of sensibility - and accuracy - in his latest diatribe against his competitors.
He recently praised himself in his monthly column for predicting the demise of CarOrder.com, a failed start-up company that had planned to buy dealerships.
He felt self-congratulations were in order because he said he wrote back in March that CarOrder.com was a flawed business model. Meanwhile, he claimed that "journalists, editors and reporters at the other publications were able only to repeat what the PR department at CarOrder spewed out."
Well, there you go again.
For the record, four months before his March prediction, we carried a story noting the problems CarOrder.com faced.
The November, 1999 article quoted an analyst who said CarOrder was "an interesting idea but not well proven."
Another excerpt from that article:
"State franchise laws are a possible impediment to carOrder.com buying dealerships. There's also a question of whether automakers would be willing to give a dealership franchise to an Internet company."
CarOrder's PR boys didn't spew that one out to us.