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Unmanned car sales centre set to open in Yorkshire

In a pilot initiative Colin Appleyard Cars is set to open an "unmanned" car sales showroom where customers will browse and choose their car without a sales executive.

The company is comparing the process to mainstream retailer Argos and says it will cater for clued up motorists who know what they want.

"We're finding customers are immensely clued up about the exact cars they want even before they walk in through the door," says Robin Appleyard, its managing director.

"They don't need somebody to sell them a car, because they've already made up their mind." says the experimental showroom will remove sales staff from the shop floor, and will instead feature tablet computers that will allow customers to look up further information, place their order and even apply for finance.

Customers will also find that pre-booked test drives will be all ready to go when they arrive on site.

The dealership won't be entirely unstaffed, however: Expert help will still be on hand for those who require it.

"Customers are now the experts when it comes to motor purchases, and we're finding that our staff become more guides rather than sales people," said Appleyard.

"That's why we're experimenting with largely removing them from the process altogether, because we think the average buyer know enough to be able to do it all themselves. You do it for just about every other purchase you make, so why not cars?"

"We find car buyers have already downloaded the brochures, decided on their optional extras and even know what financial and service packages they want," he said.

"Short of taking the test drive, the entire buying decision has already been made before they even see a member of sales staff."

Colin Appleyard, which has Suzuki, Nissan, Subaru and Isuzu franchises, will not abandon the "traditional" car buyer who still wants to deal with a knowledgeable sales person who knows the ins and outs of their product line. Sales staff will still be available at the majority of its locations.

"This new concept in car sales allows us to concentrate on great service across all our sites," said Appleyard.

The first unmanned showroom will open in late 2014 in Yorkshire and if successful will be rolled out across the group's six locations.


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  • Martin - 24/09/2014 13:18

    How are you going to overcome the part exchange negotiations / values etc

  • ian - 24/09/2014 13:34

    great news for the buyers (appleyards are the manchester united of the motor trade )t

  • Gezza - 24/09/2014 15:40

    No way this can ever work. Most customers want a discount so how do you sort that and as Martin says how do you value their part exchanges? Who does the handover of the vehicle? Bad news for the big sites who rely on hard selling add-ons as without sales people and BMs in front of customers then this won't happen.

  • CGH - 24/09/2014 22:17

    Presumably, this concept will be marketed as innovative by the company but, will simply reinforce the stereotype of sales staff being so poor they have to be hidden from customers. At my dealership, people loved dealing with my team and frequently told me they enjoyed the whole buying experience. That's what produces the next sale. Appleyards seem to be looking at this from the wrong end of the binoculars. Maybe they would be better investing in recruitment and training.

    • Paul - 25/09/2014 16:23

      @CGH - couldn't agree more, we are rapidly losing the skill and talent from the industry because there is little or no investment in developing people. Staff engagement and happy teams lead to happy customers and happy customers spend money.

    • craig.cap - 25/09/2014 16:26

      @Paul - True. Also, what caliber of person are you going to get when you are simply there to guide customers around an automated showroom without a financial incentive and in-depth training? It'll be like going to a local supermarket and getting passed around by simpletons who are there just for a bit of extra cash in-between looking for a real career. Unless you give them a basic salary of £45,000...

  • Lee - 25/09/2014 08:39

    Best idea Mr customer do you have your proofs?...Proofs ?? ...I have an old blockbusters membership card and a letter from my mum when I was 2...Nobody told me about proofs ...what idiot thought this up there are so many pitfalls and lets be right how much money are they going to lose per unit with no add-ons etc .....

  • Craig - 25/09/2014 08:40

    Whatever happened to "people buy from people"? Let's face it, this is all about Colin Appleyard trying to save money by not paying sales staff. This is what's really going on here. Customers need guidance through a sale, no matter what "market research" says. When it comes to part exchange negotiation, discussing in detail what other options or vehicles may be available that will suit the customers needs and requirements, and conversing face-to-face; these are all of the things which makes buying a car special. Automating the process will mean that customers will probably get a price then go to a proper car dealer and deal with an actual person, tell them the deal that a machine offered them and then buy the car from a real person. I don't agree with it at all. Plus what about the people that are employed to sell? The people that are employed to train sales staff? The sales managers and business managers? The training facilities that the manufacturers provide? Where is the passion, the enthusiasm, the love for the motor industry? People buy from people

  • Paul - 25/09/2014 10:22

    Can't see this working, Daewoo tried this and failed, people still want to negotiate and talk to people. How many customers come in with their minds made up on a vehicle only to buy something different when the sales person effectively qualifies them and sells them what they really need? Maybe a small percentage of buyers will do this, if there is a discount button!

  • Scott - 25/09/2014 15:34

    I'm sure ther is a plan in place for negotiation and doc signing arrangements etc. if I was apple yards I'd be more worried that it's a success and manufacturers realise that they can provide for customers without the needs for people because as soon as that happens the franchise system will be out of the window and manufacturers will set up "brand experience outlets" where will follow the the plan laid out by appleyards, meaning applyards will have created the end of their own business. If it doesn't work of course then applyards may still have a business but they may find it hard to recruit top sales execs or managers who will likely distrust them since they seem intent on making them redundant.

  • G60Tim - 25/09/2014 15:58

    I'd suggest manufacturers are already well aware that the way they'll sell cars in 10-20 years time will be rather different to today.

  • gezza06 - 25/09/2014 16:08

    People will always need to see, touch and drive new cars, so there will need to be outlets/showrooms/dealers or whatever you call them with knowledgeable staff on hand to demonstrate the ever-increasing technology and get test drives done. Can't see manufacturers selling cars in any other way without this set-up.

    • G60Tim - 26/09/2014 09:08

      @gezza06 - Urban brand centres with 3D displays and interactive technology? Book the test drive, car delivered at your convenience to your home/office from a regional demonstrator hub? like it, app takes you through detailed trade-in car appraisal and generates choice of deals and finance?, pick your choice and place order from your sofa, trade-in collected and appraisal checked, car delivered to home with handover from a knowledgeable manufacturer representative? Not one of these aspects will be possible in 10 years time, right? The people who're already changing their car after 2 or 3 years, why should they not expect a process as easy as changing their smartphone? Now servicing and aftersales are a different matter...

    • craig.cap - 26/09/2014 09:16

      @G60Tim - Customer stnads at terminal......."enter part exchange details".....computing.............£2,500......"I wanted £3,000"......customer goes down the road to speak to a real person.....they negotiate......customer buys the car from a real car dealer as he feels like he has got a better deal

    • gezza06 - 26/09/2014 11:07

      @G60Tim - I agree partly as long as customers are happy to pay list prices and book price for their part exchanges. As Craig points out, they don't and want a deal with something thrown in. The article says "The company is comparing the process to mainstream retailer Argos and says it will cater for clued up motorists who know what they want." How do you get a discount at Argos on their catalogue or on-line prices-you don't!! You also have the common dilemma of mis-described part exchanges as customers nearly always think their cars are in great condition. This all needs the human touch and I can't see this changing in the near future unless new car prices become fixed.

    • craig.cap - 26/09/2014 11:09

      @gezza06 - My point exactly. Plus don't forget that we are dealing with HUMANS here. They will inevitably get the best deal from these centres, go to another manned site, then a proper dealer will just simply undercut them to get the deal done with a customer

    • G60Tim - 26/09/2014 11:27

      @craig.cap - Under the current model yes, and it's that human touch which must add the value for it to survive. Yet, Gezza06, isn't the growth in PCPs/personal leasing in danger of negating the part-ex issue? Never own it, send back the car at end of term, sign a new lease, get the new car. Thousands of corporate user choosers do exactly that already, and it seems that manufacturers are slowly encouraging retail customers to think the same.

    • craig.cap - 26/09/2014 12:09

      @G60Tim - Yes but when a customer is on a PCP they can use any equity as part-deposit, so naturally they will be straight on the Autotrader looking at how much "equity" they have even before they visit a dealer. When they get offered more than what a machine says elsewhere then guess what....

  • CGH - 25/09/2014 17:49

    Lots of comment. I'm sure Colin Appleyards' will have an angle on this. Maybe AM could get a response?

    • jeremybennett - 26/09/2014 11:19

      @CGH - We've asked if we can get more details on the plan and will put points raised here to them if we get the chance.

  • CGH - 26/09/2014 10:17

    Well done Appleyard's. This story is now in the press with all the usual damaging rhetoric about "dodgy salesman" "Lies" "commission" etc. No doubt the MD will think he's done a great job generating the publicity but, this is actually the motor trade shooting itself in the foot yet again.

  • Billie - 26/09/2014 12:49

    Don't you think it's a bit tongue in cheek. "unmanned". And where does it slate salesman, inferring they are dodgy?! You are all well aware that people have trade in's, finance checks to do and still need test drives etc, which is why they say there will still be a need for staff. Unless the test drive cars are going to be left, keys ready in ignition, jump in and go.... They're simply pointing out that lots of people know exactly what they want when they come in to a main dealer (rather than a car supermarket), and simply want the deal and be signed up without any fuss. Before I bought my Citroen I researched, compared specs & MPG (knew I wanted diesel for economy, which had to be ordered, one garage tried to persuade me into a stock petrol white sports model... BIG mistake!), I had chosen the colours, options etc, had no P/X, didn't want finance, knew what similar GAPs etc I could get cheaper elsewhere, had already accounted for putting aside money each month towards maintenance etc. I did not want any salesman trying to change my mind or sell me any add-ons, and more and more people feel the same, so the sales process isn't like it used to be. And I'd rather start the process than wait around clock watching, waiting for a salesman to finish with other customers. My salesman was purely for test driving and admin. You may not like it, but like the article says, that's the way the world is evolving.

    • gezza06 - 26/09/2014 13:14

      @Billie - The whole point is the word "unmanned" as it implies no human involvement which we're saying cannot happen. I wonder if you negotiated a discount for no p/x with the salesman even though you knew exactly what you wanted? Could you have done this if no-one was there to negotiate with (like Argos or phone purchases)? Yes the world is evolving but there are some areas that will continue to need human involvement for the foreseeable future I think.

    • CGH - 26/09/2014 14:50

      @Billie - You're missing the point. No one can believe that this is truly an "unmanned" showroom, for all the reasons already stated. It is the context of the publicity generated - that sales staff are no longer required and the press now interpreting this with usual stereotype; "dodgy", "lazy" "people hate dealing with them" etc. It denigrates our trade.

  • DGC - 06/10/2014 16:15