Jamie LaReau:

Lithia Motors Inc. is testing technology dubbed The Sales Evolution in three dealerships. In December, AutoNation Inc. launched its AutoNation Express in South Florida. That initiative converts the company’s websites from informational to transactional and aims to make buying a car more like purchasing other products online.
 Penske worked with various vendors to develop the software, and tested it for eight months, Mulcahey said. Penske launched the pilot last week on the website of Audi Tysons Corner in Vienna, Va., one of the Washington-area stores.
 Here’s how it works.
 Say a customer on the store’s website clicks on an A4 sedan. All new Audi A4s in stock appear with their sticker prices. If the customer then clicks on the Preferred Purchase icon to the right of the A4 photos, a menu appears, offering several options: chat with a sales associate, connect with the dealership via phone or proceed with online options, such as getting an instant trade-in value estimate, exploring payments or getting loan preapproval.
 There’s still human involvement. Even if a customer wants to do as much of a purchase as possible online, the store still has to send documents to be signed, physically evaluate the value of a trade-in, have a staffer present finance and insurance options by phone or in person and make arrangements for delivery at the store or elsewhere.