New product portfolio VP talks challenges facing the automotive industry
After 28 years in the automotive industry, Angie Ruthenberg has been around the block… a few times.
Her impressive career includes experience with DMS (Reynolds – Accounting/Vehicle Management/F&I/Factory Communications), retail service providers (DealerTrack – Inventory/Auction/Vehicle Valuation) and dealerships (Carvana – Inventory Mgmt. and Ops).
Six months ago, Ruthenberg came to Autodata Solutions to take on the role of product portfolio VP. Here’s what she’s learned so far in her new position as well as insights on the automotive industry overall.
Q. You’ve worked in the automotive industry for a long time, what made you decide to join Autodata Solutions?
A. My sweet spot is anything related to vehicle description or valuation and through some of my previous engagements had the opportunity to meet some executives from Autodata. I invited them to come to an auction while at ADESA and showed them where/how auctions use ChromeData’s Automotive Description Service (ADS) to power their business. When mentioned that a new product management discipline was being set up within Autodata, it was a natural fit for me to join the team.
Q. How has the industry changed since you started your career at Reynolds and Reynolds in 1992?
A. It’s evolved by leaps and bounds. Digital retailing, eCommerce and social media were barely a twinkle in anyone’s eye back then. It was more focused on the brick-and-mortar business, and consumers didn’t have as much access to information as they do today.
Q. Which of your past positions has helped to best prepare you for your new role?
A. I would say each of them have contributed, but some most certainly more than others. For the last 12 years, I’ve been focused specifically on inventory management and all the various components that come within that area of focus. I’ve realized that accurate vehicle descriptions are the very foundation of which this industry has been built on. If the description is wrong, it’s a cascading event of errors.
Q. What does Autodata Solutions offer that its competitors do not?
A. The competitors in the VIN decoding space are steadily progressing with their services and accesses to data. Here are some of the top value propositions we bring to the table above all others:
- We are an authorized re-seller of OEM build data for descriptions and valuations.
- The breadth and depth of our descriptive data and tools are unmatched in the industry.
- We can accommodate a multitude of different types of businesses within the auto industry.
- Integration between Autodata Solutions products is easy and reduces errors, as well as with other industry partners’ products, via the Chrome StyleID/Acode.
- We have a strong reputation for accuracy, quality and simplicity of style reduction.
Q. What are your top priorities at Autodata Solutions?
A. My main objective is to reinforce the value our customers derive in their businesses by using ChromeData/Autodata/UnityWorks products. Here are my top 5:
- Meet with existing and prospective customers to understand what goals they are trying to achieve and what are their current pain-points.
- Continue to evolve the capabilities of our current vehicle description and valuation products.
- Specific trim identification
- Installed packages
- High value features/options
- Consolidate multiple products which deliver similar capabilities into a new, singular best-of-breed offering.
- Creating new products and services which continue to integrate Autodata Solutions into the core workstream of our customers’ daily operations.
- Partner with industry experts on the evolution of blockchain and how it will affect the automotive space.
Q. What are some of the biggest challenges facing the industry today and what do you recommend as possible solutions?
A. Challenge: Used vehicle remarketing in the retail or wholesale channels is especially difficult when there is an abundance of supply and/or downward pressure on pricing from new vehicle prices with rebates/incentives.
Solution: Dealerships need to embrace practical inventory management practices and use one of the many inventory management tools available. These tools were designed to focus on the chore of analytics so the dealership can focus on their core of moving metal with high gross and quick turn times.
Challenge: Consumer confidence in the economy is waning. Some industry experts have predicted the next recession will be in the 2020 timeframe which isn’t far off. The new unit sales for 2019 are predicted by several sources to begin to decline from what had been a 5+ year growth trend.
Solution: A two-pronged approach.
Incorporate into the sales process a way to reinforce a value-based approach. A vehicle purchase is usually an emotional purchase vs. economical. The better the vehicle is perceived to fit the customer’s needs, the better the customer will feel about their purchase.
Focus on ways to drive more business to the fixed ops side of the dealership. The last time we had a significant economic downturn, consumers were not purchasing vehicles every 2-3 or 5-7 years as they had been in the past. They tended to keep their vehicles longer which means they will spend more money to maintain the vehicle they currently have rather than purchase a new or used vehicle.
Q. In this increasingly competitive environment, what key takeaways do you give customers looking to increase the effectiveness of the sales process?
A. Respect your customers’ time. Assume they have done their research and are well informed. The days of “just get them on the lot” is dying (as it should).
Focus on the value (form, fit and function) the vehicle brings to the customer, not on price. There are too many external factors in the market (excess surplus of used vehicles/new car pricing and incentives/unknown impacts of the subscription sales model/consumer confidence is waning) right now to focus on price.
If a customer has an issue post sale – while the situation is unfortunate – this gives the dealership an opportunity to shine in how well the issue is resolved. You want the customer to remember their experience with a positive feeling vs. the dealership ripped me off.