What I've learned about AI_27_03_24What I've learned about AI_27_03_24


What I’ve learned so far about AI and how it can help car dealers

  • Our AI Car Dealership project has now been running for three months. Here, James Baggott looks at what he’s learned so far about AI and where it has – and hasn’t – helped

Time 7:31 am, March 27, 2024

Setting up a used car dealership with the help of artificial intelligence sounds like it could be the script to a terrible straight-to-DVD movie.

But it’s not. It’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do since the start of the year and now, three months in, I thought it would be useful to take a look at where exactly AI has helped.

When I started this project, I had high hopes for AI. Like everyone else, I’d read the headlines about it stealing our jobs and one day trying to kill us and with that in mind, I had rather ambitious expectations.

The grand plan was to try to use AI at every step of the journey – from the set-up of the company to eventually talking to customers and maybe even doing deals. The reality, though, has been somewhat different.

What I‘ve quickly come to realise is that AI isn’t all it’s cracked up to be – well, not just yet anyway. I’ve been using ChatGPT to assist me and have found it to be a mixed bag of outcomes and unfortunately most have been on the poor side.

With some tasks it can be very helpful, like when I asked it to come up with a name for my used car business. It suggested Clever Car Collection pretty quickly, and now that I’ve been using it for a few months, it’s really grown on me.

It helped design the logo, too. While the concept needed some refining – notably the embarrassing fact that it spelt ‘clever’ incorrectly – the general idea was good and, with some human tweaking, has been adopted for my branding. What it did in seconds would have taken a design agency quite a few expensive man hours to create.

I asked AI for help finding a bank account for the business too, but that failed spectacularly – mostly because no banks seemingly wanted to back a used car business. I tried seven banks in total and was rejected by them all before the bank I use personally, Barclays, gave me the nod.

I did find AI useful for creating copy for my website that serial award winners 67 Degrees made for me – but you do need to be careful here. 

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AI copy can be spotted a mile off and it likes to be a bit over the top with its adjectives. It needs careful editing to make it sound remotely like something a normal person would write. However, it was a good start and certainly saved me some time.

I have also heard Google is starting to penalise websites with AI-generated content, so that’s something to be conscious of, too.

Car buying

When it came to car buying I really wanted AI to excel, but again it struggled. I’ve found searching through daily auction listings on Carwow, Motorway and similar very time-consuming, and as I’m quite fussy about what I want to buy, I hoped that AI would come into its own here.

I wanted it to search the sites for cars with a high Auto Trader retail rating, low days to sell and located relatively close to me. I envisaged AI being able to work through all these spreadsheets for me and shortlist the cars in my buying profile. 

Sadly, my colleague Jon Reay proved it could be done far quicker using a spreadsheet and a few filters. 

I haven’t given up on this plan, though. I have some people helping me come up with a system that can ingest various auction lists and spit out some relevant potential stock on a daily basis – but it’s not been easy and it’s nowhere near ready.

I’ve used AI to help me write replies to customers, but most of the time it’s quicker and more effective just doing it yourself. That being said, some dealers have told me it’s very good at helping deal with complaints or problem customers, as it helps take any emotion out of the replies.

There are a number of systems available out there that use AI to help you converse with customers and from what I’ve seen they’re pretty powerful, but for a dealership of my size, I’ve had no real issues dealing with the leads myself and actually quite like doing it.

That’s not to say that as the business grows it isn’t something that I might want to hand off to AI more in the future.

The advantage of AI answering customer inquiries in the first instance is it’s always on and working which means everyone always gets an answer swiftly. It also never forgets to get a vital piece of information that might slip a human’s mind.

That said, most of these AI systems still need a lot of setup. They work within a defined set of boundaries and you have to input the answers you want it to give. 

I really imagined AI would be a bit smarter. I wanted to be able to have a conversation with it and tell it what to do – a bit like a digital apprentice – something I could tell what to do and it would ask relevant questions to help continually improve the process. 

Effectively, what I want is Iron Man’s Jarvis for the motor trade, but for some reason I keep getting told that it doesn’t exist…

With AI as it stands, and in particular ChatGPT, you can spend more time asking it to do things than if you were to do them yourself. I’ve found it’s quite poor with data, and if you ask it to read figures from an image or PDF it can really start to get mixed up.

I’ve certainly realised that you need to check what it gives you back, especially when it comes to numbers. On more than one occasion it has clearly just made things up, which is especially worrying. They call this ‘hallucinating’ and apparently it’s something that AI does a lot.

Where I will be using AI more in the future is with my SellYourCarToJames.com project (coming soon). This website aims to help me buy cars locally and I’ll be using AI to come up with the marketing ideas so that I can hyper-target it to the surrounding area.

I’ve teamed up with the brilliant DealerKit DMS software firm and AI specialists Impel to help me build the website and put in place the technology to help smooth the process. 

Customers will be able to chat to an AI assistant on the website and ask questions about the process. It will encourage them to provide more details about the car they’re looking to sell and guide them along the journey to a point where I can step in and assist.

I feel a bit more comfortable getting AI help with this element of the business, as the inquiry volumes could be greater and as a result could be more of a drain on my time. 

I’ve been promised it can help work out which customers genuinely want to sell their car and which are just trying to get a valuation, which will be very useful. I’m looking forward to getting it live.

Running a motor trade business, even on the tiny scale of mine, has made me realise just how complicated it is. There are various systems to cope with and few of them interact with each other seamlessly. 

The bridge for them all (currently) is the human, but I’d like to think that as AI becomes more intelligent it will start to be able to assist more in the menial tasks that running a motor trade business requires.

I’d love to see the day where I can talk to an AI assistant and tell it ‘we’ve sold the blue Fiesta’ and then ask it to ‘prepare the documents for sale’. 

A human apprentice would, with training, understand what you mean with those simple instructions and go about organising payment of a deposit, preparing handover packs, arranging warranties and all the other things needed to get that car sold. And it’s this I’d like to see AI achieve.

We’re still in the early days of this project. I’ve only sold nine cars, after all. But it’s been fascinating, and somewhat enlightening, trying it out for myself. And I’ve certainly got the bug for it. I’m supposed to be winding down ahead of a back operation next week but can’t stop myself buying cars. The motor trade really is rather addictive…

You can watch all of the videos from this series in the dedicated playlist here.

If you’ve been using AI in your car dealership I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch using the email button below.

James Baggott's avatar

James is the founder and editor-in-chief of Car Dealer Magazine, and CEO of parent company Baize Group. James has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years writing about cars and the car industry.

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