With the charge that "today's dealer/factory model is a supremely inefficient system," Brandweek's Steve Miller has put together a 6-page report called "A Whole Lot of Questions" that wonders what would happen if the entire brick-and-mortar, kick-the-tires-and-sign-here institution were done away with.
Coming from Brandweek, the article naturally takes a close look at the the multiplicity and overlapping marketing and advertising efforts (national, regional, local) that are often redundant, sometimes annoying, and add to the cost of each car. However, it also spends a fair amount of time examining the arcane and financially complex relationships between manufacturers, dealers, the dealer lobby, and franchise laws (and how much that relationship costs), the inability to easily compare many different models on-site, and observes that car salesmen are consistent bottom-dwellers in three decades of Gallup polls surveying honesty and ethics (only telemarketers fare worse). Nevertheless, everyone admits that for all of its inefficiencies, the dealer experience delivers most of the experience that a car buyer is looking for. For the moment, barring a revolution in mindsets and a billion dollars to pay for creating a more efficient system, the dealership network could be the best option -- and this was stressed a couple of times -- "for now."
You can read the full report here.