30 Years of Blazing the Automotive Digital Trail
2019 marks the 30th anniversary of Automobile Consumer Services, Inc. (ACS)!
It all started in 1989 when I researched information on CompuServe (73766,2604 – my ID) to buy a car for myself. After the lessons learned from my own personal experience and armed with the information available online from CompuServe, information that was previously available only in books, I helped others with their car-buying journey.
Thus began ACS and my 30-year digital journey in the automotive industry. ACS started as a car buying service on the first-ever automotive dial-up Bulletin Board Service. Later, ACS became an automotive dealership and national independent leasing company. ACS was the originator of many technological firsts, from which many dealers and automotive vendors are benefiting today.
It’s hard to cram 30 years of history into a single blog post but here are the highlights.
The first of many industry recognitions came in 1990 when Boardwatch Magazine wrote: “This [car buying service] is an excellent niche area and a fantastic concept for an online service.”
Our big break came in August of 1993 when a writer for Business Week posted a message in the CompuServe Cars Forum asking if anyone had ever bought a car online? I replied that we (ACS) help people buy cars online through our dial-up BBS and CompuServe’s Cars Forum. Business Week interviewed a few of our clients and published an article that instantly launched ACS a premier national car buying service.
About this time people started talking about a new online technology called the Internet. In 1994 I attended ONE BSBCON in Atlanta. This conference started the transition from services hosted on BBS systems to Internet websites. The ACS motto became “Technology Driven”.
BBS Reference: https://www.nytimes.com/1992/07/19/business/all-about-electronic-bulletin-boards-it-s-no-longer-just-techno-hobbyists-who.html
Over the next 20 years, ACS was featured in more than 70 publications like Forbes, Money, Kiplinger’s, Consumers Digest, Good Housekeeping, Wall Street Journal, USA Today and others. ACS also appeared on ABC News’ 20/20, was voted “Best of the Web” by Yahoo! Internet Life and appeared as an auto leasing subject matter expert on CNBC, FOX Business and Bloomberg TV.
The turn of the century was an industry first and milestone for ACS. In 2000 LeaseCompare.com was launched. LeaseCompare.com is the precursor to today’s digital retailing. This was the same year I got involved with the National Vehicle Leasing Association and was elected president of the association during its 40 year anniversary in 2007.
The next year we saw the auto industry crash of 2008. With many banks and captives exiting auto leasing, ACS stepped in to provide financial resources for those consumers who wanted to lease their vehicles. ACS also encouraged dealers to use the LeaseCompare.com platform to offer leasing direct to their customers.
To further assist dealers, ACS created a dealer website widget called DriveItNow®. A dealer-to-consumer version of LeaseCompare.com and another industry first, DriveItNow® gives dealers the ability to quote competitive loan and lease payments with the trademarked DriveItNow advertising banner button. It also gave consumers more financial choices.
I would spend the next couple of years encouraging dealers to advertise monthly payments on their websites.
Also in 2008, ACS created a loan origination system (LOS) to manage the eBay Motors Finance Center. This is where real digital retailing was born. ACS enabled cross country sales with its online lending platform. Credit applications, loan decisioning, deal structure, lending contracts, and buyer & seller communication was all done electronically online. The first-ever online end-to-end digital retailing solution.
The start of the next decade would usher in more technological advancements from ACS.
In 2010, ACS struck a unique agreement with Transunion to provide a soft-pull full file credit bureau. Previously, soft pulls were considered a credit bureau “lite” with only parts of the credit bureau provided. The advantages to the online shoppers proved to be a big hit with all credit spectrums. ACS could instantly credit pre-qualify shoppers and provide real payment offers without affecting their credit score or requiring a social security number or their date of birth. Another industry first!
ACS’s new product caught the attention of AutoNation’s Internet Sales Solutions company, AutoUSA. In 2012 AutoUSA became a reseller for DriveItNow under the product name, Payment Pro. Autoweb/Autobytel purchased AutoUSA in 2014 and has since continued to be a valued ACS reseller.
One of ACS’s most technological inventions of the decade is Shop-by-Payment. This patent-pending technology truly transforms the car shopping experience. By starting with credit first, Shop-by-Payment allows consumers to shop for their vehicle and financing together across all the dealer’s inventory and finance programs simultaneously. The customized shopping experience begins not with selecting a vehicle, but with personalization. Each customer journey is uniquely built around their preferences and financial profile.
The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) was so impressed with the accomplishments of ACS that we were invited to showcase our Adaptive Digital Retailing® technology at the Modern Dealership Experience (MDE) exhibit during the 2017 NADA annual convention in New Orleans.
NADA’s MDE showcased the latest developments in technology that is disrupting the dealership showroom with an emphasis on better connecting with online buyers. Hundreds of dealers lined up over the four days to demo the latest technological developments of ACS.
From the NADA event, ACS began building an all-new technology platform to power personalized digital marketing, shopping, and retailing solutions. When completed, GRAIL® will be the most robust personalized marketing, shopping and end-to-end digital retailing solution in the marketplace.
In the last couple of years of the current decade, ACS expanded its technology offerings into the powersports, RV and marine markets.
For 2020, and the dawning of a new decade, ACS makes its biggest announcement to date. It has established truPayments, LLC, a financial technology company. ACS formed truPayments, LLC. to create a suite of technology products and web API services on the GRAIL® platform to support new dealer customers, OEMs, lenders and the current 500+ dealers using DriveItNow®.
GRAIL® products and technology can be white-labeled for companies wanting to offer quick-to-market credit-first technology solutions without spending millions of dollars on development. API access to the credit-first truPayments® quoting engine is also available for companies who want to build their own solutions from the ground up.
The new company will expand beyond automotive into other channels and industries where consumers shop for finance-based collateral.
The truPayments, LLC executive team has more than 100 years of combined experience leading start-ups and high growth companies (as well as a few turnarounds), more than 100 years of technology and e-commerce experience, and more than 50 years of automotive industry experience.
I can definitely sum up the last 30 years with the Farmers Insurance quote, “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.”
I look forward to working and collaborating with the best and brightest in the industry to help make buying a car as much fun as it is driving one.
Here’s to an exceptional 2020!