Auto manufacturers are using a variety of electronic techniques to lure more customers into the showroom.
The simplest is a video display terminal playing commercials and informational messages -- either nonstop or on request -- at malls, airports and other places where cars are shown.
Meanwhile, Chevrolet last year sent out 25,000 computer diskettes to personal-computer users, providing details on the costs and options of all Chevy cars and trucks. PC users could then design the car they want and calculate the costs -- as well as financing figures -- in their home before they even entered a showroom.
"The object was to get a person to a Chevrolet dealer," Ed Lechtzin, Chevrolet's assistant director of public relations, said.
In the showroom itself, Chrysler is experimenting with a video-disc system called the Chrysler Customer Assistance Program. The system enables a salesman to answer questions about the company and car models through a video system. The system also calculates loan payments and the fuel-economy savings.
"What we're trying to do is provide a consistent factual presentation to the consumer," said Jim Boeberitz, Chrysler's manager of sales analysis and forecasting. "That doesn't always happen when you rely on people. The system does help, and I think we'll roll it out, beginning next quarter."