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Death of the Car Salesman? BMW Makes AI App To Sell Electric Cars 168

Posted by Soulskill
from the i'm-sorry-dave,-i-can't-let-you-walk-off-the-lot-without-this-beauty dept.
cartechboy writes "You thought Willy Loman had it bad. BMW is launching an artificial intelligence app allowing consumers to ask questions about its new BMW i3 electric car without the hassle of having to pick up the phone or go into a dealership. Potential customers can text a simple question about the i3 and the system builds an appropriate response in real-time using AI — interpreting words, sentiment, and context. The futuristic robo-car salesman was developed by 19-year-old entrepreneur Dmitry Aksenov and operates around the clock. No word on whether the app says, 'Wait here — I'll check with my sales manager,' like human car dealers often do."
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Death of the Car Salesman? BMW Makes AI App To Sell Electric Cars

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  • No way (Score:5, Funny)

    by tuo42 (3004801) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @04:21AM (#44694667)
    No application can be as aggressively persuasive as your general car salesman!
    • Re:No way (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Smidge204 (605297) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @05:01AM (#44694773) Journal

      "Notice: Please press 'Accept' to the agreement below within the next 59 second(s) to avoid having every photo on this device forwarded to your twitter account."

      More seriously, traditional dealers are considered a hurdle to EV sales because they have to compete with their other inventory. Dealers may not be as knowledgeable and enthusiastic about EVs to make an effective sale. There's also a notion that, since thee majority of a dealer's profit comes from the service department, that EVs don't get pushed as aggressively because they don't need as much service.

      Since selling factory direct runs afoul of many state laws here in the US, this seems like an interesting alternative... just take the human interest out of the sales pitch.
      =Smidge=

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        selling factory direct runs afoul of many state laws here in the US

        Out of interest what is the justification for those laws? They seem to run contrary to the idea of a free market.

        • And you know who is the biggest advocate of those dealer laws: Texas.

          Yes, folks, just maybe people screaming "free market" and "no regulation" are trying to scam you.

        • by Necroman (61604)

          My basic understand of it is: for when a new auto manufacturer comes around, they don't have to setup a dealership themselves in every city across the country, instead they can just ship their cars to all the existing dealerships. This is a service provided by the dealership to the automaker to help the automaker grow when it is young. Then, to prevent the automaker from cutting off all their shipments to dealerships when they are big enough to setup their own stores, laws were put into place to prevent

      • Since selling factory direct runs afoul of many state laws here in the US

        I find this to be particularly disturbing I cannot buy directly from the manufacture which means I have to pay extra to some middle men. I would like to buy a car that doesn't cost me an arm and leg but the state is writing laws that serve to inflate the price. This also serves to insure that startups in the auto industry have a higher barrier to entry and limits competition for established players.

    • Re:No way (Score:5, Funny)

      by rwise2112 (648849) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @08:30AM (#44695769)
      I hope it's like this:

      "Hi, I'm Malfunctioning Eddie, and I'm malfunctioning so badly, I'm practically giving these cars away!!! "

    • by Quirkz (1206400)

      I don't know, if it actually answered the questions posed it would be an improvement over the guy I talked to at Nissan last time I was car shopping. I clicked a "give me an instant quote" button, which was actually a "we'll get back to you with an email" button, and despite three attempts to get actual facts out of the guy the only thing he said each time was "Yeah, we've got lots of models. Give me a call or come on down and we'll talk."

    • Having sold cars for a brief time, I can assure you, that people do not WANT a nice car salesman. They expect the stereotype and respond awkwardly to a "nice, friendly" person.

      I recall one day, I was particularly in a Pissed off mood, and was rude, belligerent, condescending as only I can be. That day, I sold four cars. By far, the best day I ever had. Coincidence? Perhaps, however, the grumpier the sales person, the more cars they sold.

      The problem with selling cars, is that most people are ill equipped to

      • Two hours? Our last car purchase took 30 minutes. We got a quote, asked if our local dealer could match it (or get acceptably close) and call us if they could - and when they did, we sorted it out.

        Two hours is insane

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @04:43AM (#44694743)
    can we get rid of realtors next? And the general class of human cancers known as middlemen?
    • by Livius (318358)

      Yes. The Internet already does 90% of what a realtor does.

      • How are the all the douchebags you remember from high school that are in love with the glamor shot photo going to feed themselves if we get rid of realtors?

      • by spacepimp (664856)

        Except for collecting their percentage.

      • But it's the other 10% - ensuring all the legal paperwork and details are handled that makes it worth paying them.

        • by tompaulco (629533)

          But it's the other 10% - ensuring all the legal paperwork and details are handled that makes it worth paying them.

          Nope, the title company does that.

          • Reading comprehension - get some. I didn't say "handles" the paperwork and details, I said "ensures they are handled". Not even remotely the same thing.

            Not to mention there are details that are beyond the (very narrow) purview of the title company.

    • by Carewolf (581105)

      You don't need middlemen, just ignore them, and it is like they were never there.... until they stab you in the back that is.

    • Oblig (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "About 50% of the human race is middle-men and they don't take kindly to being eliminated."

    • by asylumx (881307)
      I don't want you trouncing through my house without an escort, thank you. I think the Buyer's agent is still a good thing. The seller's agent, however, could probably go away without causing too much trouble.
      • by tgd (2822)

        I don't want you trouncing through my house without an escort, thank you. I think the Buyer's agent is still a good thing. The seller's agent, however, could probably go away without causing too much trouble.

        The realtor ... I mean Realtor(tm) ... cartel leams without a seller's agent, you won't have buyers agents coming through, and essentially no visibility because you won't be in MLS. Some agent services will do an MLS listing for you without full representation, although I don't think they're supposed to be doing that. Without a buyer's agent, you're not getting into a house that isn't having an open house because seller's agents don't do that. Its a scam.

        The real problem is that you, as a buyer or seller, a

        • by Whorhay (1319089)

          It sounds to me like there could be money in developing an independant MLS type system.

          Personally I have nothing against realtors, having only had pleasant experiences with them. I realize that they don't do anything that I can't, but that is true for a huge number of other occupations. I could change my own oil, cook all my own food, hell I could grow my own food much of the time. I don't do those things though because I already have one job and it pays well enough that I value my free time more than savin

    • by tgd (2822)

      can we get rid of realtors next? And the general class of human cancers known as middlemen?

      Here's the unfortunate problem -- efficiency has gotten so high in most industries, half the people in the world would be unemployed without middlemen (ie, stores, resellers, distributers, online retail, etc)... and you'll end up paying just as much money in taxes to support their social welfare programs.

    • What the article failed to mention was the scumbag dealer switch, which is a lot closer the dealership experience in real life: it even holds your car keys hostage while he goes away and "talks to his manager" to see if it sounds "do-able". Even the beta testers decided to "forgetabout it promised to return".

    • by OG (15008)

      There are good realtors that provide a service (note that I say good -- it's important to research realtors like anything else). If I'm buying a home in a new town that I don't know anything about, I want to work with a realtor. I can give them a list of what I'm looking for (price, safety, convenience, features, etc), and they're going to be much more efficient about finding possible matches than I would. As for selling homes, most people only do that a handful of times in their lives. A realtor is going t

  • Car salesmen (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I'm not living in the american cultural sphere. Around here carsalesmen never go to their managers, they are also not aggressively pushy. They are actually pretty much the best salesmen a normal consumer will ever meet. (Seen B2B salesmen too, the really good ones usually end up there). Aggressively pushy ones end up in hospitals or unemployed. Are american carsales man really as bad as the stereotype suggests? If so, why do you think they end up being like that?

    • Re:Car salesmen (Score:5, Interesting)

      by itsdapead (734413) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @05:41AM (#44694871)

      I'm not living in the american cultural sphere. Around here carsalesmen never go to their managers, they are also not aggressively pushy.

      Eh? I didn't know they had car salesmen in Narnia!

      Based on my last experience, we don't have car salesmen in England, either - we have financial product salesmen who push loans, hare-brained leasing deals and dubious extended warranty schemes to people who have already decided to buy the car and are (figuratively, at least) waving the cash in their face. Its pretty clear that actually selling cars has little to do with their business model.

      Oh, and I have it on good authority that (as I always suspected) the "consulting my manager" theatre means "putting the kettle on in preparation for a celebratory brew" (maybe in the US it is more likely to be turning on the coffee machine)... or maybe headbutting the wall a few times if the stubborn customer has insisted on actually paying for the car, thus depriving you of the finance company commission.

      • by OzPeter (195038) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @06:35AM (#44695045)

        Based on my last experience, we don't have car salesmen in England, either - we have financial product salesmen who push loans, hare-brained leasing deals and dubious extended warranty schemes to people who have already decided to buy the car and are (figuratively, at least) waving the cash in their face. Its pretty clear that actually selling cars has little to do with their business model.

        But .. but .. but .. you have totally awesome car leasing places like Ling's Cars [lingscars.com]

        (Pro tip .. check out the ASCII art in the source. Yes .. ASCII art!)

      • by cayenne8 (626475)

        Based on my last experience, we don't have car salesmen in England, either - we have financial product salesmen who push loans, hare-brained leasing deals and dubious extended warranty schemes to people who have already decided to buy the car and are (figuratively, at least) waving the cash in their face.

        Do ya'll negotiate the car prices over there like we do here...or is the price on the sticker the price you pay over there?

        • by itsdapead (734413)

          Do ya'll negotiate the car prices over there like we do here...or is the price on the sticker the price you pay over there?

          There's usually some room for negotiation - especially if you're trading in your old car, the value of which is heavily dependent on how badly the dealer wants to sell you the new car. Not a nation of great hagglers (anyway, a haggling culture only means that dealers inflate the initial price).

      • by Valdrax (32670)

        Oh, and I have it on good authority that (as I always suspected) the "consulting my manager" theatre means "putting the kettle on in preparation for a celebratory brew" (maybe in the US it is more likely to be turning on the coffee machine)... or maybe headbutting the wall a few times if the stubborn customer has insisted on actually paying for the car, thus depriving you of the finance company commission.

        Pretty much. When I bought my car, I did two things that help change the pressure of the situation immensely. I brought a friend and a book. The book came out when the guy pulled the whole "let me talk with my manager" bit, so that it was obvious he wasn't going to get me to stew in my juices in isolation, and the friend came in handy by letting me know the guy was just talking about sports to another salesperson after wandering around a bit and spotting him.

      • by hurfy (735314)

        ... or maybe headbutting the wall a few times if the stubborn customer has insisted on actually paying for the car, thus depriving you of the finance company commission.

        lol
        My dad found out how to frustrate the dealership, pick out a car and plop down a credit card. Salesman is frustrated, clerk is baffled, accounting is pissed(all of a sudden that 3% fee seems to matter...) He'll pay it off when the bill comes I imagine and the only one paying finance fees are the dealer. That probably wasn't their goal :) Airline miles reward card too of course on a nearly 30k car ;)

    • Yes, they are as bad as you've heard. They'll do stuff like insist a used car is a cream puff even though it has worse dents than door dings, and will keep insisting it's a cream puff even after you point out the dents. Or if there's a big puddle of transmission fluid or oil under the car, they'll suggest it's just a leaky seal, and not a sign that the transmission or engine is shot. You also have to check carefully for water damage. You could try to visually examine the car, but it's better to run a ch

  • by Ubi_NL (313657) <`joris' `at' `ideeel.nl'> on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @04:45AM (#44694749) Journal

    For me, the content of the answer is part of what I want. I pay equal attention to the way the salesman is giving the answer too. If I have the feeling he is bullshitting his way into a sale I know I have to ask more complex questions.

    At least with robots you know in advance you are being bullshitted as they literally have no sense of ethics. For humans this requires effort and sometimes they slip up.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @05:03AM (#44694779)

      Yes, but since the AI is not (or at least not yet) a culpable entity under the law. It means culpability falls on to BMW for anything the AI promises or says. So if it says yes you can drive the car from Alaska to Russia. BMW could be brought to court under the law for making false calms about it's car capabilities. Now, if a human where to say that you'd have to find some evidence to show that BMW had told it's salesmen or implied that they show make that calm. Otherwise, you could only go after the salesman for his actions.

      • Wrong. BMW would still deny wrongdoing and blame the people who wrote the app. You'll end up in a lawsuit with 5-6 defendants and no end in sight. Would cost more than the car so you'll settle out of court (unless you have a list of damages a judge will get behind).

        • by N1AK (864906)
          Wrong. If you asked it a question like what is the top speed etc and it gives a false answer chances are it is bringing the answer from an approved database. Your claim would be against BMW not the AI developer (although BMW may choose to sue them if they fucked up the app) and it wouldn't be an overly complex case.
      • by Valdrax (32670)

        So if it says yes you can drive the car from Alaska to Russia. BMW could be brought to court under the law for making false calms about it's car capabilities.

        I'm pretty sure that the AI system won't be advanced enough to even let you ask such a question and get a meaningful response.

    • by citizenr (871508)

      For me, the content of the answer is part of what I want. I pay equal attention to the way the salesman is giving the answer too. If I have the feeling he is bullshitting his way into a sale I know I have to ask more complex questions.

      So instead of buying a car you are buying VERY EXPENSIVE live performance? How about research the car instead of reading people and tea leaves?

    • by jxander (2605655)

      The robot isn't getting paid on commission though, so it has no reason to lie or mislead you (other than the parent company wanting to sell more vehicles in general)

      Also, any questions and answers will be in writing, giving the customer a better recourse if promises turn out to be false. I'm sure BMW can make some boilerplate disclaimer to prevent legal action, but if word spreads of the AI blatantly lying about specs, it could seriously impact bottom line.

  • Lolwut (Score:5, Funny)

    by korgitser (1809018) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @05:05AM (#44694789)

    without the hassle of having to pick up the phone

    How exactly am I supposed to use the app without picking up the phone?

  • new cars are great but i dont know anyone stupid enough to buy one. what we need is an open system to easily and securely buy and sell used cars between people. Craigslist is OK until you have to deal with a car owner that freaks out over selling his Kentucky car to a person with a California drivers license because hes watched too much real housewives. ebay isnt terrible until you factor in the cut taken by PayPal. dealerships however take the cake with notoriously high pressure sales, outright lies ab
    • by itsdapead (734413)

      new cars are great but i dont know anyone stupid enough to buy one.

      Obviously some people do, or there wouldn't be any used cars. Let's raise a glass to those fearless folk who break in new cars for the good of the used-car-buying public.

    • Good luck trying to find a stick which hasn't been abused to the point that the clutch needs replaced but the dealer doesn't tell you.

      Then of course there are the thousands of cars which were flooded in Sandy or other disasters which are cleaned and sold as "reconditioned" without telling you their insides are rusting away as you talk to the salesperson.

      There are very good reasons to buy a car new IF you keep it long enough. Long enough being at least 10 years.

      • by cayenne8 (626475)

        Then of course there are the thousands of cars which were flooded in Sandy or other disasters which are cleaned and sold as "reconditioned" without telling you their insides are rusting away as you talk to the salesperson.

        Ahh...same thing happened after Katrina. Everyone in the area knew to be wary of buying used cars for a few years afterwards down here, wasn't that much of a shock.

        As with anything used a little research and buyer beware is required.

        • The problem is, since everyone in the area knows about the issue, the cars are sent to other parts of the country where people have no idea these cars may have been underwater.

          A local tv station had a demonstration where they took a car which had been submerged and had it cleaned, top to bottom. They then put it with 3 other cars and asked random people to find the one car which had been underwater.

          Not one person chose the car even though they knew one of the cars was the correct choice.

          Unless you specific

  • I've always been annoyed that I can't just buy a car online (or house for that matter) - glad to see that change!

    I also believe it will allow for better feedback to the manufacturer. People will ask for and select the features they like, not the ones the salesman convinced them to sign for because it helps his commission or allows him to sell a model from his inventory.

  • by tlambert (566799) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @06:16AM (#44694983)
    I see you are trying to buy an electric car.

    Do you want some help?

    (o) Take me to the Tesla web site
    ( ) Flounder around with this hunk of junk
         [ Cancel ]
      ___
    /   \\
    |    |
    @   @
    ||  ||  <--
    ||  ||
    |\\_/|
    \____/
  • by RealGene (1025017) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @06:30AM (#44695029)
    ..the amount of money it will take to put the keys in my hand.
    By the time I arrive at (or even call) the dealership, I have researched the car, know the invoice price for the model I want, and have picked out the color.
    The only opinions I want about the car are from the mechanics who work on them.

    It freaked out the last salesman I bought from when I said I didn't need to test drive the car.
  • Is it, perhaps, a sign that your product line is the problem if you feel the need to build an expert system to elucidate it for customers? Sure, an expert system designed to help the customer beats an inexpert human paid to hurt the customer; but seriously.
  • Dear BMW.... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Lumpy (12016)

    If you cant give me a 200 mile range (shortest range in worst conditions like -20 below heavy snow with the heater blasting full, or 120 degrees desert with AC blasting full blast) then you will not sell electric cars here in the use except for niche markets like large cities as short range commuter cars.

    Most people that have the money for a BMW electric live 45 miles from work in the suburbs and will need at LEAST a comfort zone of charge. If I drive 90 miles plus 15 miles for lunch each day I need a 20

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      Most people that have the money for a BMW electric live 45 miles from work in the suburbs and will need at LEAST a comfort zone of charge. If I drive 90 miles plus 15 miles for lunch each day I need a 200 mile range car just in case I need to get groceries on the way home, or take the family to Starbucks for an evening overpriced coffee buzz.

      Get your employer/community to provide a fueling station everywhere you stop. It doesn't have to be a FAST fuelling station - just realizing that your car is sitting ar

    • It's almost like BMW didnt do 7 years of research of real driving habits, through MINI-E and then ACTIVE-E (1-series coupe), on peoples actual usage of their cars....
      Oh wait, nope, they did. You're spreading FUD

      Range extender if you have real anxiety.

  • Even the article that's linked immediately behind "19-year-old" has 7/23/92 as his birthdate. That's 21 years in my book.
  • by derfla8 (195731) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @07:53AM (#44695483)

    The majority of "sales people" these days are redundant middlemen who provide negative value to the customer. Anyone who wants to, can be armed with way more information than a salesperson these days and would make a much more informed decision on their own, versus the bias from sales people towards whatever incentives and inventory they are keeping in mind.

    Tesla is an example that breaks the mold, their sales people are very informed and are not there to push you into a particular model/options/upsells. In my interactions with Tesla salespeople, they are there to help you determine whether the vehicle is the right fit for your needs. If only all salesperson experiences were like this (including Realtors who are more interested in self-promotion than actually selling your home) then these middlemen would be less redundant.

  • A family is on the run and they need to buy a used car for cash, fast. They haggle with an AI salesman - a speakerbox on a booth with an appropriate robotic voice - then drop the money in a slot, more than they wanted to spend. As they're driving away they see a guy exiting the booth, counting the money. One of them cracks up - only a human being could get them to spend that much money on this piece of junk!

    *Nature's End by Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka. Don't you judge me.

    .
  • "Salesman"? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Konowl (223655) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @09:30AM (#44696393)

    When was the last time you had to legitimately phone up a salesman to ask him a question anyways.

    Last car I bought I knew the invoice price ahead of time. I picked two dealerships in different cities, emailed them my offer. When they both responded, I took the cheaper response and emailed the other dealership. Rinse and repeat. When one stopped negotiating, I then went to a third dealership with the lowest price so far.

    In the end, I didn't even pick up the phone and talk to my salesman. I met him the day I picked up the car.

  • I don't think BMW salesmen will be losing too much sleep over this. According to the second linked article [carsuk.net] the "truly groundbreaking" AI is not actually that smart; certainly not Turing Test material.

  • If they were going to do this, why use some crappy half-ass POS key word matching shit? Go for real. Get a Watson. Pretty sure it could answer the mountain bike question.

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