At the 'Cars On-line 2000' conference in Brussels, speakers predicted that dealers will still have a future in the internet age, but that their responsibilities will be restricted to vehicle delivery and aftersales care.
In a post-block exemption world, manufacturers may increasingly sell directly to customers via the web, while new vendors such as supermarkets could start to compete with dealers for new car sales.
Gilly Filsner, managing associate for Ludvigsen Associates, said: 'The big question is 'is the traditional dealership going to be replaced by the virtual dealership?'
'People spend time on the internet to avoid having to deal with a traditional dealership. The advantages of this include no hard sell, better information, convenience, anonymity and price.
'Disadvantages include the need to be on-line, no try-before-you-buy, concern about transaction insecurity, and establishing responsibility for the customer.'
Conference chairman Professor Peter Cooke, head of the Centre for Automotive Industries Management at Nottingham Trent University in the UK, said dealer salespeople will become more like financial salespeople.
'The post e-commerce dealer will be a delivery point, an automotive services fulfilment agency and a service reception/ organisation, which will involve collecting and returning cars that need to be serviced,' he said.
And Frans van Bragt, senior business consultant at Cap Gemini Netherlands, said: 'In the future, the dealer will still deliver the car even if it has been bought over the internet. The dealer will also still provide the service and repair.'