After all, buying cars at auction is a utilitarian affair, a world of shrewd knowledge, clandestine signals and lots of cars moving very quickly. There is little time for niceties.
But what if instead of having to stand, stamping your feet to keep warm on a cold concrete floor, polystyrene cup of tepid tea in hand, you were sitting in a comfortable leather chair at a desk in an air-conditioned room, with a chef nearby to fulfil your dietary requirements?
What about touch-screen bidding machines, with hundreds of detailed pictures and histories of everything about to be offered? This is auctioneering of the future.
Manheim is piloting this vision of the future at its Manheim DRIVE (Development, Research, Innovation, Vision, Excellence) centre just outside of Atlanta, Georgia.
This 30-acre site, situated incongruously at the end of a picket-fenced housing estate, is where the firm experiments and researches the future of the auction industry. Its Buck Rogers-style auction centre uses biometric technology to identify individuals so that bidders can check in using their fingerprints, instantly bringing up their details and accounts.
Cars are all tagged with radio frequency identification so that from the control centre, which is more like Nasa mission control, Manheim officials can pinpoint from their desks to within three feet where any car is in the parking lot, reconditioning centre or auction hall. Not only does this make movements more efficient but it allows the seller to see how long the car remained unsold for, or spent in the reconditioning centre.
There’s also no need to get your hands dirty looking round the car. Using the touch screens in the 180-seat, cinema-style auction hall, a buyer can spin round the high resolution pictures of each car, zoom in and out looking at the tiniest detail, call up all data and details of the car, create lists of target vehicles and also bid by merely touching the screen.
It has already run successful auctions for BMW, Jaguar and other premium marques in the States, flying in buyers who compete with others looking in on Simulacast internet bidding through the USA.
It’s fair to say that this high technology approach is a long way off for British auction centres.
It has cost Manheim millions of dollars to put in place and traditional auctions are already one of the most efficient ways of buying and selling.
But in the same way that a concept car might never make it into production, while certain ideas and technologies make it on to road cars, you can see uses in the no-limits thinking going on here.
Imagine no more paperwork at an auction, where all transactions are completed automatically thanks to biometrics, and vehicle tracking certainly has benefits in improving efficiency.
DRIVE is a statement of intent that Manheim is committed to improving the way the auction business works. The question is: would UK buyers ever give up their cold feet, tepid coffee and bacon sarnies for this ultra-slick, high-tech, luxurious experience?
Manheim boasts world’s biggest site
If you have been to America, you will be well used to the boast ‘this is the world’s biggest burger/hotel/ball of string/pair of pants’ ringing constantly in your ears. And whether they are actually the biggest is entirely dependent on which state you’re in. The biggest ball of string is either in Texas, Minnesota or Kansas, according to independent Fleet News research.
But the world’s biggest auction centre?
There’s no doubt of that. It’s in a small rural town in Pennsylvania with a population of 6,000. A town called Manheim.
There should be no shortage of cars for the residents of Manheim, because at the home of the auction giant there is storage space for 24,000 cars, plus other parking areas in the region for thousands more.
The scale of car selling which goes on here is almost unimaginable. The Manheim auction centre covers more than 400 acres (a large site in the UK would be about 50 acres) and the firm has massive expansion plans for its site as well.
On a strong sale day the 30 auction lanes will sell between 8-10,000 cars.
There are 50 auctioneers working 30-minute shifts, with at least 2,000 buyers at every auction.
In the local area there are more than 100 reconditioning firms preparing cars for auction, while on site Manheim itself will prepare around 300 cars for sale each day. It can recondition – using its full repainting and bodywork facilities – around 80 badly damaged cars a day as well.
The site employs more than 2,500 people, many of them semi-retired. Their job is to get the car from the parking lot, which could be almost a mile away, and drive it through the auction floor, where the bidders, mostly buying for independent and franchised dealers, compete with Simulcast bidders from all over America.
Most auctions will seem like organised chaos to the uninitiated, but to see 30 lanes, with constant streams of hundreds of cars filing through, while thousands of buyers mill about searching out bargains is to see market forces at their most elemental, impressive, and terrifying. It certainly beats a big ball of string.
New website launched
Manheim has launched its new website, www.manheim.co.uk.
It claims the new site will be the most advanced in the industry, allowing users to access all stock throughout the country, using a personalised search engine which looks for preferred stock, and will warn users when vehicles they are interested in come up for sale.
There are also guides to buying and selling, a clever diary function and news. Registered users can adapt the site to their own specific needs. Suzanne Harris, general manager – product development, said: ‘The new Manheim website is further evidence of the significance that we are placing on online communications.’