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“On average, a typical car buyer spends four hours at most dealerships buying a new car,” “In a day and age when every hour counts in our busy schedules, we believe the new MSA program is the perfect tool.” Words recently spoken by the man in charge of Mazda’s customer satisfaction and loyalty, Mike Ray. MSA? That’d be Mazda Shopping Assistant.

On one hand you have Access Toyota, which shows you the very same pricing methods as the sales consultant at the dealer would see. You select your options, change the colour, add a package and decide you actually want a manual transmission – BOOM, here’s your price.

On the other hand, you have MSA. Rather than just the MSRP of the basic vehicle, Mazda will allow you to get quotes from the dealerships of your choice – from the comfort of your own computer chair. I built a Mazda CX-7 to my specification, pretended like I was still from San Antonio, and was offered the chance to fill out a brief form with some personal info, trade-in info, and 1000 characters worth of comments space. Had I filled out this information I would have been offered quotes from World Car Mazda, North Park Mazda, and Ingram Park Mazda in San Antonio.

On the left side of the page, clearly displayed, was the “Chat Now – Shopping Assistant” button. When I clicked, I was told I could send an email and expect a quick response or wait until 6am – 4:45pm PST to chat. Chatting would not be available on the weekends, it said.

Dealer quotes? Useful, but nothing ingenious. Impressing me requires a new step, and the chatting ability could start a great trend. When the web-developing Good Car Girl is building a site or needs customer service from the telecommunications company, chatting while she works is her exclusive method. Enabling high-traffic consumer websites to pull off the same trick is brilliant. “Will I be able to get leather interior in a lighter colour if I wait two months?” I could ask. “Will fuel economy suffer if I choose all-wheel drive?” GCBC will feature rankings of the best automotive websites, from both design and practicality standpoints, real soon.