In a perfect world, every dealership would act on every Internet lead, responding quickly and following all the right steps leading to a sale.  

Some individual dealers currently do all that all the time, and their high Internet-related sales serve as evidence.

But when it comes to groups of dealers representing particular auto brands, it’s an imperfect world, according to a Pied Piper annual mystery-shopping study measuring dealership responsiveness to customer online inquiries.

At the top of the index are Lexus, Porsche and Land Rover dealerships with lead effectiveness of 68, 66 and 65, respectively. One hundred is a perfect score.

At the bottom of the list are Mitsubishi, Scion and Mini, respectively scoring 50, 49 and 48. The industry average is 56.

“By brand, I don’t think we’ll ever see 100, but hopefully we’ll see brands in the 70s in another five years or so,” Pied Piper Management CEO Fran O’Hagan tells WardsAuto.

After showing three years of improvements, the latest industry-average performance went unchanged, according to the 2014 Pied Piper Prospect Satisfaction Index Internet Lead Effectiveness Benchmarking Study.

Twenty-one of 33 brands recorded higher scores in 2014. Two brands, Lexus and Subaru, have occupied spots in the top one-third of the rankings since they began in 2011.

In addition to the three leaders, other luxury brands in the top 10 are Jaguar, Audi and Lincoln. But the premium marques of BMW, Cadillac and Infiniti scored below the industry average.

But BMW dealers are getting better at it, O’Hagan says. “BMW has shown consistent improvement. Infiniti is just the opposite.”

Much of the mystery shopping scores dealerships on how quickly they reply to email inquiries asking a simple yet specific question an auto-responder can’t answer.

Quickness and effectiveness of responses is important because dealers who do it well typically sell more cars, O’Hagan says.

“Today’s most successful brands and dealerships tend to be the ones that thrive on customer Internet inquiries,” he says. “The days of considering the Internet as a separate piece of the car business are gone. Today the Internet is as much a part of the car business as the showroom.”