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TORRANCE, Calif.-The way cars will be sold in the 21st century may be radically different from today, but the importance of factory marketing programs will only increase.

Keith Crain, publisher and editorial director of Automotive News, sister publication of Advertising Age, offered this assessment last week at a special luncheon for the automotive industry, sponsored by the newspaper.

In his address, Mr. Crain said he expects automobile showrooms will no longer be dedicated to a single marque. Rather, they will be stocked by competitive models in the same category.

So it will be up to the automotive marketers to establish strong brand identities to win consumers to their respective marques.

Mr. Crain also predicted further consolidation within the industry as manufacturers around the world team with one another. In addition, he said, manufacturers will increasingly share the basic platforms for cars. Car companies then will return to the era when coach builders customized cars for their marques.

A novel twist to the event included an instant poll of the audience conducted by the Dohring Co., a Glendale, Calif.-based automotive research company. Using two small electronic information collection devices, attendees answered a handful of survey questions as they arrived.

The results were announced to the group after the lunch by Peter Brown, Automotive News associate publisher-editor, complete with graphics projected on a screen.

Not surprisingly, considering that the 180 guests came from the heart of import country, when it came to the question of which carmaker was most out of touch with the California market, the consensus by vast majority was General Motors. The company most in touch? Toyota, of course.

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