September 15, 2004, 12:00 AM

Online auto research zooms to the fast lane

58% of automotive Internet users begin the new vehicle shopping process at an independent site. However, 40% now begin by visiting a manufacturer’s site, up significantly from 36% in 2003, says J.D. Power.

 

Independent research and advertising sites are where most consumers begin the online car shopping process, but manufacturer sites are gaining in popularity as well, says a new study from J.D. Power and Associates.

The study finds that 58% of automotive Internet users begin the new vehicle shopping process at an independent site. However, 40% now begin by visiting a manufacturer’s site, up significantly from 36% in 2003. Further, 39% of automotive Internet users rate manufacturer sites as most useful, up from 36% in 2003. A total of 59% of car shoppers surveyed find independent sites most useful, a 3 percentage point drop from 2003, says J.D. Power.

"Manufacturer sites provide the most accurate information regarding their models, including detailed options and features information and trim-specific photos, which are particularly attractive to shoppers who have a specific brand or model in mind," says Dennis Galbraith, senior director of research for J.D. Power and Associates. "However, independent web sites play a critical role in providing non-biased information, such as market-value pricing information, which is highly valuable to new-vehicle shoppers, yet lacking on manufacturer sites."

The most important content features automotive Internet shoppers look for online include dealer cost and invoice information, vehicle options and features, MSRP and reliability ratings. Trade-in value is a feature gaining significantly in importance.

The impact the Internet has on buying decisions continues to be high. Among all new-vehicle buyers, approximately 50% say their make/model decision and the price paid/offered were impacted by automotive information found on the Internet, up from about 40% in 2002. 22% of new-vehicle buyers also say the Internet impacted their choice of dealer-up from 14% in 2002.

The study is based on responses from 26,838 consumers who leased or purchased a new vehicle registered in January or February 2004.

 

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