Auto Site Success
In CR's 2001 Auto Buying Survey, almost half the respondents from a nationally representative sample of recent buyers and leasers visited a manufacturer online, most probably using it as a research tool. To determine the value of such sites to consumers, e-Ratings at ConsumerReports.org evaluated 20 popular automakers' websites. On the basis of content alone, nearly all received good or very good marks for offering useful information toward the car-selection and buying process, including "build-your-own" interactive configurators, and information on vehicle specs, features, and options.
But, on the whole, these sites lack general buying advice, manufacturer warranty comparison charts, car reviews, links to information and services for car financing, insurance, or extended warranties. Nor do they list manufacturer suggested retail price (MSRP) and invoice prices.
"Auto manufacturers' websites are a logical place for Internet users to visit - we know from our Survey that these car sites are the third most used source of information after prior experience with the make and talking to dealers and auto salespeople," says Paige Amidon, Chief Marketing Officer, New Media and Consumer Reports New Car Price Service. "But there are places online other than automakers' sites to gather comprehensive car information quickly - especially when it comes to vehicle financing."
The 20 auto manufacturer sites that e-Ratings evaluated are:
Overall the sites offer fairly similar content. A few standouts though: Lexus has links to lexussafety.com, which in turn has links to other good safety sites
BMW has a personalized Owner's Circle where customers can track their information and "Choose a Model" tool
Lincoln has a Spanish-language version
Saturn has personalized features for owners including service reminders, travel assistance, special offers, lease info, etc., and has a 'Help Me Find the Right Saturn" tool Toyota has a Glossary and an "Assess Your Needs" tool
Some general findings:
All sites let customers "build a car." Some sites have a better functioning "builder" than others, including GM, Honda, Lexus, Mercedes, Toyota. Honda and Saturn are the only sites that show exterior options when you build your car, which is fun, but probably not of much value.
All who offer financing information do so only throu