Commentary

Amazon Pulls Into Traffic With Vehicles Site

On a repeat of a “Prairie Home Companion” show out of Seattle on WNYC Saturday, host Garrison Keillor quipped that you could buy just about anything on Amazon.com except “mortuary services … yet.” He might have also said “automobiles,” although the Seattle-based online retailer came a lot closer to that with its announcement Thursday of Amazon Vehicles.

But you can’t buy a car on it … yet. 

However, it offers “research, reviews and other information on new and used cars,” reports the AP, and “will compete with established players in the field including CarSoup.com, Edmunds.com, truecar.com and cars.com.” Not to mention Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader.

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“The site is designed to complement the company's other car initiatives such as Amazon Automotive, a marketplace featuring millions of parts and accessories for cars, trucks and motorcycles, and Amazon Garage, which lets shoppers save vehicles in their profiles to make it easier to find parts they need,” writes Bloomberg’s Spencer Soper. “Shoppers also can book and pay for routine auto maintenance such as oil changes, tire rotation and battery installation from screened professionals in their neighborhoods through Amazon Home Services.”

“The next logical step, analysts say, is to sell cars online, a feature Amazon does not currently offer. But experts argue recent expansions into grocery and home-goods delivery show the company is serious about selling goods and services,” writes Michael Martinez for the Detroit News.

“Amazon is the great white shark of retail and its appetite is not that discerning — it will eat anything,” Scott Galloway, professor of marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business, tells Martinez. “I think they’ll go after every large consumer category. It’s not if, it’s when.”

And Dave Sullivan, manager of product analysis for automotive research firm AutoPacific, says: “Anything that somebody can buy or sell, Amazon is interested in providing, and buying a car should be no different. They changed the way we buy everything. The time might be right for people of a certain generation who are interested in buying online.”

For its part, Amazon isn't talking about what’s down the pike … yet. But it’s not as easy as just putting up a digital “FOR SALE” sandwich board and pitching extended warranties by email.

“Dealer franchise laws prohibit the sale of new vehicles over the Internet, but used cars and parts are largely allowed. As a result, new auto sales through Amazon will likely require partnerships with dealerships,” Morgan Stanley’s Brian Nowak observes in a note to clients cited by Barron’s Tiernan Ray. 

“And we note that this is the second auto-related announcement from Amazon over the last week (on 8/22 they announced a partnership with Hyundai … whereby Amazon will bring cars to consumers’ locations for test drives … and that they will also refer consumers to Hyundai dealerships for purchases),” Nowak continues.

“This limited campaign — it’ll only be held the last two weekends in August — will give Amazon Prime subscribers living in the Los Angeles and Orange County areas a chance to order a 45- to 60-minute test drive of a 2017 Hyundai Elantra,” writes Kirsten Korosec for Fortune — observing that it also gives Amazon yet another way “to become entrenched in consumers’ lives.”

If you think you’re have a bad car day, you might pull up David Tracy’s “I Can't Stop Reading These Horrible Reviews Of The Ten Lowest Rated Cars On Amazon” piece for Jalopnik. He looks at the lowest-rated cars among the more than 5,000 in the Amazon Vehicles database “that had at least five reviews (to weed out outliers — fake reviews, manufacturing flukes, etc.).”

In addition to tried-and-true-if-perhaps-exaggerated-due-to-frustration advice, you will be treated to such colorful turns of phrase as, “Don’t buy this product of bovine defecation.” 

And — as if the VW brand doesn’t have enough problems at the moment — the 2009 Volkswagen Routan (although it is actually a Chrysler Town & Country, we’re informed) — was at the bottom of the crappy list with an aggregated 1.8 stars from 6 reviews. To indicate how bad that really is, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is doing twice as well.

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