J.D. Power Ranks Hummer Site Most User-Friendly

According to a new study from J.D. Power & Associates, General Motors' Hummer brand has the most user-friendly manufacturer Web site for new-vehicle shoppers. The bottom four are Toyota's Scion brand, just ahead of Mercury, VW and Audi.

The consultancy's semi-annual "2007 Manufacturer Web Site Evaluation Study" is based on consumer surveys rating site appearance, speed, navigation and information/content. It is based on evaluations gathered in April and May from 10,865 shoppers who indicated they would be in the market for a new vehicle within the next 24 months.

Hummer, which ranks highest with an index score of 870 on a 1,000-point scale, has made a 5-point improvement from the first wave of the study, released in January. Toyota takes second place, followed by Jeep, Suzuki, Land Rover, Lexus and Kia.

Scion's consumers are probably more Web-savvy than others, and the Toyota division's sales model is based on consumers using the Web to "create" their vehicles before strolling into showrooms. So it's surprising, at first blush, that JD Power finds them so low on the list.



Steve Witten, executive director of marketing/research at the Westlake Village, Calif. consultancy said Scion's position in the list is based largely on timing. "We did the study from April 17 to May 3, and the week after that Scion came out with a new Web site," he says.

"We have found that Web sites that haven't' been changed for a long time dropped the most. Sites that stay static drop in satisfaction for various reasons; one is they are not keeping up with latest, coolest things." He says the other issue, especially for sites like Scion's, which are verging on upgrade when the surveys were taken, is that the companies tend to focus less on the internal workings their current site.

"We saw a big drop, for instance, in the score for how fast the site is, indicating they were focused in on the new launch."

But he adds that Scion uses its site for branding more than the typical manufacturer. "For consumers, the number-one priority is cars, and number two is branding. Scion puts branding first."

He says a variety of automakers' sites were above the industry average because they bettered others at showcasing their models. "It has always been important to show off vehicle features by showing how they benefit those who use them," says Witten. "You have to make the site entertaining while teaching people about the car at the same car in a way that shows feature benefits."

The study also noted that in the previous version of the study earlier this year, eight of nine sites that manufacturers redesigned actually declined in their consumer index scores, although all nine have improved this time around. Of those, Mitsubishi's site improved by 38 points.

Witten says Mitsubishi made small changes in navigation, usage of colors and shifting label positioning that made it much easier for shoppers to get to their desired information quickly.

Witten says that overall, automaker consumer sites, which were notorious for being static and lagging other marketing sites, have vastly improved. He says that in 2002, 68% said they preferred to shop vehicles at third-party automotive sites, versus 29% favoring industry-run sites.

"Today it's 50% for independent sites and 41% for manufacturers. So they are really closing the gap."

In 2001, per the consultancy, the best auto site scored 700, versus Hummer's 870 today. Says Witten: "When I first started doing this you couldn't even call them shopping sites; they were basically online brochures. Today, every single site is a shopping site. The worst today scores higher than the best site did six years ago."

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