RealTime IT News

For Auto Sites, Content May Be King

As the online auto sales sites jockey for position in a market that has not been kind to anyone selling cars and trucks, informative content increasingly seems to be a sine qua non if you want to be an Internet player in this game.

For proof, just look at the announcement by MSN Carpoint, touting its sponsorship and appointment as the official consumer Web site of the 2002 North American International Auto Show from Jan. 6-21 in Detroit.

The site, which claims 7 million visitors a month, is seeking to attract even more consumes by featuring actor and auto enthusiast Stephen Baldwin with the Carpoint team "live from Detroit as Carpoint Celebrity Consumer Correspondent."

Carpoint said it will provide consumers a first look at new production and concept cars and will "offer a backstage pass to the show ...consumers who visit Carpoint.com can view streaming video highlights, extensive photography, 360-degree surround videos and (get) exclusive reports from the show floor."

Carpoint also has teamed with AvantGo Inc. and Volvo to bring the Detroit Auto Show to wireless handheld devices, providing direct access to show information via the AvantGo mobile Internet service. Carpoint also will provide Pocket PC users with the ability to download selected auto show videos directly onto their devices.

Overseas consumers are not being overlooked, either. Digital Island, a Cable &Wireless company, is providing its 2Way Web Services to deliver video news from four North American International Auto Shows to consumers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa across all MSN Carview Web sites in the region. Carview is the international arm of Carpoint.

The main Carpoint site also is featuring a Custom Concept Car Creator, a feature that lets consumers build their own concept car. Designers will be entered to win a cash prize and a replica of their personal creation.

There was no word on how much Carpoint is spending for all this, and whether it will sell more cars is anybody's guess.

Various studies have shown the Internet's usefulness for researching vehicles. In fact, 62 percent of all new vehicle buyers are turning to the Internet for automotive information while shopping for their vehicle, according to a November study by J.D. Power and Associates.

As far as online sales are concerned, that study found that Autobytel.com sells more vehicles online than any other independent Web site service. GM BuyPower.com is the leading factory-sponsored Web site for generating online new vehicle sales. However, industrywide only 6 percent of all new vehicles were sold through an online buying service -- up from 4.7 percent in 2000.

Still, the research factor can be significant and a time-saver if nothing else, and as e-commerce catches hold, online auto sales may increase.

Los Angeles-based CarsDirect.com, one of the other players in the online car buying game and an Amazon.com partner, said that its recent customer satisfaction survey indicates significant time-savings for consumers. The majority of those who bought a vehicle online through privately held CarsDirect.com report saving more than four days of sometimes tedious shopping and nearly a fourth of all respondents saved 10 or more days by using the site, the company said.