As New Car Sales Slide, Audience for Automotive Video Online Booms

Despite an overall slowdown in automotive sales in the U.S., consumers are increasingly using online video to shop for new vehicles, according to a new study from Google.

According to the study, searches for specific vehicle brand names coupled with the term “video” have risen 237 percent over the past year. In March 2008, 240,000 such searches occurred on major search engines.

“Consumers are clearly accessing video content at an accelerating rate across the board in terms of the automotive sector,” said Bonita Stewart, director of automotive at Google. As to why new vehicle shoppers may be more inclined to view videos than other types of shoppers, she said the category “has always been more inclined to site, sound and motion, and now you have portable video content available to consumers.”

The Google study is a small bit of good news for the struggling automotive sector. According to an April 2008 forecast by Standard & Poor’s Rating Service, U.S. auto sales will likely drop by more than a million units this year to fewer than 15 million new vehicles, the lowest level in more than a decade. This comes on the heels of a 16 percent drop in new vehicle sales over the past year.

Luckily for the auto manufacturers, consumers who shop online for cars show signs of entering the process with an open mind. Forty-nine percent were exposed to new vehicle options for the first time when shopping online, and a large percentage went beyond manufacturer Web sites to view automotive video, the study said. For example, 41 percent of shoppers in the market for a new vehicle viewed video on YouTube prior to purchase, according to the study.

The study also found that consumers are performing their research for new vehicles in an increasingly compact time frame. “We found that 59 percent of new vehicle buyers actually research their vehicles in one month or less. The process is condensing,” said Stewart. The study also identified the top-three reasons consumers sought out automotive video online. They are, in descending order, to see the vehicle, to learn more about the vehicle’s specifications and to get an overall review.

The study, which was commissioned by Google, was conducted by research firm Compete. The data was compiled through observation of major search engine activity coupled with a survey of 780 in-market automotive shoppers. The survey applies only to those in the market for a new vehicle, and does not include those shopping for previously owned cars.

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