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 recent announcements by MSN Carpoint — which is striving to turn content into a major brand differentiator and a lure for consumers.

Most recently, the site touted its sponsorship and appointment as the official consumer Web site of the 2002 North American International Auto Show next week in Detroit.

At the same time, Carpoint said it would 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.”

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

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.

There was no word on how much Carpoint is spending for all this, and whether the marketing and promotional efforts will help it sell more cars remains up in the air. And such marketing efforts remain highly speculative in the face of findings that only 6 percent of all new vehicles were sold through an online buying service — up from 4.7 percent in 2000.

Still, there’s a growing body of evidence suggesting that consumers are drawn to automotive Web sites on the basis of their content. For instance, studies have shown the Internet’s usefulness for researching vehicles, with 62 percent of all new vehicle buyers are turning to the Internet for automotive information while shopping for a vehicle, according to J.D. Power and Associates.

But just in case it needs more than content to woo customers, Carpoint is also adopting a tried-and-true promotional gimmick: the contest. The site features the Custom Concept Car Creator, which lets consumers build their own concept car for a chance at a cash prize and a replica of their creation.

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