Hunting for Wheels Online

Automobiles have been considered one of the top items that Internet consumers shop for online for quite some time, and a pair of surveys released this week support this theory.

A study released by J.D. Power and Associates found that 40 percent of US consumers who recently purchased a car or truck used the Net to shop for the vehicle. This compares to just 25 percent of consumers last year. In the first quarter of 1999, the study found, more than 25,000 car or truck buyers used the Internet each month when researching a new vehicle purchase, up from 12,500 per month in 1998. Overall, 2.6 percent of car buyers now use the Internet, compared to 1.1 percent last year.

While using the Internet to look for your next set of wheels may be gaining in acceptance, consumers are far from ready to abandon their dealer relationship when the time comes to buy a car.

According to the annual CyberShopper survey of 1,000 American Internet users, 83 percent of American Internet users who are likely to purchase a new or used vehicle in the next year plan to go online to gather information prior to making a purchase. But 92 percent say it is still important to maintain a relationship with a local dealership for information and service for a vehicle purchased online.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents (61 percent) want to buy a vehicle from a dealer located near their home or office, according to the CyberShopper survey.

“These findings prove that dealers still are an integral part of the online car buying process,” said Michael Kranitz, president of DriveOff.com Inc., a sponsor of the survey. “Although consumers are becoming more comfortable shopping and even purchasing vehicles from the Internet, they still value the after-market service relationship that only a local dealer can provide.”

According to the CyberShopper survey, 85 percent of respondents want the online ability to compare the actual dealer invoice to the sticker price, 81 percent would like to price our options on various models, and 76 percent want to compare vehicles feature-by-feature.

“The Internet is educating auto buyers and empowering them to make better purchasing decisions,” Kranitz said. “It saves consumers time and helps them avoid the frustration that traditionally arises during the research and negotiating process.”

Auto dealers may also be interested in knowing that 42 of respondents said they would surf the Internet three or more months prior to making a purchase, visiting an average of seven automotive Web sites prior to making a purchase. If respondents have vehicle inquiries, 60 percent prefer an electronic response compared to the 28 percent who want to be contacted by telephone.

In addition, the CyberShopper survey found that 57 percent of the respondents who plan to use the Internet in their next vehicle purchase plan to research new vehicles as opposed to used. Regardless of the make and model of the vehicle being researched, 89 percent of those surveyed report being somewhat or very satisfied with the Internet sites they did visit while shopping online.

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