Report: Automaker Sites Ready To Speed Past Pure Plays

Automobile manufacturers are poised to wrestle control of the online car buying marketplace from third-party auto sales sites such as and Autotrader, according to a report released Monday by Jupiter Media Metrix (Nasdaq: JMXI).

Although the third-party sites currently draw far more Web visitors than the sites of carmakers themselves, manufacturers have several advantages, including deeper pockets, easy access to retail dealers and product information, and multichannel platforms, the report said.

“This situation mirrors the retail, travel and financial services industries, where traditional brick-and-mortar businesses have been growing their online audiences at a faster rate than their Internet-only counterparts,” said Julie Ask, an analyst with New York based Jupiter Media Metrix.

Far Ahead

In July, visits to car manufacturer sites increased to 8.2 million, up more than 31 percent compared to the same time a year before. Meanwhile, traffic to independent automotive resource sites rose 25 percent, to 20 million.

In addition to controlling the lion’s share of the auto-related Web traffic, third-party sites have at least one other advantage, Ask said.

“Consumers still perceive third-party auto sites to be more impartial and innovative,” she said. “Third-party resource sites must not only provide a higher-quality experience to the consumer, but also partner with manufacturers and provide enough value to dealers so that they will be willing to work with multiple sources for leads and advertising.”

Rough Road

Carmakers have considerable ground to make up if they want to overtake their competition, as the top 10 auto sites do not include a single automaker. The top-drawing car manufacturer’s Web site,, ranks 11th in the automotive category.

Additionally, Ford recently lost a case on appeal in Texas regarding whether it could sell directly to end-user consumers in Texas.

The company’s online showroom allowed consumers to shop for pre-owned vehicles and have them shipped to local dealers for test drives. However, Texas legislation permits car sales only by state-licensed dealers and prohibits a manufacturer from acquiring a dealer’s license.

“It is irrelevant under [the code] whether Ford, as a manufacturer, is domiciled in Texas or Michigan,” the court opinion stated. “In either circumstance, it is similarly prohibited from engaging in retail automobile sales in Texas.”

Just Looking

While car buyers have been slow to make purchases online, they continue to use the Web to search for information.

Web surfers spend an average of more than 10 minutes on car-related sites. Only entertainment sites keep visitors longer.

Jupiter also sees growth potential within the sector, since only one in every four Internet users visited an automotive site during the second quarter.

Last week, General Motors said it would partner with Suzuki, Isuzu and Fuji Heavy Industries to launch a car-buying site aimed at the Japanese auto market.

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