Introduction

Since the spectacular rise and fall of automotive online retailers during the dot-com boom, the received wisdom within the industry has been that buying a car online remains a bridge too far for many — however comfortable they may have become with the digital world and the online purchase of other goods and services.
Yet as the whitepaper will show, not only have consumers become more open to buying their next car online, there have also been a number of developments which remove many of the friction points within the online purchase process.
A ‘new wave’ of automotive e-tailers has entered the market in recent months, clearly sensing an unmet need. However, an increasing number of automotive brands seem determined to keep pace with these disruptors, by setting up their own online retail capabilities. This whitepaper looks at the current progress and potential of the different initiatives within the industry.

Paul Rutishauser
London | 16/12/2016

Continue to read online or alternatively you can download the whitepaper as a .pdf.

First wave car e-tailers

The Internet boom in the late 1990s saw the spectacular rise and fall of a number of companies hoping to sell cars online. Autobytel, CarsDirect, CarPoint, DealerNet and many other startups promised the U.S. consumer to ‘take the pain’ out of buying a new car. Unrealistic expectations and economic downturn saw these dreams evaporate when the DotCom ‘bubble’ began to burst in 2000. The would-be online car sellers either went dramatically bust, or salvaged themselves through a reworking of their business models, repositioning themselves as consumer research sites and surviving through advertising income and the sale of leads to dealers.
As a consequence of those early failures and the thwarting of ambitions that were often global in nature, over the intervening two decades the idea of selling new cars online, whether by third party companies or by car manufacturers and their dealers, has been largely scoffed at. The objections to ‘click-to-buy’ are well rehearsed – the size of the purchase, the need to physically experience and test drive the vehicle, and the negotiation and haggling over both the final price and the value of any trade-in. Car purchase, many in the industry have come to believe, is an area of retail which will never move wholly online.

Autobytel is one of the best known first generation automotive e-tailers. Founded in 1995 in Irvine, California, it challenged the existing model of car-buying by harnessing the emerging Internet and promised consumers to take the pain out of car buying. In 1997 it was the first Internet company to buy advertising during the US Super Bowl, where traditionally, dozens of car brands’ launch their new product campaign offensives.
The company weathered the bursting of the dot-com bubble in the early noughties which brought down many of its contemporaries. After lay-offs and restructuring in the years since, the company has created a resilient niche for itself, providing “high quality consumer leads and associated marketing services to automotive dealers and manufacturers throughout the United States.”

“From the beginning of time people wondered, ‘why does car buying have to be such a pain?’”. Autobytel’s 1997 Super Bowl advert.

Consumer preference

Yet consumers, apparently, think differently from the established industry wisdom. Their favourable disposition to purchase cars online has been tracked over a number of years in extensive attitudinal research. Ten years ago, when the Cap Gemini annual ‘Cars Online’ survey first asked the question, it found more than 18% of respondents said they were ‘likely to buy a car online’. When the question was repeated in 2015, 35% of the in-market buyers interviewed were ready to buy online, rising to near 60% in some emerging markets 1‘Cars Online 07/08’ p.12 & ‘Cars Online 2015 p.21’, Capgemini, http://bit.ly/21KfJSG.
A more recent study, published by Roland Berger in January 2016, states that 97% of carbuyers now use the Internet to research vehicle purchase and that as many of 44% of them would buy online 2 ‘Ten percent of new cars in Germany are sold online and the numbers are only going to increase’, Roland Berger, http://bit.ly/2eTkhYj.

What’s changed?

There have been a number of important changes in consumer behaviour that help explain the growing readiness of people to consider purchasing their next car wholly online.
It is easy to forget how central the Internet has become in just the last decade as the go-to source of information on any number of subjects. As the place consumers go to research their purchase choices, it is only logical to enact the actual transaction online. Most consumers regularly purchase online, including big ticket items such as white goods, holidays and even their homes 3 ‘65% of internet users in the EU shopped online in 2015’, Eurostat, http://bit.ly/2guT0vd. Broadband penetration and the ubiquity of mobile means that most online activity now takes place in non-working hours – consumers like the ‘always open’ convenience of Internet shopping. They also prefer to explore their options at their own pace, free of the sales pressure of the traditional retail environment. Car buyers’ negativity about the dealership experience appears to have only worsened in recent years 4 See for example Deloitte’s “Global Automotive Consumer Study 2014”, which found that only 34% of German car buyers and 22% in the USA had “a positive attitude towards automotive dealers” http://bit.ly/2gvncGJ.
But also there have been changes in the ways cars are produced and sold which has further encouraged buyers to consider online purchase. For a start, cars have continued to improve in quality.

Consumers take it for granted that a new car from a mainstream brand will be well-built, safe and reliable. Manufacturers have backed these improvements by extending the warranties they offer: the risks of buying sight unseen have therefore been reduced. The availability and speed with which finance can be arranged online, further supports ‘click-to-buy’. New purchase methods, in particular the rise of Personal Contract Purchase (PCP), facilitate buying online as the upfront financial commitment required is reduced, or at least appears to be reduced. In the UK nearly 60% of private car purchases now utilise PCPs 5‘The way we buy cars today – the rise of personal contracts’, BBC News, 28th September 2015, http://bbc.in/2gvBHu8.
PCPs will have a further beneficial effect on the future propensity to buy online. Because they define in advance the future value of the car at the end of the agreement, the ‘haggle factor’ over its trade in value is stripped from the process of acquiring the user’s next car. This removes yet another friction point from the purchase process that traditionally required a visit to a dealership.
Other factors that makes the consumer less likely to enter a car showroom are, the declining interest in test driving a vehicle before buying it, the availability of video and VR technologies to view candidate purchases, and the use of video and live chat channels to communicate remotely with brands and dealers – channels that provide the all important ‘human touch’.

Infographic: the changes encouraging click-to-buy

Disruptive car market entrants

With consumer attitudes moving in favour of being able to purchase cars online, it is only to be expected that there will be those looking to profit from this unmet need. The last year or more has seen an eruption of activity by different actors looking to exploit an opportunity vacuum. These have included new start-up businesses, established automotive entities reshaping or extending their existing business model, the big global online retailers moving into the car market, and new automotive manufacturers determined to enact a direct-to-consumer retail strategy.

Auto e-tailing start-ups

A useful and revealing resource about new entrants into car retail is Crunchbase, the online business intelligence platform that tracks new and expanding businesses and quantifies the investment they are receiving. This shows the recent surge of interest in automotive related e-commerce with online buying and selling platforms for both new and used cars dominating their listings. Crunchbase has tracked more than USD 1.8 billion of funding flowing into the sector. Given that much of this remains ‘early stage’ investment, then it is safe to assume that the impact of this investment has yet to bear fruit.

In many ways the ‘pitch’ of this new wave of click-to-buy sites is less radical than the first generation of automotive e-tailers, and certainly less arrogant. Most of them, particularly in the new car arena, are following a brokerage model – they are not trying to bypass dealers but acting as middlemen, providing incremental customers to dealers who accept they would be unable to reach those customers through their existing channels. The conflictual tension between etailers and bricks and mortar retailers, although not entirely absent, is greatly reduced.
None of these entrants could be said to have a compellingly innovative set of capabilities, rather they show the ability to build robust and elegantly engineered platforms to connect customers to an extensive, aggregated vehicle inventory.

ROADSTER: “Want to buy or lease our most popular cars 100% online? Enjoy instant upfront pricing, a simple self-service interface, and Express checkout. Like every Roadster transaction, a personal concierge is there to help and home delivery is included”.

The more visible new wave examples are worth reviewing for their focus on specific points in the purchase chain they are perhaps most adept at rethinking. Roadster, for example, is interesting for its emphasis on the primacy of the mobile audience and the development of concierge services and the offer of an ‘express checkout’ selection of popular vehicles. Shift makes the requirement of a test drive less of an obstruction to an end-to-end online transaction by bringing the test drive to the customer at their preferred time and location.

Carvana, again in the used car arena, has come up with the idea of a ‘car dispenser’ as a somewhat gimmicky way of minimising the hassle of vehicle collection and handover. Carlypso has a focus on transparent pricing and a turbocharged buying journey that requires only ‘2 Hours of Hassle Free Shopping’ with delivery in 5-10 business days whilst the company ‘handles the leg work’.
What all these initiatives are attempting to do is meet the ‘Internet speed’ expectation of shoppers that they are accustomed to in other sectors, and to minimise the friction points in the car buying transaction.

Whilst much of this innovatory activity emanates from California’s silicon valley, what is noticeable is that this is a global trend with well-funded and aggressive new entrants appearing in European and Asian markets as well.
Carwow is one UK example of this wave of startups in the new car market offering the consumer online purchase for a range of brands. The startup, backed by a number of venture capital firms, received a further GBP12.5 m in funding at the start of 2016. Carwow has achieved a higher profile than similar ventures due to its marketing presence and the particular irritation it seems to have caused within the UK car retail industry.

nashville-vending-machine-1-1

Carvana’s car dispenser in Nashville: “Just enter your confirmation code on a keypad, the Vending Machine will open, and you get to drive away with your new car.”

Carwow follows a brokerage model. The site visitor can use a variety of query and search tools to select the cars they are interested in, specifying the engine, transmission, equipment, colour and trim they are looking for. Then, having supplied their postcode and an email address, Carwow acts as a go between, contacting dealers who then post offers back to the customer via the site (but preventing any direct contact from the dealer). The prospective customer receives up to five offers from dealers who are effectively in a blind auction with each other. The prospect can then follow up with a dealer or dealers, if they choose, to arrange a test drive or discuss purchase with the quoted price guaranteed.

Carwow claims an average saving for its users of £3,600, ‘haggle free’, that is without any contact with dealers until the customer choses to move forward with a purchase. The service is free to consumers, but participating dealers pay a fixed fee (currently £300) for each sale made via the site. The proposition to car dealers is that “you get quick, easy, direct sales, on your terms”.
Many in the industry take a more dim view, and strongly disagree with the sentiment that the service is a ‘win-win’ for both participants in the transaction. Its critics say that Carwow is just adding a further layer of cost to the purchase chain without adding any value, whilst feeding a ‘race to the bottom’ on price which simultaneously undermines the dealer’s already slim margin, the future residual value of the car, and the relationship of customers with a local dealer – a relationship that delivers essential additional business.

BMW is one brand that is seeking to exclude Carwow from the purchase chain, and is currently in a legal dispute with the company having banned its dealer network from using the service.
Carwow argues that any ‘race to the bottom’ on vehicle pricing in the UK is largely down to the pre-registration frenzy that both dealers and OEMs allow to continue. They remain unperturbed, claiming to have already brokered the sale of GBP 1 billion worth of cars as the company expands into used cars, commercial vehicles and opens operations in other markets.

CARWOW: “Awkward haggling is a thing of the past.
With carwow, the dealers compete over you. You choose the car and we go find you up to 5 of the best offers from local and national dealers. No hassle, no haggle, just a great deal.” 6‘Carwow: about us’, http://bit.ly/2eQIxdu

Established online players extend their offer

Whilst the new entrants corner much of the coverage in digital and car market news pages, there are a number of established players in the online automotive market that are moving quietly into the new car ‘space’. These businesses either evolved out of pre-digital ink and paper publications or are the gnarled survivors of the original wave of online automotive portals discussed in the first section.
In the UK, AutoTrader has recently expanded its online listings to advertise thousands of brand new cars. Originally a newsprint classified magazine focused on used vehicles, it moved online in 1996, finally abandoning its print titles altogether in 2013 to become an exclusively digital publisher. From October 2016 the site began offering what it calls a ‘virtual stock’ of new cars – cars that are available to order, but “may not physically exist at the dealership at the time of search” 7“Auto Trader bolsters UK’s largest automotive marketplace with every new car available to order”, Autotrader, 31/10/2016, http://bit.ly/2h2945N.
The site is offering every make and model of new car currently available in the UK market, connecting the interested buyer with a franchised dealer.

There are companies with a similar background and reach in most European markets. Germany, for example, has two large players in the shape of AutoScout24 and mobile.de. AutoScout24 has expanded its operation into 18 markets and claims more than 10 million users per month across the continent. Mobile.de, which was acquired by eBay in 2008, has been offering new cars on its site since 2013. It claims 11.4 million unique visitors per month in Germany with around 160,000 new cars available for immediate purchase through its site at any one time 8“Company profile: Mobile De”, (German document), http://bit.ly/2h9yzlx.

In France L’Argus, is the largest example of this type of portal which has evolved out of the country’s most popular motoring magazine to become a research and shopping portal which also now lists new cars. In Italy, Quattroruote is the dominant automotive publisher with the online reach to disrupt new car buying. In Spain the localised version of AutoScout24 as well as coches.net offer vehicle search for new cars.

Like the new entrants, these more established players sense opportunities in the new car market as consumer wants and needs evolve and a growing number of them become comfortable with online purchase. These companies’ hunger is increased through other pressures their businesses face, notably the shift away from display to programmatic advertising weakening one of their established revenue streams.
The potential of these established players should not be underestimated. They are large, mature and well resourced (AutoTrader for example is listed in the UK FTSE 250 and has annual revenues of GBP 256m). Most are already fully embedded within car retail, and have successful consumer brands at their command, as well as the skills, knowledge and resources to succeed as digital conduits for new car sales.

Enter the Big Boys

Given the huge value of the global vehicle market – Morgan Stanley recently valued new and used car sales at USD 1.8 trillion annually – it is perhaps surprising that Amazon has not entered this market long ago. An e-commerce giant with a finger in almost every other retail pie, Amazon has been strangely diffident about selling cars, although that now seems to be changing. In August 2016 the company launched Amazon Vehicles, “a car research destination and automotive community” 9“Introducing Amazon Vehicles, a Car Research Destination and Automotive Community”, Company press release, 25/08/2016,  http://bit.ly/2ghapZm. As such, in the US at least, it competes with the likes of edmunds.com as a research and information portal. But the site feels very much like a placeholder for something more ambitious.

Elsewhere Amazon is trialing tie-ins with vehicle manufacturers to explore online sales of new cars through its site. In November 2016 an agreement between Amazon and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles was announced that will enable the online purchase through amazon.it of Fiat’s most popular models. This followed research by Fiat which “revealed that half of Italians were willing to buy a vehicle online” 10“Fiat Chrysler teams up with Amazon to sell cars online”, 18/11/2016, Reuters, http://reut.rs/2ftNh57.

Screenshot-2016-12-08-16.39.52

If Amazon has been slow to enter the new vehicle market one of its main competitors, Alibaba, has not. The Chinese e-commerce giant commenced car sales in 2014 and now hosts virtual shops for a large number of manufacturers and importers on its B2C site, Tmall.com. In November 2016 many of these offered a variety of deals through the site to coincide with ‘Single’s day’. The 11th of November is the Chinese version of ‘Black Friday’ when retailers offer special promotions in store and online. This year Tmall set a new record for ‘double eleven’ sales of all goods, reaching 10 billion yuan ($1.47 billion) worth of orders in just under seven minutes 11“Alibaba breaks sales record on Singles Day”, http://bit.ly/2ghwc2O.
The results in terms of online vehicle sales were impressive – by European standards near unbelieveable. Alibaba states that more than 100,000 cars were sold through its sites on that single day 12“Car sales were fast and furious during Alibaba’s 11.11 sale”, http://bit.ly/2ghqOwx. Chinese manufacturers performed most strongly with Chery Automobile making 13,000 sales and SAIC quickly selling out the 1,500 units of its new RX5 ‘connected’ SUV that it had placed on offer. Smart reported elsewhere that it received orders for 1,256 cars during the event 13 China Daily, 21/11/16, http://bit.ly/2ghwqXN.

In March 2016 Maserati previewed the Levante luxury SUV in China, offering 100 examples of the new car for sale online through Alibaba’s Tmall shopping site. All 100 were sold within the first 18 seconds of becoming available 14“Don’t be scared of selling luxury online in China”, Clarkmorgan Insights, https://youtu.be/UfGwnoyGbWE.

Small-6210-LevantemakesChinaDebutatBeijingAutoShow2016

OEM initiatives

Almost twenty years ago the automotive industry’s reaction to the dot-com car sellers was a mixture of suspicion and fear. Suspicion that this thing called the Internet would needlessly destabilise a functioning if not always perfect retail system. Fear, particularly amongst dealers, that the new market entrants might displace them altogether if the model they promised – of sales direct to the customer – was established. The response of car manufacturers was largely denial, and a huge sigh of relief when the threat evaporated under the heat of economic downturn.
Since that time there has been a sea change in attitude. As consumers showed their preference for online research and interaction, the car brands have stepped up to the challenge and reinvented themselves as digitally aware businesses. Car makers have turned their websites into finely tuned touchpoints with consumers, whilst maximising their reach through other digital channels such as YouTube and through innovative social media campaigns.
With the return of ‘click-to-buy’ to the car retail agenda a growing number of automotive OEMs are coming forward to offer their products online, facing up to, rather than ducking the challenge.

BMW retail Online

Launched in November 2015, BMW UK offers the online audience a complete end-to-end car purchase experience. Only the final paperwork needs to be completed offline at a dealership: every other step in the purchase process can be conducted online through a dedicated website that has been engineered almost as a sequence of modules to meet the buyer’s functional requirements at each step. Every model in the manufacturer’s range is available. The buyer can use a ‘Needs analyser’ to find the most suitable vehicle on the basis of their use patterns and their passenger and load carrying needs. They can then go on to specify and configure their ideal car, explore and calculate their finance options, obtain a valuation of any trade-in vehicle and discuss delivery options and timescales.

But two important principles underpin BMW’s approach.
Firstly, this impressive suite of online technology is at every stage surrounded by the presence of, and means to communicate with, human agents – either a ‘product genius’ through email or a web chat, or, as the customer’s requirement becomes more defined and localised, with the staff of a chosen dealership. Human interaction is seen as essential to the purchase process, but to be initiated and proceeded at a pace determined by the customer.

Secondly, the dealer is seen as the ‘trusted point of contact’, and the final destination in the purchase chain. BMW have been clear from the beginning that ‘click-to-buy’ is an enhancement of their retail network not a substitution for all or part of it.
The centrality accorded to the dealer network explains its enthusiasm for the project. After a short pilot covering nine dealers – which resulted in the online purchase of more than 50 cars – 95% of the brand’s UK dealers signed up to participate 15“BMW Retail Online makes car buying 24/7 easy”, company Press Release, http://bit.ly/2h7gU0I.

AMI Interview - Steve Noon

Project Manager – Modern Retailing, BMW Group UK

AMI – Why do you think BMW has been amongst the first car brands to give consumers the capability to configure and buy their car online?

SN – Firstly, this is about BMW reacting to customer demand – our customers are very forward thinking, they’re digitally connected and many are ‘time-poor’. Secondly, this tells a story about the focus within our business. The customer is at the centre of what we do and we recognise that purchasing a BMW has not always been the easiest thing to do. The customer can feel like some of the complexities of purchase result in a loss of control. Multichannel stores like ours – allowing the customer to do as much or as little as they would like online – provide that feeling of control back to the customer and therefore allow us to be more perceptive to their needs for the parts of the purchase where they require the greatest support.

AMI – What do you think is the most important metric for assessing the project’s performance and future direction?

SN – Customer Satisfaction. If our customers are happy, it’s proving we’re moving in the right direction. Customer satisfaction for BMW at the moment is at an incredibly high level. Even with that in mind, we’re seeing some really promising results with BMW Retail Online. Customers that choose to build their car online and click ‘buy’, benefit from having a convenient, transparent car buying journey and the results of their feedback reflect this.

AMI – Can you share one key learning from the project so far that has perhaps surprised you?

SN – We’ve learnt that there are certain elements of the purchasing journey that customers feel far more comfortable leading themselves than being led. For instance the online application for finance, within which the customer can tailor their payments, apply for finance and get a credit decision, has been an overwhelming success for us and seems to be adding real value for online customers.

Hyundai ‘Click to buy’

Hyundai is the latest brand in the UK to announce it is providing the facility for customers to purchase their new car online. A new ‘Click to buy’ area of the brand’s website will go live on the 6th January 2017; a preview of the area is available on YouTube. The functionality of the site follows the steps to purchase a customer is expected to take, allowing them to view and configure a car, calculate and apply for finance, pay a deposit and arrange collection/delivery of their purchase. Hyundai claims that, for a cash buyer, the entire purchase can be completed within five minutes.
Initially the more popular of the brand’s products are being offered in this way – the i10, i20, i30, Tucson and Santa Fe – but later the whole model range will be available to buy online.
Hyundai has paid particular attention to what are seen as two of the sticking points to digital car retailing: the trade in and the final transaction price. Click to buy allows the customer to get an online valuation of the car that can be calculated into any financing required. The site will offer what the brand describes as “competitive fixed prices” so that the ‘deal’ the buyer gets would not be improved by visiting a dealer in person and haggling with them.
Hyundai, is not new to online purchase, having tested the idea through its Rockar Stores which opened in London’s two largest shopping malls in 2014. These digital showrooms, where the customer is encouraged to explore their options in a ‘no pressure’ environment, have clearly informed the design and sequencing of information in the new online store.

AMI Interview - David Pugh

Marketing Director Hyundai Motor UK

AMI – Why do you think Hyundai is amongst the first volume brands to give consumers the capability to configure and buy their car online?
DP – Since 2014, Hyundai Motor has pioneered online sales in the UK with the opening of our two digital stores operated by Rockar and located in the Bluewater and Westfield, Stratford shopping centres. Ordering online through our digital stores has always been available but with the launch of Hyundai Click to buyTM we are taking the next step by enabling our customers to buy a car completely online right across the UK. We are confident that there will be many customers who would prefer to transact online in this way, and we’re simply attempting to meet an existing customer demand with this initiative.

AMI – What do you think is the most important metric for assessing the project’s performance and future direction?

DP – Our focus will be on ensuring that the online buying experience meets our customers’ needs. We plan to develop the system in the coming months to increase the breadth of offering and hone the functionality to ensure the experience is as easy and quick for the customer as possible.

AMI – Can you share perhaps one key learning you expect from this and other go-to-market projects?

DP – We expect to learn how customers would prefer to balance the offline and online experience during the process of purchasing a car, and to use the learning to inform our ongoing network and distribution strategy. We see the online world as a fundamental component of our network, enhancing our Retailers’ business model and sales strategy. We think our first hand experience operating in this field will give us a competitive advantage as we develop and continue to grow in the future.

Other OEM initiatives

Whilst BMW and Hyundai look to be establishing an early benchmark for OEMs online sales capabilities, they are by no means alone.  Citroën launched its ‘Carstore’ site in France in October 201516“Citroën carstore : en route vers le e-commerce.“,  Company press release (in French), 15/10/2015, http://bit.ly/2gjzpPr. Here buyers can select, equip and make a €250 down payment on a vehicle, then specify the dealership from where they wish to collect it and complete the transaction. The Carstore site has subsequently been rolled out across all the major EU markets (with the exception of the UK).

Peugeot is working on a similar initiative with the intention of a European roll out in 201717“Peugeot launches online new car buying service“, Motor Trader, 27/10/2016,  http://bit.ly/2he2rxc.
In the USA, General Motors’ click-to-buy activity has moved well beyond the proof of concept stage. The functionality for ‘Shop-Click-Drive’ is offered on about half of the brand’s 4,300 dealerships and gives a full range of functionality to configure and finance a car. Again, vehicle handover takes place at a nominated dealership. According to Automotive News nearly 30,000 vehicles were purchased online in the first two years following the service going live in 201318“GM gives Shop-Click-Drive a big push”, Automotive News, 9/11/2015, http://bit.ly/2grEyQR.

Volvo is another brand expected to deliver fresh initiatives in this area in the year ahead. In 2014 it announced that it was reassigning its marketing budget away from traditional events to digital commerce19“Volvo Cars announces new global marketing strategy”, Company press release, 15/12/2014, http://bit.ly/2he7ygS. The brand experimented with online sales with the launch of the current generation XC90 when it sold a ‘First edition’ of the SUV limited to 1,927 units (Volvo has been in operation since 1927), exclusively through www.volvocars.com. The edition was sold out in under 48 hours20“Instant success: First Edition of all-new Volvo XC90 sold out in 47 hours”, Company press release, 5/09/2014, http://bit.ly/2he4S2R.

Jaguar Land Rover, working with Rockar, has recently launched a new retail website and an accompanying digital showroom situated at London’s Westfield Stratford centre21 “Car buying goes digital with Jaguar Land Rover and Rockar”, JLR press release, 22/08/2016,  http://bit.ly/2gs1PSN. JLR stresses that their customers are able to complete their purchase wholly online, should they prefer to, at either jaguar.rockar.com or landrover.rockar.com.
One of the findings of the monitoring of the audience for its sites and showrooms by Rockar has been that the retail experience they have constructed appears to resonate particularly well with women, who make up 54% of all buyers. The Jaguar and Land Rover sites have clearly been put together to appeal to a female audience.

Cuckoos in the nest

No review of the car industry’s journey towards ‘click-to-buy’ would be complete without looking at two new ‘disruptors’ from within the ranks of the industry itself.
Tesla is a US based manufacturer of premium/luxury electric vehicles. From its first vehicle introduction in 2008 the company has pursued a ‘direct to consumer’ model, dispensing with franchised dealers and instead selling the cars online and through a small network of company owned stores and service centres. In the USA the company has faced concerted legal action from state-level dealer associations who say that Tesla’s operations contravene US law designed to protect the franchised dealer system. Recently Tesla has made progress in winning cases that allow it to expand into states where it had been blocked22 “Tesla cleared to open store in Virginia capital”, Automotive News, 30/11/2016,  http://bit.ly/2gGIpwR.
In Europe the company faces no such hurdles and can pursue its retail model of a lean physical footprint combined with digital sales and customer service channels. Tesla’s German operation – its largest in Europe – currently boasts only 26 stores/service centres across the entire country.
Year-to-date (November 2016) Tesla sold 13,400 units of Model S. With the addition of an ‘affordable’ car to its range, the Model 3, the brand has ambitions to achieve a tenfold increase in sales globally to 500,000 cars per year by 2018. This target will be a test of Tesla’s retailing model as much as of its ability to scale manufacturing capacity.

LYNK & CO is a new brand from Chinese industrial group Geely, which also owns Volvo and the London Taxi Company; Geely Auto is one of China’s largest car makers. The company previewed its brand and first product – the 01 compact SUV – in Berlin in October 2016. It will commence sales in China in 2017 then launch in Europe and North America the following year.

The company promises a new approach to delivering mobility, with not just digital sales, but a reconfiguration of traditional use and ownership models.“LYNK & CO cars will be sold online or in owned stores in strategic retail locations, with fixed and transparent prices. Cars will be delivered, and picked up for service, directly at the door of the consumer. New solutions for car usage and access will be offered – from traditional ownership and leasing to subscription and sharing-membership.”23“Introducing a new global car brand: LYNK & CO: challenging auto industry conventions”, company press release, 21/10/16, http://bit.ly/2hIZ4xg

Through bypassing the traditional distribution model, which it claims adds 25 percent to the price of a car, the brand expects to have a compelling proposition: “Think about a fully equipped premium car offered at a price below what is charged in Europe by volume manufacturers such as the French brands, Ford and Opel/Vauxhall.”24Alain Visser, LYNK & CO, Senior Vice President, Automotive News Europe, 12/12/2016, http://bit.ly/2hJ0xn8

THE CAR IS NOT A CAR
THE CAR IS AN IDEA
THE CAR IS A KEY
THE CAR IS A SERVICE
THE CAR IS A REVOLUTION
THE CAR IS AN APP
THE CAR IS A PLATFORM
THE CAR IS A HUB
THE CAR IS A CLUB
THE CAR IS A BIKE

 

 

www.lynkco.com/en/car-and.html

Concluding observations

1

Startups, established online players, and the retail ‘Mega-Giants’ are circling car retail and beginning to take some chunks out of it with a narrative to buyers of convenience and cost savings. Consumers are responding and more may soon try click-to-buy car purchase.

2

Automotive OEMS have become digitally sophisticated so that many are building the capabilities to themselves win online sales. Their expectations are measured: they understand it may be an iterative, learning process to develop the best solutions.

3

Car brands should not expect a huge number of online sales immediately, but be happy to create engagement that might continue offline, whilst positioning themselves for when online car purchase goes mainstream.

4

Where the OEM’s own dealer network is firmly onboard they may actually have little to fear. Their own digital channels are well known, frequently visited and the most trusted source of information for new car buyers.

5

Car brands ‘own’ the existing sale and distribution model. By adding online capabilities they create a foot in both camps and can adapt when consumers feel comfortable to cross over or journey back and forth from ‘bricks-and-mortar’ to virtual channels.

6

The insurgents – the car brokers and aggregators – don’t have the luxury of existing customers and revenues. Their click-to-buy alternative has to be ‘right first time’. Startups are vulnerable to the demands of venture capital. The bigger players are likely to be the bigger threat to OEMs.

7

OEMs have everything to play for. With foresight and intelligence, they can remain the preferred choice with whom car buyers will want to do business, both online and offline.

8

But car makers must not be complacent. If they are not addressing click-to-buy now, they could find themselves quickly left behind by both their peers and new market entrants.

9

Click-to-buy should be embraced as part of the longer term strategic shift automotive manufacturers are embarking upon – the transition from vehicle manufacture to mobility service provision.

10

As their customers move increasingly to a pay-to-go relationship, then the transaction frequency with them could move from being every few years, to every few hours.

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Mastering Click-to-buy is about learning  how  to engage with the digital consumer in a period of wider disruption, and ensuring that the brand remains the conduit for future transactions within a heavily reconfigured business. 

Download here a free copy of the 'Click to Buy' Whitepaper




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