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J.D. Power exec: Makers' sites need better links to consumers

J.D. Power and Associates estimates that auto companies will spend less than 1 percent of their total marketing budgets on strategies such as the Internet.

A recent J.D. Power study showing that well-executed Web sites lead to test drives should cause automotive marketers to re-evaluate the use of their marketing dollars, says Chris Denove, partner at J.D. Power and director of the company's 2001 Manufacturer Web Site Evaluation Study.

Special Correspondent Anthony Flesch talked with Denove about the study.

Based on your experience and the results of this study, how well are automakers doing with their Web sites?

Overall, they're doing a very good job. We found that in some of the areas where only a limited number of manufacturers offered a feature one or two years ago, the vast majority offer those features today. Examples of areas where there still are large gaps between the manufacturers include the ability to do side-by-side comparisons, monthly payment calculators, special effects and animation and the interface between the customer and the dealer for obtaining price quotes.

An area of growth in the near future will be the addition of tools that allow consumers to search for specific vehicles in dealer inventory. GM BuyPower was one of the first to experiment in this area three years ago. Only a handful of manufacturers offer that functionality today, but we expect that most will in the near future.

In most cases, even with the best sites, including Honda's, the "contact us" function was handled poorly.

Subjectively I would agree with you. There's no question that consumers would like a simpler method to be able to communicate directly with a manufacturer, particularly if they have questions or problems. In a study we did last year, we found that one of the biggest perceived drawbacks to build-to-order was the concern among customers that if there was a problem, who are you going to talk to? The local dealer does an excellent job of providing that linkage, but manufacturers have a ways to go with this.

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