Microsoft Corp. plans to develop an electronic auto mall allowing manufacturers to promote new models on the company's CarPoint Web site.
Microsoft is discussing the concept with several automakers and hopes to launch the electronic mall within three months. But some automakers with high-traffic Internet addresses question the need for another automotive site on the World Wide Web.
'There are some things we can offer uniquely. We have the most compelling exterior and interior surround videos. You can look at the car in three-dimensional fashion,' said Alex Simons, product manager for CarPoint.
'There is also a news story (on the car) and a test driver review. When you bring all the media together in one place it is very compelling.'
CarPoint offers consumers expert reviews of cars and trucks as well as a buying service that matches consumers with local dealers. One feature on the site allows shoppers to determine their monthly payment on an auto loan based on the retail price and interest rate.
The new mall is designed to generate more traffic and revenue for Microsoft - and potentially more exposure for automakers.
The prototype - Digital Showcase - was launched July 12 on the CarPoint home page (http: carpoint.msn.com). The showcase features just one model - the Prowler - and includes video of the interior and exterior of the car, general information on the Prowler, a product review and a history of hot rods.
Chrysler Corp. paid no fees because the showcase is just a pilot. Microsoft has not decided what fee it would charge automakers to display their products.
The prototype will test how much interest there is among manufacturers in a site shared with other automakers. The manufacturers already tout new vehicles on their own Web sites. Some of them also advertise on the Microsoft Network.
But Microsoft said it believes automakers will be willing to pay for shared space on a neutral site to increase exposure with consumers who are not brand loyal.
'Forty-one percent of Internet users are not brand- or dealer-loyal,' said Simons, based on a Microsoft-commissioned study by J.D. Power and Associates, an Agoura Hills, Calif., market research firm. 'CarPoint gives automakers another way to communicate with a very targeted audience.'
Of all the top automotive sites, msn.com, the Microsoft Network home page, ranks No. 1 in terms of page views, according to Web21, a Palo Alto, Calif., research firm that rates Web sites based on traffic. Internet surfers access CarPoint from msn.com.
Only Ford Motor Co.'s Web site matches CarPoint's traffic. CarPoint and Ford.com have the same drawing power, based on ratings from Media Metrix Inc. (formerly PC Meter), a company in Port Washington, N.Y., that rates Web sites based on traffic.
Both Ford and CarPoint have a reach of 0.7 percent. That means that 0.7 percent of consumers using the Internet at home visited the site at least once in a month's time, said Bruce Ryon, general manager of the technology division for Media Metrix. Media Metrix estimates 17 million to 18 million people per month access the Internet from home, so about 119,000 visit the Ford and CarPoint Web sites.
Fordvehicles.com rates 0.6 percent and Fordcredit.com, 0.4 percent. The next-highest ratings are Toyota.com with a 0.5 percent reach, Chevrolet.com with a 0.4 percent reach and Honda.com with a 0.3 percent reach.
NO PLACE LIKE HOME
Ford and Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. said they would take a look at the new concept. But both were satisfied with the drawing power of their own Web sites.
Toyota augments its site with extensive promotion on other Web sites. More than 25 percent of Toyota's sales leads from the Internet come from banner ads on other sites, said Jon Bucci, national manager of interactive communications for Toyota.
'Internet advertising gets a better response for us than direct mail,' Bucci said.
CarPoint already offered the same product information and video as the Digital Showcase prototype. Digital Showcase now has an icon on the CarPoint site, giving it more visibility.
Although the Prowler is getting free exposure on the Digital Showcase prototype, Chrysler has not advertised on Web sites beyond Chrysler.com and is not considering more Internet advertising.
Said spokesman Mike McKesson: 'The Internet is an emerging medium and we haven't gotten to the point where we think it makes sense for us.'