If there was a popularity contest for automotive Web sites, the third-party online buying services undoubtedly would win.
It comes as no surprise that consumers would seek a Web site offering one-stop shopping for all makes and models - an unbiased site with no vested interest in promoting a particular manufacturer.
What does come as a surprise is that these third-party buying services use their popularity to defend the economics of their business model. Whenever they are under the microscope for losing money - as they were last week at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in Las Vegas - the services trot out studies showing consumers prefer their Web sites to others by big margins.
So what? Consumers aren't the ones signing their paychecks.
Third-party sites are funded mostly by dealer fees. And to keep those fees coming, buying services have to offer plenty of bang for the buck. Generally, that means they must spend top dollar to keep traffic coming to their sites.
Consumer data aren't much help when the press questions if a buying service is going to be around for the long haul. What matters is the bottom line.
In other dot-com news:
A study by Gartner Group, a research firm in Stamford, Conn., shows openness to the build-to-order concept in which consumers order vehicles online from the factory. Seventy-four percent of new-vehicle buyers said they would rather wait to order a vehicle instead of buying a car with equipment they didn't want off a dealer's lot.
Online buying service Autobytel.com has entered partnerships that will allow it to expand to the Netherlands. It already has licensed Web sites in Canada, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Japan and Australia.
Hyundai Motor America has agreed to a 90-day pilot of the ChoiceParts e-commerce software, which lets dealerships locate and order parts.
Staff Reporter Donna Harris can be reached at [email protected] or 540-668-7295