Dealers are greeting with angst -- and anticipation -- Google's intention to roll out nationally an online vehicle shopping service.
Either way, the giant search engine carries so much influence in the Internet car-shopping equation that many dealers plan to participate once the service comes to their areas.
"You have to embrace change," concludes Michael Jessick, marketing and digital director for Fladeboe Automotive Group in Irvine, Calif. The group's franchises include Buick, GMC, Honda, Volkswagen.
Automotive News reported this month that Google plans to expand a pilot of its service being tested in the San Francisco area to the rest of California by year end. A national rollout comes after that.
Google research shows that two of every three visitors to a dealership Web site go there directly from clicking on a Google search link. But Google's new service could undermine this flow of shoppers to a dealer's Web site, some dealers fear.
The Google service lets consumers shop a dealership's inventory without going to the dealership's Web site. The shopper can also contact the dealership anonymously through Google, short-circuiting a favored way that dealers collect leads.
"We work very hard to make our Web site informative, and Google is discouraging customers from going straight to our site," said the Internet manager of a Midwest dealership group who asked to remain anonymous.
For a dealership to provide a price quote to the shopper, it has to bid against competitors. The Internet manager said the cost of those leads could easily exceed the $20 average per lead typical in the industry.
Google contends, on the other hand, that its service is convenient. A link to the service pops up on the first search page after a shopper searches for, say, a Honda Accord in San Francisco. Once on the site, shoppers can give contact information at any point to the dealer.
Jessick said he's not waiting for Google to contact him; he's seeking Google.
Google, Jessick said, is the primary place where consumers start their online car shopping, and ultimately, the last place visited before jumping off to a dealer.
Dealers nationally are anxious to see how it all plays out.