OEM, Tear Down These Walled Gardens
I recently completed a new car purchase. It had been a few years since I’ve bought a new car, I typically purchase more used cars. As always in the car buying process, since I’m in the industry, I treated it as a learning and testing experience. As expected I was disappointed with the response time on email correspondence, felt dealers were in dire need of strong phone training, and hated the negotiation process. But most of all I discovered that online new car descriptions are severely broken.
Not unlike most shoppers, I started my new car shopping experience on the OEM sites. I found the sites to be well done, containing great content, and providing enormous education on the way new vehicles were manufactured and configured. After some time, I decided on a mid-size truck, determined the desired trim level, additional options I wanted, and finally made my color choices. My next step was then to connect with live inventory. I clicked the buttons to find local matching inventory and to my surprise and disappointment, the most painful process in my shopping experience began. I found it was completely impossible to quickly find live inventory that would match to my desired detail. Details that I gathered by using the OEM “build your car online” functions. The inventory sitting on dealer websites was not normalized, or configured in the same way that the OEMs described it. So, I began a manual and completely inefficient journey to find the vehicle of my dreams.
I began collecting a list of local new car dealerships who carried the make/model I was searching for. I searched their inventory, and the closest I could come was make, model, color, and sometimes trim level. Option package choices were either partially listed, or not listed at all. I made a written list of vehicles with matching make/model/colors and began either calling or chatting dealer and asking a series of canned questions. I asked, “Does this have the XYZ package?”, “Does this have the JBL stereo and tonneau cover?”, “Does this have step rails and a cold weather package?”. This information was not consistently included in the listings, and most of the dealers just used stock new car imagery so the photos were not helpful. I will admit for the few dealers that did include actual new car images, it was incredible helpful for answering my questions, since I could visibly see the options included. I made wasted trip to the dealership where the chat agent told me it had certain options, only to arrive and discover they were mistaken. Completely inefficient and frustrating.
The most frustrating part was that I know these problems are relatively easy to fix. The OEMs have the build record data; they know how they built these cars on a VIN-by-VIN basis. If they could only tear down the walled garden of OEM build data, and share it industry wide on dealer websites, the problems for consumers could be eliminated. Better yet, the OEMs could help the dealer website providers by standardizing the front-end search functions so the consumers can find the vehicles, exactly in the same manner they configured them on the OEM website.
Most successful ventures today disrupt traditional markets, and make markets more efficient (think Uber). Today’snew car shopping experience in inefficient, and we can all do better. Let’s help our consumers and dealers make the new car buying process more effective and efficient by sharing OEM build record data and helping us all to be better.