As shopping habits change, automakers roll out online buying options


For a new generation of car shoppers, going to a physical lot and kicking the tires seems to have lost some of its appeal, a trend that accelerated with the coronavirus pandemic.

A Cox Automotive report released in January said 64 percent of vehicle shoppers wanted more of the purchase process to take place online, and 76 percent were open to the idea of buying a vehicle completely online.

People are visiting fewer dealerships before making a purchase and spending less time in them. Recognizing this change in consumer preferences, several major automakers have rolled out digital retail programs. Here are some of them.

Ford Motor Co.: Ford Express Buy (Ford brand)

The one-stop system allows a customer to purchase a vehicle completely online in partnership with Ford Credit, although they can take the process offline into a physical dealership at any point. It is currently available only with the Mustang Mach-E but will be rolled out more broadly across Ford’s lineup.

Lincoln, Ford’s luxury brand, is expected to launch its own digital retail tool based off the Ford Express Buy model, although the company has not announced a name or timeline.

— Michael Martinez

General Motors: Shop.Click.Drive (Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick-GMC)

General Motors launched Shop.Click.Drive in 2013, primarily as a lead-generator. Over the past two years, GM has made the platform more transactional. Shop.Click.Drive now includes pricing transparency with third-party websites, an option for customers to test drive a vehicle and a real-time credit application. Cadillac, Chevrolet and Buick-GMC dealers can access the platform.

GM also has plans to launch a digital retail tool, powered by Tekion, to facilitate electric vehicle sales. But sales of GM’s current EVs, the Bolt EV and Bolt EUV, are on hold because of a sweeping safety recall related to potential battery fires.

Mike Bowsher, chairman of the Chevrolet dealer council and owner of Carl Black Automotive Group in Kennesaw, Ga., said the Tekion tool is “more intuitive than the best third parties on the market.”

— Hannah Lutz

Honda: Shop Simpl (Honda brand); Precision Purchase by Acura (Acura)

The Shop Simple buying tool takes prospective buyers from Honda’s national website to local dealer inventory. On the websites of participating retailers, shoppers can get vehicle pricing, value a trade-in, apply for financing, customize finance and insurance products and arrange delivery. Honda certifies e-commerce platform providers to ensure a full online buying experience for customers who want that. Honda has one authorized provider and is certifying five others. It said most dealers participate in the Shop Simple program and most Acura dealers participate in a similar online experience called Precision Purchase by Acura.

— Laurence Iliff

Hyundai: Click to Buy (Hyundai brand)

Hyundai says the Click to Buy program allows a shopper to research the vehicle they are interested in, choose a dealer and search inventory, estimate different payment options, apply for credit, schedule a test drive (whether at the store or remotely), do all the paperwork online and have the vehicle delivered at home. Dealers who participate in the program allow the process to be saved along the way. But the ability to complete the entire step-by-step process online varies from dealer to dealer. Hyundai says that is based on state regulations as well as the dealer’s participation level.

— Laurence Iliff

Mini: Mini Anywhere

The digital end-to-end shopping tool allows a customer to personalize a payment plan, get trade-in offers, go through a credit approval process and digitally sign a contract.

— Urvaksh Karkaria

Nissan: [email protected] (Nissan brand); Infiniti No (Infiniti)

[email protected] allows consumers to shop for a vehicle, schedule test drives, complete the paperwork for a purchase — including credit approval and F&I options — and take delivery without having to step inside a dealership. After delivery, customers will be able to schedule service appointments digitally.

Infiniti Now allows customers to browse inventory, schedule a test drive, arrange financing, purchase the vehicle and schedule home delivery.

— Urvaksh Karkaria

Porsche: Porsche Finder

The online service covers all aspects of buying, financing or leasing a vehicle, including payment and trade-in calculators, credit approval and F&I options through Porsche Financial Services.

— Urvaksh Karkaria

Stellantis: E-Shop (Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, Fiat, Alfa Romeo)

E-Shop enables consumers to begin the trade-in process, apply for credit, receive price and payment estimates, and review service protection plan options before having a vehicle delivered to them. Other features include online chats and the ability to make test-drive appointments and vehicle reservations.

The reservations option is integrated with PayPal, so users can put down refundable deposits on their desired vehicles. The system debuted in spring 2020 under a different name but was rebranded as E-Shop last fall. The coronavirus outbreak forced the automaker to pull up the release date by several months.

— Vince Bond Jr.

Toyota: SmartPat (Toyota brand); Monogra (Lexus)

Toyota Motor North America launched its path to digital retailing in 2019 with the rollout of SmartPath for its Toyota dealers and Monogram for its Lexus dealers. The two systems, developed in-house by Toyota, allow dealers real-time inventory management and marketing tools while enabling customers to choose a vehicle, apply for financing and close a deal online, or to stop short of those steps and complete their purchase at the dealership anywhere along the way.

Toyota Motor North America has been speeding rollout across its retail network, but the system remains voluntary for dealers.

— Larry P. Vellequette

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