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The internet presence of the automobile industry and its dealerships grows more important every day to the process of automotive retailing.  Surveys indicate that most car buyers research their purchases on the web and an increasing number make their initial dealership contacts via e-mail after reviewing manufacturer and dealership websites.  ARA will review manufacturer websites and manufacturer retailer inventory portals to assess their ease of use and utility to the consumer.  The primary focus of these reviews will be the inventory search feature; the busy consumer, having researched his choices and narrowed his list, needs a good inventory search feature to complete his pre-dealership visit efforts.  Our procedure for this and future similar reviews involves choosing at random a sampling of car models and a random selection of a geographical area.

For our first subject, ARA chose the industry’s leader in sales volume, General Motors.  The review provided some surprises related to the utility of the website! (or serves as the GM portal to research and dealer inventory information for all GM automobiles.  The level of information regarding the various models is impressive, detailed, colorful, and interactive.  The research process has clearly moved beyond the “brochure era” ARA remembers from the 1960s.

The review was conducted Tuesday morning, January 26, 2010.  To review this site, ARA chose four current GM vehicles: the Chevrolet Malibu, GMC Canyon, Buick Lacrosse, and Cadillac SRX.

To research a particular model, after reaching the home page one can choose Browse By Vehicle Type and click on All Types or any type (Sedan, Crossover, SUV, Pick-up Truck, Coupe, Sport/Convertible, Hybrid, Hatchback/Wagon, Van) or Browse by Brand/Model.  In the case of the Chevrolet Malibu, just click on Chevrolet and Malibu and Go!  The 2010 Chevrolet Malibu page features an illustration plus MSRP information, an Overview, and a Current Offers section requiring a zip code entry.  One may also Request A Quote including the selection of a dealer by Zip Code.  Other choices include Build This Vehicle, Locate This Vehicle, Compare to Competition, and Locate a Dealer.

One weakness of the dealer inventory search is that within a nameplate such as Malibu one must search a trim level.  It would seem that an option to search all trim levels at once would also be helpful!  This flaw hampered two of our four searches.

For the first search, ARA selected a 2010 Malibu LS base model with “No Preferences Set” and checked inventory in Omaha, Nebraska within 25 miles.  50 cars were listed.  H & H Chevrolet at 3.0 miles was listed with eight LS Malibus, three in three colors at $22,625.00, four at the $22.725.00 price point in three colors, and one at $22,920.00.  Huber Chevrolet at 4.3 miles was listed with thirteen LS Malibus, with six $22,890.00 cars in four colors, three $22,990.00 cars in three colors, two $23,085.00 cars of the same color, and two $23,185.00 cars of the same color.  Beardmore Chevrolet at 7.2 miles listed one $22,990.00 model.  Classic Chevrolet-Cadillac at 8.0 miles listed four LS Malibus: one at $22.725.00, one at $22,810.00, one at $22,875.00, and one at $22,990.00; two of the four were the same color.  Gregg Young Chevrolet at 9.4 miles had fifteen LS Malibus listed: four $22,625.00 models in four colors, three at $22,740.00 in three colors, two $22,820.00 cars in two colors, one car at $22,935.00, four at $23,110.00 in four colors, and one $23,305.00 car.  Tincher Chevrolet at 16.8 miles listed two LS Malibus: one $22,875.00 and one $23,070.00.  Copple Chevrolet-GMC at 19.0 miles listed one $22,875.00 car.  Sid Dillon Chevrolet at 20.0 miles listed six LS Malibus: four $22,875.00 cars in three colors, one $22,990.00 car, and one $23,070.00 model.

Before proceeding, a potential buyer could print out the four pages the information appears on for reference before contacting each dealer.  The site also has an “add to my saved info” feature.

While the MSRP price range for the 50 base Malibu LS automobiles available within 20 miles of Omaha is only from $22,625.00 to $23,305.00, a difference of only $680.00 or 2.9%, within that range are a mind-boggling fifteen price points!  The most popular by number were the $22,625.00 and $22,875.00 points at seven cars each.  However, only two dealers had the $22,625.00 price point (Gregg Young four, H & H three) while four dealers had the $22,875.00 price point (Dillon with four, Classic, Copple, and Tincher with one each.  The seven dealers varied widely in Malibu LS inventory.  Gregg Young listed fifteen, Huber thirteen, and H & H eight at the high end while on the other end Dillon listed six, Classic four, Tincher two, and Copple one!

The site permits either e-mail contact with the dealer through the GM site or one can exit to the dealer website.  A review of the H & H website revealed eleven LS Malibus listed in stock rather than the eight on the GM site.  Beyond the usual disclaimers listed on all such sites, one must keep in mind that the exchange of inventory information is a fluid process and emphasizes all the more the need to use real-time e-mail contact to confirm what is in stock prior to a dealership visit.

A review of the three price points available at H & H per the window stickers shows that the $22,625.00 model has no options other than $80.00 floor mats.  The $22,725.00 model has the $80.00 floor mats plus a $100.00 compact spare tire replacing the “tire sealant and inflator kit.”  The $22,920.00 LS includes the floor mats and compact spare tire plus a $195.00 charge for the Black Granite Metallic exterior color.  A check of the window sticker for the most expensive MSRP among the 50 Omaha area LS Malibus, the $23,305.00 unit at Gregg Young Chevrolet, reveals that in addition to the floor mats and the $195.00 charge for Black Granite Metallic, this car’s total includes $115.00 for Bluetooth for Phone and steering mounted controls, $185.00 for a dealer-installed convenience package, and $185.00 for dealer-installed front and rear molded splash guards.  If you live in Omaha, Nebraska, you have a good choice of Chevrolet dealers and a fairly large inventory of base Malibu LS models to choose from!

Our next search was for a GMC Canyon in the Boston, Massachusetts area within 25 miles.  This effort directed us to the locator site where we selected a 2010 Canyon WT 1SA Regular Cab 2WD.  The result: Dave Delaney’s Columbia Buick-Pontiac-GMC in Hanover (17.2 miles from Boston) had one new 2010 GMC Canyon Regular Cab 2-Wheel Drive Work Truck, MSRP $18,860.00!  Only one base Canyon available within 25 miles of Boston!

Search three was for a 2010 Buick LaCrosse CX base model within 25 miles of Pueblo, Colorado.  The news was not very good.  Nine results were listed for “all local dealers” in Pueblo, Colorado but the closest was 76.4 miles away: Town & Country Salida!  This dealer had one for an MSRP of $28,735.00.  Next was Alpine Buick Pontiac GMC, 98.1 miles away in Denver!  Alpine had one for $29.230.00.  99.7 miles away in Aurora, Colorado is Suss Buick Pontiac GMC; Suss had a LaCrosse CX with an MSRP of $28,185.00.  The other six cars were listed for four dealers from 114.0 to 147.3 miles away!

The search did not inform us that there is a Buick dealer in Pueblo (a city of over 100,000 residents ranking as the 245th largest city in the USA): Wilcoxson Buick-Cadillac-GMC.  Why wasn’t Wilcoxson flagged by the search?  A review of their website shows the only LaCross models in stock are CXLs!  If you live in Pueblo, you probably know about Wilcoxson, but what if you are new and do not?

Our final search was for a Cadillac SRX Front Wheel Drive within 25 miles of Liberal, Kansas.  This search routed us through’s vehicle locator.  The search located four units for “all local dealers” in Liberal, Kansas.  The four units were all listed at Westgate Chevrolet-Cadillac, 139.5 miles away in Amarillo, Texas!  Liberal is a town of 20,000 residents and it does have a Cadillac dealer: Stu Emmert Chevrolet Buick Cadillac.  Emmert, however, currently has no SRX models in stock and thus did not register in the search.  In fact, Emmert has only two new Cadillacs in stock, a 2009 CTS and a 2009 Escalade.  Again, you probably know about Emmert if you live in Liberal, but the website shouldn’t count on it!  And, frankly, with only two leftovers in stock, Cadillac sales in the Liberal area don’t look promising!

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