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Online Car Shopping

Online Car Shopping

By Jeff Youngs, February 24, 2012
Consumers in the market for a new vehicle are faced with making one choice from more than 40 different brands and more than 250 models, in potentially thousands of configurations. Choosing the make, body style, model, drivetrain, options and color, can become overwhelming to even the most informed buyer.

More makes to choose
Recently, as automotive manufacturers have merged, diversified, or increased their product lines, they have also been adding brands, or makes-a process that has become confusing for the typical consumer. At one point, a vehicle manufactured by Toyota was simply called a Toyota. Today, it can be a Toyota, a Lexus, or a Scion (all three brands are manufactured by the same parent company-which one you choose depends on the price point and features that matter most to you). DaimlerChrysler, a merger between Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler Corp., offers six makes in North America, including Mercedes, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Maybach, and Smart. General Motors today offers vehicles from no less than eight U.S. brands.

More models to choose
In 1973, when Honda first introduced the Civic, it was available in two body styles, with just one engine choice and few factory options. While there are still only two Civic body styles available (coupe and sedan), each can be configured with three different engines and four trim levels. In addition, Honda now offers a multitude of factory and dealer options ranging from fog lights to an integrated GPS-based navigation system.

Manufacturers didn't always offer this many choices. To stay competitive and appeal to constantly shifting consumer preferences, all manufacturers have increased their model lineups, adding more choices for consumers. As recently as 1996, Porsche was just a single-model manufacturer with the venerable 911 Carrera. Today, Porsche offers three coupe/roadster models (911 Carrera, Boxster, and Cayman), plus a sport utility vehicle (SUV) in several variations.

There appears to be no end to the proliferation of models as manufacturers venture into more vehicle segments. For example, Audi recently added an SUV, the Q7, to its lineup, and Mercedes now offers a six-passenger wagon called the R-Class. Even Porsche has indicated that they will be adding a four-door sports sedan to their lineup in the near future.

The Internet: the ultimate automotive resource
The wealth of information available on the Internet continues to grow. Today, Web sites are venturing outside of the standard "article/data warehouse" and looking to new technologies to showcase their information (i.e., blogs, video on demand, podcasts). These new technologies are a required first stop for buyers in the market for a vehicle.

Internet visitors will find automotive Web sites designed to help them choose the right vehicle for their needs. Technical sites explain the difference between anti-lock brakes and traction control. Other sites specialize in selling used vehicles, in arranging financing, or even explaining the complexities of leasing.

Once vehicle choices have been narrowed, visit the manufacturer's site to build a vehicle, view pricing information, and request dealer quotations (several independent Web sites offer these tools as well). Search engines are an excellent way to research different technologies, get a preview of a future vehicle model, or find popular online consumer forums, blogs, and message boards about specific brands.

The best way to navigate the automotive maze of makes and models is with knowledge. Thankfully, the world's largest research library, the Internet, is only one click away.

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