What the Rebranding Will Mean for Dealerships
By Desiree Homer
TrueCar, the third-party vehicle listings website, plans to introduce a fresh identity and new browsing tools. This announcement comes with intentions of winning over new vehicle shoppers by introducing a more flexible and personalized experience. These customer-facing upgrades are the first in three years with hopes of a stronger internal technology support system that will help speed up future enhancements.
Interim CEO, Mike Darrow told Automotive News the Santa Monica, California based company plans to “return to growth” in 2020. How will this listing site’s growth plans impact your dealership? We explore some of the issues with TrueCar dealer partnerships in past years and help unravel what this announcement may mean for future dealership networks.
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TrueCar Looks to Attract Millennials and Women
CEO Mike Darrow says the mission for TrueCar is to differentiate itself from competing listing sites. He says the advertising methods have become too similar for those in the auto-listing segment. He also shared the new campaign should attract both millennial and female car buyers by providing search capabilities that better suit their preferred shopping habits.
The New Features and Tools
Anyone browsing TrueCar will now discover improvements in vehicle pricing algorithms, meaning consumers will be able to target for more precise results. Searching capabilities are enhanced to allow for more focused vehicle availability. Also new with the TrueCar platform, shoppers can select their dealership of choice, instead of the TrueCar system choosing for them automatically. The upgrades are coming with a complete rebranding effort that includes a fresh website and logo. The company is also launching creative advertising that includes television, social media, and YouTube ads.
A Checkered Past with Dealership Relationships
When Scott Painter founded TrueCar in 2005, the business model was revolutionary. For car buyers, the no-haggle, online listing site was heaven. Consumers could enter a zip code and vehicle preferences and get a voucher, guaranteeing a price. They could print out a voucher to present at a local TrueCar dealer and drive away with their purchase.
For the partnering dealers, this business model seemed lucrative as well, considering buyers would be funneled to the showrooms to finalize their purchases. Only a small fee would be due to TrueCar for the referral – $299 for new cars and $399 for used models. Dealerships jumped on the TrueCar bandwagon but soon realized the listing site couldn’t be a master to both dealers and consumers.
By 2012, TrueCar realized the problems had grown beyond repair with many dealerships. The guaranteed pricing vouchers were sometimes misrepresentative of actual costs and costing those participating dealers much-needed revenue. While car shoppers were promised savings of $3000-$15,000, dealers were breaking out in hysterics, fearing TrueCar was encouraging a ‘race to the bottom’ that would put traditional dealership transactions out of existence. Mike Jackson, CEO of AutoNation, the largest auto retailer at the time, referred to the issues as a “death spiral” for dealers. Over the years, there have been lawsuits filed against TrueCar, on behalf of several dealerships, looking to force TrueCar to disclose all the relevant fees in advertising and pricing.
Is TrueCar a Friend or Foe?
The big question remains. What will the newly revised algorithms and tools mean for the dealership relationships? For those dealers already partnering with TrueCar, who may enjoy their current network partnership, the changes might mean a steadier flow of buyers. For dealers not part of the TrueCar network, it sounds like some of those past pricing concerns may have been addressed. The new feature that allows consumers to select their participating dealer of preference might put the power back in the hands of the car buyer.
TrueCar is embracing the need for revisions and changes to adapt to the car-buying landscape. How they engage consumers and dealers will no doubt be improved as a result. Although, it may be too soon to tell just how many dealers will be ready to participate with their platform.