Putting the brakes on?

At yesterday’s IAB Automotive Forum, presenters from Microsoft, Yahoo! and Google were united in acknowledging that the automotive buying cycle has changed with the growing ubiquity of the internet in the research process. They also acknowledged that this has given rise to the emergence of a “new consumer”, one who is web savvy and would prefer to spend his time researching cars on the internet than on the forecourt.

But just how green is this new consumer?

Microsoft research revealed that increasingly, it’s practicalities rather than environmental issues that buyers want to explore. When asked what factors they take into consideration when deciding the type, make and model of car, consumers chose purchase price first, followed by old favourites like reliability, fuel economy and driver comfort. Impact on the environment came in a lowly 13th place – behind ability to accommodate my family and just ahead of resale value.

The latest Yahoo! research backed up these findings. Asked what is the main criteria the consider when buying a car, 31% of consumers chose cost. Reliability came second with 21% of the vote, followed by safety with 11%. In eighth place with a paltry 2% was green credentials. Ian Webber, category director, automotive at Yahoo!, suggested that these results may have come about because consumers expect cars to be greener now. But nonetheless they will not make happy reading for the green car lobby.

Next up, Google unvieled recent research showing search volumes for the term “Hybrid”. The figures peaked in June 2008 just before the credit crunch started to bite. Sure enough, by August they were in freefall and by January this year they had reached their lowest rate of recent years.

We all know that products like Fray Bentos are selling well as the credit crunch bites and consumers are being forced to re-think their buying decisions as money becomes tighter. So it should be no great surprise that this is now crossing over into the automotive sector.

But what does this mean for advertisers working in the automotive industry? Over the last year we’ve seen some outstanding online work in the automotive sector. Most notable among these was AKQA’s eco:Drive campaign for Fiat which scooped the top prize in October’s Creative Showcase awards.

Will we see more of this sort of work – or is it time to get back to the gas guzzling basics?

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  • Basing car choice on fuel economy, cost and reliability is about as green as you can get, so the green car lobby won’t be too worried if some marketeer’s idea of green credentials comes lower down. Why bother with a hybrid if is more expensive, more fuel, and is possibly less reliable than a small petrol or diesel car? Each gallon of fuel burnt produces the same amount of CO2 and hot air whatever the technolgy.