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Automaker websites gaining steam on smartphones

J.D. Power and Associates reveals the best and worst of the 32 automotive sites tailored to smartphones.

By Claire_Martin Oct 25, 2012 7:54AM
Kia Mobile Site ScreenshotIf you're in the market for a new car, chances are roughly 30 percent that you'll use your smartphone to do research. And you're very likely to collect information on pricing, models and vehicle ratings while you're inside a dealership, according to a new study by J.D. Power and Associates.

Unfortunately, not all automotive mobile websites are created equal. The best ones mimic top tablet and desktop sites, letting users do things such as build and price vehicles and easily compare different models. They're also chockablock with photos and video footage.

In the study, 9,000-plus car shoppers examined the features, content and utility of 32 mobile sites. The winners? Acura and Kia shared the top spot, with Acura getting accolades for its information and content and Kia standing out for speed and appearance. Mazda and GMC trailed closely behind. (Click on the highlighted manufacturer links to see examples, and be sure to make your browser very thin if you're on a computer.)

Kia Mobile Site ScreenshotBut while automakers are gaining traction on smartphones, their mobile sites don't score nearly as well with buyers as their tablet and desktop equivalents. Of the three types, tablet sites are the most popular, followed by desktop sites. 

Mobile developers have a particular challenge with automaker websites. They have to make navigation simple, maximize speed and include the right balance of technical information -- all in a package that's visually appealing on a small screen. Shoppers, the study shows, want to peruse photo galleries and compare vehicles. These are more sophisticated functions than what consumers were looking for two years ago, when 14 percent fewer car buyers were using such mobile sites. 

Surprisingly, luxury brands comprise four of the seven least popular mobile sites -- Porsche, Volvo and Audi all scored poorly among shoppers. Information can be difficult to find on Volvo's site; the Porsche site's appearance isn't exactly consistent with its vehicles' aesthetics; and Audi's site (below) is unwieldy. 

Audi Mobile Site Screenshot
But it was Lexus that had the poorest showing among all 32 of the automaker sites. There's no vehicle build-out option, a dearth of photos and not a whole lot of information for prospective buyers. 

On the whole, mobile sites for nonpremium cars (Kia, Mazda, Hyundai) tend to do a better job of luring users, turning the adage "you get what you pay for" on its ear.

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