Amazon takes a step toward possible online car sales

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News’s latest foray into the automotive world could be another step toward selling cars online.

The online retail giant on Thursday launched Amazon Vehicles, a car-research website that lets customers compare and price new and used cars. It works much like, Kelley Blue Book or Autotrader: Customers can view specifications, prices, pictures, video and reviews for thousands of cars and trucks. Visitors can ask questions about any vehicle listed, and can submit their own reviews, pictures or video.

It supplements the Amazon Automotive store, a portal launched in 2006 that lets customers search and buy millions of parts and accessories through Amazon. Customers can add their vehicle to the virtual Amazon Garage to better search for parts; more than 35 million customers have done so.

The next logical step, analysts say, is to sell cars online, a feature Amazon does not currently offer. But experts argue recent expansions into grocery and home-goods delivery show the company is serious about selling goods and services.

“Amazon is the great white shark of retail and its appetite is not that discerning — it will eat anything,” said Scott Galloway, professor of marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “I think they’ll go after every large consumer category. It’s not if, it’s when.”

A company spokeswoman on Thursday said she “can’t speculate on what we may or may not do in the future.”

Dave Sullivan, manager of product analysis for automotive research firm AutoPacific, said expanding into autos would make sense.

“Anything that somebody can buy or sell, Amazon is interested in providing and buying a car should be no different,” he said. “They changed the way we buy everything. The time might be right for people of a certain generation who are interested in buying online.”

Sullivan said Amazon would potentially be attractive to Chinese-backed electric vehicle maker Faraday Future or other smaller startups that don’t have the resources for a extensive dealership network.

“They try to take the middle man out of everything, whether we’re talking about a 69-cent pair of socks, or a $69,000 car,” he said. “There’s no limit to what you can buy.”

The online company is no stranger to carmakers.

Earlier this year, Ford Motor Co. announced it would integrate Amazon’s Echo voice-recognition service into future vehicles. Last week, Hyundai claimed to be the first automaker to actually offer the service in its Genesis G80 and G90, letting users lock, unlock, flash the lights and set the temperature of the vehicles from the Echo device in their homes.

Amazon public relations manager Lori Richter said in an email, “More and more customers are turning to Amazon for researching products, and now we’re enabling that experience for vehicles – which is one of the most important, research-intensive purchases in customers’ lives. Our goal is to support customers by helping them make informed decisions every step of the way.”

Established competitors like Kelley Blue Book, and Autotrader are well-known, but NYU’s Galloway said they can’t compare to Amazon’s reach and brand recognition.

“I think those brands have a solid reputation — they’re Glen Campbell,” he said. “But Elvis is about to show up.”

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