The Internet is maturing as a marketing medium for both manufacturers and dealers, as 2005 was another record year for vehicle sales originating with online requests.

Vehicle purchasing prospects understand the value of shopping online before they visit a dealership. Many say they use the garnered Internet information to select the vehicle they purchase.

Internet users are excellent prospects and the automotive information they gather online typically pushes them down the purchase funnel. It makes sense for manufacturers and dealers to coordinate efforts so it is easy to submit a lead, schedule an appointment and purchase a vehicle.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the Internet, the effort by many manufacturers to excite a prospect about a vehicle is jeopardized by the way they try to gather prospect information and hand it off to their dealer body.

The best general websites make it easy for customers to request information regarding product purchases. But when it comes to automotive websites, the customer often probe around for purchasing information. Even then, it is often described as “shopping tools” instead of “purchasing tools.”

It seems intuitive that if I want to buy a vehicle, I should go to the manufacturer website and request a quote from their dealer body. This is easier said than done.

A quick surf of the top manufacturer websites in the U.S. convinces me that the manufacturers make it hard to request an online quote.

Only Chrysler.com has a bold box in a prime position on its website that lets you “find a dealer, build and price, search inventory and see current incentives.”

Under each of their vehicle links, it offers a link to “Request a Dealer Quote.” This positive placement and endorsement of their dealers encourages buyers to submit information to dealers who can expedite a transaction.

Manufacturer websites for Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota, Honda and Nissan seem to shy away from offering purchase information, locating a dealer or quote-request options. It doesn't make sense.

If manufacturers make it easy to transact with dealers online, the auto makers will be rewarded with more vehicle sales, dealers will benefit more organically from their manufacturers' websites and consumers will rely on those websites to start the purchase process by using shopping tools that are easy to find and use.

The Honda.com vehicle website offers their locate-a-dealer link in a good place, but “Request a Quote” is the 22nd link on the right-side navigation section under the obscure heading “Tools.”

Toyota.com is a bit better with their “Request a Quote” link 5th on their list of shopping tools. Nissanusa.com requires two clicks from the home page and does not even provide an option to request a quote.

Chevrolet.com offers the option to “Get a Quote” as the 13th link on the left-side navigation section under the heading “Shopping Tools,” whereas Fordvehicles.com provides the option to “Get a Price Quote” under shopping tools as well.

According to a J.D. Power and Associates survey, when comparing the types of sites visited during new-vehicle shopping, 54% of consumers say the most useful sites are independent (kbb.com, edmunds.com, etc.) while 41% rate manufacturers sites as the most useful. Only 4% say that of dealer sites.

It is time for manufacturers to assist their dealers more in serving this online consumer base. With simple navigational changes, manufacturers can make it much easier for consumers to transact online.

This would help consumers, dealers and manufacturers. When consumers and dealers get together, good things happen for manufacturers.

David Kain is president of Kain Automotive Inc. He can be reached at david@kainautomotive.com 859-533-2626.