business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Amazon continues to play around in the car business, yesterday launching a new Vehicles section of its website designed, as the Washington Post puts it, "to help people looking for a new ride get more information on the vehicles out there ... Amazon also has collected basic information on a number of vehicles, giving users easy access to attributes such as gas mileage and car dimensions. Users can compare different versions of the same model of car — the hatchback vs. the sedan, for example. Listings also contain safety information, including information on recalls."

The Post writes, "Amazon already sells millions of car parts and accessories, but this is the first time it has taken a serious push to feature vehicles on the site. One selling point for Amazon Vehicles, according to the company, will be that customers can leave reviews for cars in much the same way as they can for any other item on the site."

Essentially, Amazon is positioning its Vehicles section as an alternative to more traditional car review sites, such as Kelley Blue Book, in the same way that it developed a home services function that competes with the likes of Angie's List. While initially the offerings may not be as robust as on sites that have been in business for a long time, Amazon clearly continues to believe in its ecosystem approach - making it a legitimate and functional stop whenever customers want to do anything, and eventually turning it into the first, best stop for practically everything.

"Our goal is to support customers during one of the most important, research-intensive purchases in their lives by helping them make informed decisions every step of the way," said Adam Goetsch, Director of Automotive at Amazon.com. "Amazon Vehicles is a great resource for customers who are interested in car information or looking for a broad selection of parts and accessories - all enhanced by the ability to tap into the knowledge, opinions, and experiences of other car owners within the Amazon customer community."

The move positions Amazon against many well-known car research sites, including trusted names such as Edmund’s or Kelley Blue Book — which also list professional and consumer reviews for cars. While Amazon doesn’t have the same reputation on vehicles as these older sites, it appears to be banking on the fact that customers already on the site will find it convenient to get auto information at Amazon’s one-stop shop.

It was just earlier this week that Amazon said it would test another car-related program this weekend in Southern California, allowing Prime members to use Amazon to schedule test drives of the 2017 Hyundai Elantra - a program that conceivably could be rolled out to other geographic areas and include other automobile brands if it is successful.

I suppose at some level there will be questions about just how much bandwidth Amazon has; is there a point at which it stretches beyond its ability to deliver relevant and differentiated products and services. But for the moment, there's nothing to suggest to me that this won;t work.

One thing, though. I just asked my Amazon Echo what the price is for a 2016 Mustang convertible, 2016 Mazda Miata, and 2016 BMW X1 ... and the Echo couldn't tell me.

I suspect that this is a conversation for another day. And when it happens, it'll be an Eye-Opener.
KC's View: