Thursday, May 26, 2011

My Online Vehicle Advertising Gorilla Ate My Digital Homework

Silly title, yeah, but here's my point:  Is Autotrader's purchase of VinSolutions the "death knell" for other Website/CRM/Digital/etc. vendors in automotive?  Do I need do no more study or market homework for tool selection, and so I just have to call Autotrader to get all my strongest needs satisfied?  To the first question, I don't personally think so IF the other vendors focus on improving their products to compete.  At least not for a while.  To the second question, well, I'd guess that was Autotrader's intent, which I am thankful for, but I am wary to make sure something of this size will stay focused on my and my dealer's needs.
In my career that includes several other non-automotive vertical markets, I've been through a number of tool-market consolidations that moved us away from the "best of breed" mentality--and I can say from personal experience that consolidation can be good, bad, or both for the end user. 
In this case, I think the complimentary products of the Autotrader suite, and the vision of cleaning up the data integration and marketing nightmares that happen with multiple vendors already, are definitely very good things for us in the industry and for dealers.  The bad thing is that while the inflatable gorilla is (rightly, and yay!) disappearing from the top of our buildings, it is being possibly replaced by a much-heavier Autotrader gorilla that is now strongly inserted in a position to influence the bulk of our used car supply chain, especially for marketing and pricing.  Autotrader, HomeNet, vAuto, KBB, CDMData--and now VinSolutions.  That's quite a gorilla.
And, as long as that gorilla stays off my roof, I don't see that as a direct threat to business, and I loudly applaud the independence that Autotrader has given and still gives to the purchased products it has added.  I hope they always do that.
And that's the possible threat in the future that I do worry about--because I worked many years for, and worked for many more years with, another gorilla called Microsoft.  My hope is that Autotrader continues to work to provide tools (by development and purchase) that we can use, and never to provide tools they control us to use.  That was the Microsoft mistake, which ultimately involved the Department of Justice (you can see a very minor reference to little ol' me in that mess here).
My hat's off to Autotrader and to VinSolutions, as this particular marriage makes more sense than just about any other acquisition for several years now in the automotive space.  I look forward to some great things from both of them!
Let's all just have an eye out for this new gorilla and make sure he never sits on our dealership building.  We can't afford that weight on the roof.  And neither, frankly, in my experience can Autotrader.
So, keep watch that new gorilla doesn't ever show up there, and go enjoy the results of this new arrangement for your dealerships.  There's a whole lot of good here:  Let's use it!

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