Dealership Marketing

AutoTrader – I did it again!

Premium Partner with AutoTrader – Again!

Well I did it again. I signed up for another year as a Premium Partner with AutoTrader for their 2007 product.

I was tempted to drop down to the Featured Listings package or get rid of AutoTrader all together and shift my budget over to Not because AutoTrader doesn’t perform well for us, but due to the increase in pricing. We are a smaller dealer and I’m lucky to have 50 used cars on the lot at any given time. Once you take the monthly price and spread it out amongst all my used cars, I was already spending more then I like per car for advertising.

What keeps me going with AutoTrader is the positive ROI I’ve been able to track using the service. Even with the high cost per lead and advertising cost per car, the ROI makes total sense to continue on for another year. Though if they keep hiking their price, this may be my last signed contract.

My biggest complaint I have with AutoTrader is with the price increase each year, they try to sell me on the new “added features” that do nothing to sell me more cars. Like adding the ability to add more photos of your dealer for your dealership profile or the new “Reduced” icon that shows up when you change your pricing (being a Mercedes dealers I think it sort of cheapens the car).

The new Print Vehicle Brochure is a decent addition but the load time for the brochures can be horrendous for slower computers. They should allow the consumer the option for a full or mini brochure (cutting some of the photos and having the option omitting the Carfax).


The best part of the new 2007 product is the new Admin! (if it would only work, but I’ll touch on that later). Now when you log in, you get an inventory age report along with a list of your Top 10 New and Used vehicles. But there’s a problem with the Top 10 reports and something I have been complaining about for along time. The Top 10 reports shows how many times a particular vehicle has shown up in searches BUT it’s for the entire time the car has been in inventory. Obviously if I have a car in inventory for 3-4 months, it’s going to be higher on the list then say a car that’s been listed for only a week. AutoTrader needs to allow us to designate a time period for this report to have any real value.


The most impressive feature is the Market Comparison. While viewing your inventory list screen you get an overview of the average price of similar inventory listed on AutoTrader. This allows you to see how your vehicles compare to the competition. Of course these are just averages, but when you drill down to the vehicle specifics and click on the Market Comparison tab, you get a full list of your competitive inventory while allowing you to click and view the actual vehicle listing. This is something I do before spotlighting a car but I would have to search from the consumer side of AutoTrader. I can now stay inside of the AutoTrader admin, compare my inventory and pricing to the competition and then Spotlight, all from one screen.

Another gripe I have with AutoTrader is the deleting of inventory. If you make any change to a vehicle in the AutoTrader admin, it “locks” that vehicle into your inventory. You are then forced to manually delete the vehicle when it sells. I can see how this would be a huge pain for a larger dealer with more inventory. I don’t understand why they can’t build a rule that says if you make a change to vehicle and it “locks” into your inventory, it will delete if the vehicle is not in the feed from your DMS or inventory tool like Homenet or ebizautos after 2 or 3 updates.

Overall it looks as if AutoTrader actually put some thought into this new admin. BUT as I mentioned earlier; “if it would only work”. Unfortunately after only a few minutes playing around, I ran into several issues. I changed the price of several cars form the vehicle listing screen only to find when I did, it was deleting all the photos for that vehicle. I can’t seem to get our videos attached to the inventory to show up in the multimedia portion of the vehicle listing. When I choose what vehicles I want to show in the Dynamic Display, it doesn’t update and reverts back the original setting.

Hopefully by the time you read this, these issues will be taken care of. I know I’m always giving AutoTrader a rough time here on DealerRefresh but when you’re the Big Guy and you want to charge a premium price, I expect a premium product with premium service.

So another year on AutoTrader for me..we’ll see how this year totals up!!

Founder of DealerRefresh - 20+ Years of dealership Sales, Management, Training, Marketing and Leadership.
  • L
    Lao Shi
  • June 28, 2007

Yes, what you say about Auto Trader is true. It is too bad as this tool has great potential however the management is bent on promotion rather than making a progressive tool and listen to the client feedback which would give them the direction they need to make it better.

How long was I after them about simple things like the "Pop-ups" and all they wanted to do is deny there was an issue.

The same with their "Buggy" dealer management tool, this could be streamlined and made more efficient.

At some point their business model will run out of room as their pricing will no longer sustain the expense and increases they are passing on to the clients.

They did just sign a deal with MSN and will replace as of this week so this will add some value this year.

In addition sites like Google Group is doing a project with and Google Base is a viable option for the smaller dealers and "Boutique Dealers".

Some of these options are currently free and Google Group/Salesforce is offering an intro price of only $600.00 per year, a steal at that price even if it only sells 2 cars a month.

The ecommerce options are developing so quickly that many of the solutions presently offered in the market place will just go away.

One of the issues they face is the increase in labor and marketing expense. At some point management will start laying off staff and the ad and promotion budgets will cut back and the company will have difficult choices to make. Couple this with clients moving to other solutions Auto Trader will bite the dust.

The other option is to move the whole operation and management to India. This will allow them to make a huge increase in profit, as 70% reduction in overhead will reduce their costs.

"What keeps me going with AutoTrader is the positive ROI I’ve been able to track using the service."

This is one thing I have to respect about you. I know a lot of dealers and few make informed decisions about their advertising. A lot of the time dealers make decisions with their hearts and wallets rather then based on the numbers. I'm glad to hear you are tracking your ROI this closely and wish more dealers would do the same!

Hi Jeff,
We too have seen the significant increase in Auto Trader's fees. I carefully measure our ROI each month, as well as page views, emails, and phone calls from each of our vendors. My analysis has shown that is giving me the same amount of page views, emails, and calls as Auto Trader, but at one third of the cost. ROI has been very close between the 2 since January. This month, is bringing many more sales than Auto Trader. Auto Trader is still part of our mix, but like any dealership with a limited amount of marketing money each month, we must put our money where we get the best results. AutoTrader needs to show me why they are worth three times the cost of Kevin Frye/eCommerce Director/Jeff Wyler Automotive Family
  • J
  • June 28, 2007
Autotrader, Autotrader, Autotrader. Instead of paying big bucks for the Christian Slater voiceovers I think it's time to hire Susan Powter as a management consultant (remember those "stop the insanity" infomercials?) When I was a sales rep there I heard it all the time...."why pay you that much when I can get the same results for this much"? Like any other corporate sales gig they burned appropriate rebuttals into our brains, and sure, they worked. As someone who speaks with dealers across the nation on a daily basis, and who also keeps in touch with several Autotrader reps on a daily basis, I've definitely noticed a trend. We knew it would happen at some point, but dealers are finally starting to "defect". I'm told management is well aware that cancellation/churn rates are at all time highs, and they sugar-coat it like one would expect. To all the dealers who used to tell me that Autotrader would price themselves out of the market - it looks like you're another step closer to being correct.

On the flip side of the coin, Jeff does point out an important aspect: ROI. It's still cheaper than other media on a per-vehicle basis. The countless sales trainings I was forced to sit through where they do competitive analyses always seemed to focus on other media. Of course Autotrader is going to be more cost-effective than newspaper, radio, or TV ads, but what about that elephant in the room with the bumper sticker that none of the sales trainers are talking about? Autotrader is well aware of eating into their market share. It just seems to be an atmosphere of competitive ignorance. Can they afford to do that? Well, they are still the highest traffic 3rd party site, and the $70 million marketing budget last year came from somewhere. I however think ROI is more important than traffic, and from what I'm seeing a lot of dealers are starting to understand this. Kevin's comment represents a lot of dealers, both large and small.
I was in the market for two things a few weeks ago: an 80 series Landcruiser and a new place to list my pre-owned inventory. When I started the search for the Landcruiser I began on I found one of the reasons why I originally canceled our services with them to still be true: sold units continued to stay on Almost every Landcruiser ,within a 20 mile radius to me, had already been sold. I moved my search out 200 miles to include the DC area (I'm in Virginia Beach) and started calling private owners. I called three people and they all said the same thing: "yeah, the car is on AutoTrader, but my listing is much better - why don't you check it out there?" So I started looking on and found the lead that took me to my new-to-me beach truck.

We were on from their introduction in our market, but could not get a ROI worth keeping us there. I think the company was too young to have all the marketing campaigns fully sink in. After searching for my Landcruiser, I'm of a different opinion today. I've been using NewLeadsPlus (a company) since we canceled on the Used Car side, and I'm now ready to sign back up with Of course, I looked at again, but paying $3,000/month more for the same old heartache isn't in the cards. I will say this for AutoTrader, we had some huge grosses with them, but at the end of the day the pissed off customer (who I can relate to after calling on 10 different cars that were already sold) leveled those grosses to a negative.

Jeff - I know where you're coming from with your decision. The "Do I keep using AutoTrader debate" is a tough one. In some areas it still makes sense to use them, but in my area it is the same old song and dance at a higher cost.
  • J
    Jeff Larsen
  • June 29, 2007
Honestly, what is the ROI from Autotrader or

<i>What internet vendors are the most visible to the public?
What is the cost to sold- ROI to the dealership?</i>

<i>Autotrader &
Direct or indirect? See below please</i>

The ultimate goal in any business is ROI. So what is the true ROI with, the 7th largest internet advertising company in the world that is also unique to being industry specific or with

Direct ROI- vehicles sold start to finish via the phone call or email lead to the internet/bdc department.

Indirect ROI- vehicles seen by local residents who come in and purchase that never emailed or called first, clicks to the dealer website, and overall dealership branding.

24 hours a day, 7 days a week nationwide exposure.

Could they be better with their admin tools? Are there flaws? Should we start keeping them honest with pricing now?

Yes, yes, yes.

I believe the bigger problem is the dealerships ability to service the internet shopper properly, and if all did our internet departments would be able to show more direct ROI, receive more internet advertising funds, and in turn have more sales reps than the showroom.

Ask your next internet appointment how many dealerships they attempted to contact electronically and never received a response.

In 5 years dealerships will be spending (if they aren't will be out of business) more on internet advertising than newspaper, tv and radio.
"What can't be measured, can't be paid". I need help with measuring ROI.

How do you connect the dots in all of the "grey" areas? Customers like to shop "stealth". Sales reps hate to invade the customers space.

-Do you survey your ups?
-Do you survey your buyers in F&I?

Need help & wisdom!
Joe, my first advice would be to avoid "paralysis by analysis"... Our business is driven by tracking key metrics, but I can see that you already see that many things are very difficult (if not impossible) to measure - in this case - stealth buyers. For this particular example, I know that I have stealth buyers with both and AutoTrader. My goal is to measure apples to apples as best as possible. I am able to measure page views, phone calls, emails and leads from these providers, as well as their respective costs and how many sales result. While my ROI might miss some stealth buyers, I feel that I am making the best measurement that I can with the information I have, and considering I am measuring the same information from each vendor, I am comfortable in making key decisions. Kevin Frye/eCommerce Director/Jeff Wyler Automotive Family
There are a few comments that I agree with and a few that need clarified. First off, since around March of this year you can now use ad manager and the vehicle will be deleted once it is deleted from the source where it originally came, calls it "Smart Update". Also, the new dealer community is a great tool but it is brand new, just went live last week, so some of the bugs will still show up for a little while. As far as offering "new" products that don't do anything to help sell cars, I'm sorry but that's just not true. How about the new multimedia, a virtual walk around for every vehicle in your inventory if you want it. Plus, they are helping to advertise and brand your dealership with up to 27 photos of your dealership and you can tell a story about your dealership and also select what services you offer.

As far as the vehicle brochure is concerned, when the print window comes up for your printer, you can select just certain pages to be printed. Since this is in PDF (Adobe Reader) format, there is no easy way to program this part in.

All in all, great to see you hanging around for another year with ATC. Wait till next year, the best is yet to come! BTW, our new partnership with MSN AUTOS will certain not hurt your bottom line!
  • J
    Jeff Kershner
  • June 29, 2007
Daniel, thanks for your feedback. Maybe you can help clarify.

You said - "since around March of this year you can now use ad manager and the vehicle will be deleted once it is deleted from the source where it originally came"

Does this mean even if I make a change to a price, description, photos..the information is locked BUT if the vehicle is deleted from the feed (DMS or software feed) it will delete from AutoTrader? I have not witnessed this but will be sure to keep a closer eye to see if this indeed works.

I'm curious to see if the addition of MSN advertising will make a difference.

"Wait till next year, the best is yet to come!" Oh no..will this mean another 20-30% price increase?

Autotrader Traffic Graph
(Alexa; 5 year)

YUK, at 5 year low. That spike in late 04 must have been the Yahoo connection being switched on. Looks like that relationship is USELESS now.

NOTE: when I previewed the URL (above) the complete URL would not show so I have to cut it up. You'll have t paste all lines individually.

  • J
    Jeff Kershner
  • June 30, 2007
Joe, I don't have a problem if you want to use HTML for linking to information like this.

I bet that spike was when Yahoo was turned on and we should maybe see another spike with MSN. I'm sure AutoTrader has had to spend some money just to <i>maintain</i> their market share.
Great topic, Jeff. I too have been perturbed by the substabtual annual price hike from Autotrader for minimal increases in ability. I actually pulled the plug on them last year at my dealership for a couple of reasons, and the management came out of the woodwork! You'd think I was trying to leave a store without buying a car.

After a couple of months, I got back on board at a diminished level, and gradually increased to Premium Partner, simply because from an ROI standpoint, it makes business sense. Even if it costs you $300-400/sold car, you are still much cheaper than a "showroom" sold, and generally, you can run better gross (They picked YOUR car after all).

Bottom line, do not be afraid to mix it up with Autotrader. I think if enough stores fire them or decrease their membership, upper management might get the hint. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the web leads- they sell fine too. Maybe move some of that cash over to Cars for a quarter and see what the results are. Autotrader will continue to push the price range envelope as long as we permit them.
According to my rep:

" dropped MSN because the traffic was not there. We are picking up something way better!"
  • J
  • July 2, 2007
<em>Jeff: "Does this mean even if I make a change to a price, description, photos..the information is locked BUT if the vehicle is deleted from the feed (DMS or software feed) it will delete from AutoTrader? I have not witnessed this but will be sure to keep a closer eye to see if this indeed works."</em>

Yes, this is correct, however I believe your feed provider must request this setup specifically
<strong>Autotrader Forcing Small Dealers Out ofBusiness</strong>

The 2007 NIADA report is out and provides some excellent nuggets of information about the health of the used car market and its participants. A few rough highlights before I go into something I find more interesting:

Days supply of inventory for deale...
  • G
  • December 10, 2008
I have experience with both autotrader and the cost of autotrader in todays market is a problem. with there yahoo partnership and at 1/3 the cost of autotrader makes it very attractive.
  • D
  • December 10, 2008 now have a site, they allow private seller to list their cars for FREE. is that means they will only focus on to make money?
  • C
  • November 11, 2011
Should use Much less expensive and more powerful than Autotrader. Granted they are brand new and are just starting but I imagine once they start growing they will be the #1 dealer used vehicle alignment an sales tool on the net. Check them out at