A screenshot from the pilot programme of Google Cars.

Resistance is futile, said the Borg; you will be assimilated.

When it comes to the internet, the same might be said of Google, particularly as it prepares for the full release of its online car-finder service, aptly if unimaginatively named Google Cars.

Most online car-sales websites work by generating leads - you tell them what you want by clicking on cars within a certain narrow range (make, model, price, even colour) and they pass your details on to the people who placed those particular cars on the site.

The seller then contacts you and tries to sell you a car. The salesman starts with a huge advantage because he already knows a lot about you; he knows exactly what make and model you're interested in and how much you can afford to pay for it, information he might have to work quite hard for, if you just walked into his showroom.

But two out of every three people who visit online dealer websites get there via Google anyway, so it was logical, as Mr Spock would have put it, for Google to try to capture some of that traffic.

And here's how it works:

Prospective buyers will be able to use a simple one-page dialogue box to pin down availability, pricing, and dealer location for the car they want, right down to the colour of the upholstery, rather than scroll through the menus, sub-menus and sub-sub-menus that clever web developers populate the dealers' website with to boost their page-view count.

Google, after all, couldn't care less about page impressions.

Worse still, from the point of view of the dealers, is that it puts them in the position of having to compete for leads, which they hate.

When Google Cars gets a query for a specific make and model of car from a given e-mail address or smartphone, it then auctions the customer's details to dealers, who bid against each other - starting at $10 (R92) a time - for the privilege of contacting and offering the buyer a deal.

According to one California Toyota dealer who was part of the Bay Area pilot programme, he was paying an average of $22 (R200) for car leads and $26 (R240) for pick-up or SUV leads.


Some livewire car dealers actually like the flexibility of deciding which leads to bid on, rather than having to pay a set fee, usually about $20 (R180) a time, to the current car-search sites for whatever queries they get, serious or not.

In real terms, that's like being able to stand at the door of your showroom and let in only those customers you like the look of, after they've filled out a form.

The problem is that Google does not exist in the real world; all it can offer dealers is cellphone numbers and e-mail addresses. In a country (the United States) where there is no Rica act, that means a lot of the leads will turn out to be anonymous and therefore useless.


Nevertheless Google is big enough to take on the dealer associations, as well as the established online car-search engines. Google won't have their editorial content, but then Google has never been in the content business.

Google is in the data business, collecting huge aggregations of hard information about the people who use it (and that's pretty well all of us) about who we are, where we live, what we're interested in and what we buy (not the same thing at all, Cyril) and now, with Google cars, how we go about making the second-biggest investment in most people's lives.

Don't ever forget that for Google, what you see on the screen is not the product. You are the product.

Source: The Truth About Cars