Tony O'Kane | May 30, 2016

The smartphone will not only burrow its way further into your car’s infotainment system in the coming years, but is already on a trajectory to become the main research tool for the majority of Australian new car buyers.

Speaking at the Google Think Auto conference in Melbourne, Google’s head of Sales, Telecommunications and Automotive, Richard Wolstenholme, said the shift from desktop to mobile search traffic was gaining steam and forcing dealers, manufacturers and the media to react.

“This is having a fundamental impact on our industry and our consumers - auto shoppers in australia,” Wolstenholme said.

“If you look at the growth in search queries with automotive keywords in Australia in the past five years, you can see the sustained growth. Online search has become the number one source of information for people in-market shopping for an automobile in Australia.

“Mobile is driving that growth.

“Right now, 44 percent of all auto-related queries are done on a mobile phone. We expect that to pass 50 percent at the end of the year. It doesn’t matter where they are in their car-buying journey, consumers are reaching for their phones.”

Odds are, a good proportion of you are reading this article on a phone right now.

Site designs optimised for viewing on a small screen are obviously vital - not just for an editorial website like The Motor Report, but for dealerships and manufacturers too. A responsive and user-friendly online contact form system is another must-have, and one that must function flawlessly through the small screen of a phone.

For car dealers, the rise in online - and specifically mobile - car research is having the greatest impact on the way business is done.

According to Wolstenholme, buyers are savvier than ever and whittle down their new car shortlists almost entirely through electronic research. Visiting a dealership to kick tyres and ask questions is now a thing of the past:

“On average, for every car purchased the buyer would (previously) make five dealership visits,” said Wolstenholme.

“In just five years that number has shrunk down to 1.4 as an average.”

And buyers aren’t shy about whipping out their phone inside a dealership either, often using it to fact-check salesmen and compare pricing during negotiations.

Meanwhile online video has grown in its importance as a research tool, but according to Google Auto’s Strategy Manager David Tully, it’s not glossy high production values that car buyers are necessarily chasing:

“It’s all about utility. Things like a walkthrough of the vehicle, highlights of the features and the options," said Tully.

These are the types of videos that allow customers to understand what it’s like to own a car. Online video is the new showroom."

Google’s research showed that 45 percent of car buyers wanted to watch reviews or comparison tests on video, but 55 percent preferred a simple walkthough of the interior and exterior. Simplicity and brevity is key, it seems.


Updates for Android Auto - Wireless Connection, Standalone Mode Coming

While Google continues to be the main information portal for new car buyers, the tech giant is also planning some big capability upgrades for its Android Auto in-car connectivity system.

Announced at the 2016 Google I/O conference earlier this month, Android Auto will finally receive a wireless connection capability that will allow motorists to enjoy the full functionality of the smartphone mirroring software without having to connect their phone via a USB cable.

A timeline for its introduction hasn’t been announced, however Google engineers say any vehicle that supports Android Auto and also has an on-board wifi access point should allow wireless connections.

A standalone “phone only mode” will also be coming to Android Auto, which will allow users without a compatible vehicle or touchscreen headunit to use their phone’s features through a simplified - and less distracting - Android Auto interface provided it’s held in a phone cradle and not your hands.

The Waze navigation app will also become available to Android Auto users within the next few months, along with hotwording - simply saying “OK Google” will activate the phone’s voice-controlled functions like search and dialling.

Those features, along with the phone-only mode, will be enabled in an upcoming update.

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