A well-designed manufacturer Web site can be integral in motivating automotive shoppers to visit dealer showrooms for a test drive, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2002 Manufacturer Web Site Evaluation Study(SM) released May 14. The study, now in its third year, finds that 42 percent of respondents who rate a manufacturer's Web site as "outstanding" indicate they are more likely to visit a showroom for a test drive than they were prior to visiting the site. Nearly 90 percent of shoppers also feel that manufacturer Web sites, combining sight, sound and motion, are more useful than traditional brochures. A Web site's usefulness is primarily a function of three factors: navigation, appearance/presentation, and relevance of the information provided. The Mercedes-Benz Web site, which ranked sixth in 2001, ranks highest in the study, with top scores in appearance/presentation and navigation. The site scored particularly well on its home page design, which the study finds critical to the success of any manufacturer's Web site. "We've all heard the saying, 'Don't judge a book by it's cover,' but it is clear that many shoppers do just that when visiting Web sites," said Todd Wilson, director of retail distribution research at J.D. Power and Associates. "The top-performing sites have visually stimulating home pages that provide a sufficient number of links to the site's most relevant features and information. A home page should entice and enable the user to confidently explore the site." Kia makes a big jump in the study's rankings and places closely behind Mercedes-Benz, earning the study's highest scores in the relevance factor. Rounding out the top five are Mini and Saturn in a tie and Suzuki. A good manufacturer Web site not only inspires test drives, but also increases a visitor's likeliness to request an online price quote -- an indication of purchase intent. While consumers trust manufacturer sites more for specific vehicle information, they overwhelmingly rely on independent third-party sites for pricing information such as dealer invoice and market-value estimates. Currently 13 percent of new-vehicle buyers request an online price quote, but only 4 percent do so through a manufacturer site. "Manufacturer Web sites are competing with many independent sites for the attention of vehicle shoppers," Wilson said. "Manufacturers could better control the online distribution channel by offering more pricing information to consumers through their Web sites, in addition to easy-to-find rebate and incentive programs and links directly to local dealers for online price quotes." The 2002 Manufacturer Web Site Evaluation Study is designed to evaluate overall site functionality and the importance of site features to online shoppers. It is based on responses from more than 4,300 Internet users who intend to purchase a new vehicle within 24 months. Survey respondents were recruited primarily from the Kelley Blue Book site (kbb.com) and Yahoo! Autos. The U.S. Web site for Mercedes-Benz is at www.mbusa.com. About J.D. Power and Associates Headquartered in Westlake Village, Calif., J.D. Power and Associates is a global marketing information services firm operating in business sectors including market research, forecasting, consulting, training and customer satisfaction. The firm's quality and satisfaction measurements are based on actual responses from millions of consumers annually. For more information, visit www.jdpa.com.