PORTLAND, Ore. — According to a recent survey of online vehicle shoppers by Chrome Systems Inc., a subsidiary of DealerTrack Holdings Inc., automotive retailing sites can increase brand awareness and attract more shoppers with a savvy mix of robust research tools backed up by social networking.  

Chrome Systems said brand loyalty has dropped among automobile buyers, and as a result, it is more important than ever for manufacturer, dealer and third-party sites to find alternative ways to stay connected with existing customers and to reach out to new potential buyers. The late 2010 survey results of potential buyers and purchasers show only 35 percent wanted to purchase the same brand of vehicle they owned previously, dropping from 39 percent in 2009.

The survey reports a rapidly growing number of potential vehicle buyers are turning to Website tools such as side-by-side vehicle comparison of pricing and configurations to make educated decisions (31 percent in 2010 versus 14 percent in 2009 used side-by-side comparison tools). In addition, 20 percent of surveyed consumers who purchased or leased a vehicle in the past 12 months have used social networking sites to research or get opinions on a vehicle.  

"A vehicle is a big ticket item, and having the right balance of hard facts and third-party opinions is of growing importance when making an informed vehicle decision," said Amit Maheshwari, general manager of DealerTrack Data Services. "Moving into 2011, we firmly believe that comprehensive research tools that let the consumer build, price, compare and review will be crucial to the vehicle buying decision, and social networking sites will increasingly become a viable channel to augment that research."