Autotrader Price Increase and Generated Leads

According to a study by Autotrader, Autotrader generates $99 billion in annual sales, or nearly 30% of total car sales in the US. More than 40,000 dealers have signed up with Autotrader and a number of private sellers list cars for sale on Autotrader as well. Autotrader is a huge company for car sales, but clearly tensions exist between dealers and autotrader. The recent price hikes have irked dealers, but the amount of leads from Autotrader also lags other providers on a cost per lead basis.

Jake at has done an experiment to see which classified drives the most leads and Craigslist is out performing Autotrader 3 to 1 while has driven twice as many leads. Not a statistically valid sample size, but still interesting.

Autotrader started back in ’97 before the pay per action model became established and went with a traditional subscription model. This has had a few significant consequences for autotrader, consumers, and dealers. Primarily because businesses manage to what they measure, in this case, subscription revenues.

Autotrader monetizes dealer subscriptions not leads. This means Autotrader would place more emphasis on direct sales and dealer recruitment than lead generation. Not bad, per se, as consumers go to Autotrader for cars, and dealers have cars, but Autotrader has less incentive to experiment with driving leads. For example, a company called LiquidMotors actually handles the initial contact with customers. If Autotrader charged per lead, they could pre-screen leads for dealers and charge more.

I think Autotrader’s search results are also affected by the subscription model. Premium listings are posted first, despite not being the most relevant to a consumers search. Making money off leads would give Autotrader the incentive to improve search functionality, helping consumers find the right car quickly would drive leads, but reduce page views, visit times and perceived value.

Harvard Business Review published an article this month on mapping competitive position in a market. It recommended identifying what features customers pay for and then running a regression on features and price to identify what market opportunities are open. This is also a great way to see what people value. The auto classified space is interesting because the dominant players all offer the same basic value but at wildly different prices.

Craigslist – more leads than Autotrader and free

Oodle, Vast & Edgeio – millions of visitors and free – from what other dealers have said they generate the same amount of leads at autotrader for a portion of the price – biggest name, most dealers

Without doing the actual regression, dealers are not paying Autotrader for leads but instead for brand, great for Autotrader, less good for dealers.

14 responses to “Autotrader Price Increase and Generated Leads

  1. You bring up a good point about sample size and statistical significance. While my experiment is only a chronicle of personal experience, I think it would be interesting to do a full blown meta-analysis with a large sample size. Only problem with that idea is that I would have to rely heavily on dealers tracking leads which many do not bother to do.

    The internet is notorious for rapid change…I think we could be seeing something happen with

  2. The other thing to look at is DMA or location. Some markets are more advance with Autotrader or Craigslist does very well in specific regions like Seattle, SFO, NYC, ect but does not fair as well anywhere in the Midwest or Central time zone (minus the metro Texas cities & this is changing rapidly). One would have to believe that has to do with traditional advertising. For example the resurgence of in heavily cable penetrated markets. Also the amount of money that both Autotrader and are spending in the major markets. is almost betting the farm on their Super bowl spot… We’ll all see how that pans out.

    I do agree the internet is changing everything, not just car shopping. Craigslist is great, because it is mostly free. I do see them changing the model a bit to charge a small fee for Auto listings as they have for Jobs and Housing, but the site is still a bit weak for a undecided shopper. What I mean by that is not everyone one knows what they want for their next car, so they have to shop, research, and they will change their mind. This is where craigslist fails. You really need to know exactly what you are looking for and hope someone has one for sale. Plus you are dealing with the general public. Who really knows what you are getting?

    Craigslist is free and we know they are taking away the traditional liners from the newspapers but where is that money going? SEO, SEM, Autotrader? my guess – bottom line, we all know the dealers margins are smaller and sales are slower.

    The idea of pre-screening leads is not new, just never really figured out. If someone could figure it out, this could be a key niche.

  3. 03-28-08 :

    SAVE $$$ – Cancel Autotrader Now!!

    Autotrader is strong arming dealers into massive price increases with no additional perks, just promises – it’s a secret – “They can’t tell you now” – but they say “It will be good”.

    $4500 per month is the current price for the Early Model Premium Dealership Program. The elite, best program.

    Autotrader wants to raise it to $7,060 per month – even if you have a signed yearly contract with them.

    They say they can and will find a clause in their contract that lets them do whatever the hell they want to do.

    I think they are going to implode just like the original Internet Hitler: Autobytel – once powerful, now practically nonexistent., on the other hand, only charges about $2,400. A much better value and we get the same amount of leads, calls, clicks, maps,etc.

    Why the big difference?

    To me = No Difference.

    Maybe is even better.

    I believe the economy is in tough shape. ComScore just released data yesterday stating that Google’s pay per click ads are down sharply – that means less clicks on the biggest search engine – which means less shoppers online.

    Autotrader may be in trouble – they may have over committed on their ad budget – and now need more money from their dealer network to sustain themselves.

    My suggestion:
    Cancel your expensive Autotrader monthly bill.

    Save half the money in the bank and possibly use the other half on different advertising.

  4. I prefer over craigslist because there are more verified sellers on auto trader. But craigslist is cheaper.

  5. I know this article is over a year old, but take a look at We offer listings, quality leads, and a focus on over aged used cars with a weekly auction, dealer to consumer. All for a lot less than AT! We sell your cars! Check it out and drop us an email!

  6. How your project develops?

  7. how is this today in on the .com site?

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  9. First of all I would like to say great blog! I had a
    quick question in which I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was curious to find out how you center yourself and clear your mind prior to writing. I’ve had a hard time clearing my mind in getting my thoughts out there. I do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or hints? Kudos!

  10., Craig’s list and are all extremely powerful online advertising tools. If your advertising budget allows, true success can be accomplished with cars and, it makes sense to utilize them both. & both have their strong points. Currently Google’s trackability of online shoppers has declined due to the fact that millions of consumers are utilizing smart phones and tablets to access the Internet. Google along with everyone else is still working on catching up with regards to reporting accurate online usage.

  11. Montalvo Enterprises LLC

    if your a franchise dealer’s advertising packages can be co-oped through and with 90% of the OEM Franchises. Example GM, Ford, and so on. Most of the co-op programs allow for the manufacturer to pay (and/or) reemburse the dealer up to 100% of the monthly advertising cost you pay with ATC. Yes, we certainly understand that for smaller dealers and some Indepdendant Dealers ATC may not make sense financially for some. If dealers understood the fact that ATC produces so much more than “just leads” (as it is commonly referred to by dealers) then the rising cost of ATC isn’t the company trying to charge you more they are constantly spending money to drive auto specific consumers to their website. Most smart buyers find a car on AutoTrader and then call the dealership from either the dealers website or Google listing. If the consumer lives within an hour or less from the dealership. The odds are that these consumers locate the car that they want to buy on ATC and instead of “submitting a lead” via ATC they are essentially just walking into the dealerships. The problem or issue then becomes: “HOW WELL IS YOUR DEALERSHIP SOURCING WALK-IN TRAFFIC?”

  12. Montalvo Enterprises LLC

    ATC produces (probably over 65% of your so called web-site leads) and even a HIGHER percentage of consumers call the dealership after they view the listings on ATC. Just because they don’t call the ATC 800 number your not seeing that you had any phone calls from or as a direct correlation of utilizing ATC – THINK AGAIN. They are producing traffic to you and your dealership in more ways than someone simply entering their name, email and telephone number in the contact field of the VDP on ATC. If your not getting all of this I would recommend sitting down with your Advertising Consultant so they can explain some of these things to you. The technology age has made a significant impact on how we can all market to the public however do all of those marketing strategies specifically target an actual “in-market” car buyer? I seriously doubt it. When a consumer visits ATC I am confident that it would be a safe statement to say that they are 100% interested in purchasing an automobile. They aren’t visiting ATC to check their email or see what people are posting as a FB status. People *POINT BLANK* visit ATC to shop for a car and that’s where’d I want to invest my money if I were a dealer. ATC has even taken steps to teach dealers that don’t understand these things…. They have a web-site called There are some great data insight sheets and information that can be found there. Is there silence because we all know that ATC produces significant traffic to dealers? Take one more step (add just 1 more step to your process): Utilizing one piece of paper specifically for sourcing EVERY SINGLE CONSUMER that walks into your dealership. Have the sourcing as part of the process and a requirement of your Sales Professional at your dealership. In the event that you start to truly source your consumers the right way You’ll start to notice that ATC is truly the best automobile advertising place for dealerships. They aren’t over priced. Comment and feel free to share your thoughts… Factual data can back up the things I’ve written. Best of luck to all dealerships and keep on increasing the bar in the used car market! – DM

  13. Montalvo Enterprises LLC

    Reblogged this on Search Engine Optimization in Daphne, Alabama and commented:
    ATC brings consumers to your dealership (not just “leads”) blog.

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