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How to Save TrueCar

September 24, 2015

My title is somewhat facetious, but “how to position TrueCar so that it makes dealers less hostile and invites fewer lawsuits” was too long. The Auto News forum is not exactly laden with objectivity. People see the headlines and the share price, and then they crow about TrueCar going out of business.

Complaints or negative publicity about our business practices, our compliance with applicable laws and regulations … could diminish users’ and dealers’ confidence in our products and adversely affect our brand

Investors are more objective, as in Why I’m Buying TrueCar despite the Sell-Off. You can look at the Morningstar rating (undervalued) and the quarterly report. TrueCar is making twice the revenue of Autobytel, and growing faster. Still, there is the hostility. Here are my thoughts:

  • Enhance the site to support online buying, as I have described previously.
  • Add features like the ability to sell protection products. This feature alone would compensate for foregone gross on the front end.
  • The platform should help individual dealers to compete with consolidators. Make it a “community” that includes dealers, affinity groups, and finance sources.
  • Prepare for a world of one-price dealers. Look at Scion, for example. The histogram for a Pure Price dealer has only one bar.
  • Use out-of-market data, consumer data, and statistical inference to provide a more detailed pricing picture. This feels less like “ratting out” the dealers.
  • Make the database a research tool, as Zillow is for homes. TrueCar owns ALG, so they already have the machinery.
  • Update the revenue model, to avoid legal classification as a broker. The current model, ironically, becomes less effective as more dealers adopt it.
  • Think about pay per lead, or monthly. I can’t state the details, but I understand the AutoNation deal could have been saved.

These measures should allay the hostility that some dealers have toward price transparency, and the TrueCar business model. If all else fails, and litigation persists, there is the “nuclear option.”

I can think of a few ways to end price obfuscation, for good. The practice is obsolete anyway (not to mention unfair and deceptive) and would not survive six months of concerted attack. Of course, that would also damage the TrueCar model, as presently constituted. I recommend doing the strategy alignment first.

TRUE

 

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