In its just-released 2008 New AutoShopper.com Study, J.D. Power and Associates reported [PDF] that 75 percent of new-vehicle buyers use the Internet to research vehicle information. This is up from the 70 percent that did so in 2007. The time that each online shoppers spends looking for cars on the Web has gone up as well – to 6.5 hours, a 12 percent annual increase. These shoppers aren’t visiting a greater number of sites than before, they’re simply engaging more with each.

“The current economic environment, coupled with high fuel prices, has given rise to a shift in the vehicle buying habits of U.S. consumers, said Arianne Walker, director of marketing and media research at J.D. Power and Associates, in the report’s release. “Shoppers who were once loyal to larger vehicle models are now finding themsleves in the market for a compact or midsize car.” Walker said that since this is unknown territory for these vehicle buyers, they have to find Web information to educate themselves.

Shoppers look at various automotive Web sites differently, according to the report. Independent, third-party sites such as Edmunds.com and KBB.com, were seen as useful to research prices and ratings, and to read consumer reviews. Manufacturer sites, on the other hand, were used for options, features and specifications of the various mdoels. Shoppers viewed dealer sites as the best inventory resources.

The 27,901 new-vehicle buyers that participated in the study rated Kelley Blue Book as the most-visited independent auto Web site, with 44 percent of them visiting KBB.com. Of the respondents looking for reviews and ratings, 42 percent preferred Edmunds.com.

In a related study just out the auto research firm has good news for the auto industry. J.D. Power’s latest report predicts a year over year auto sales drop of only 6 percent, marked improvement from the 17-month history we’ve seen through Sept. 2009.

“While year-over-year comparisons benefit from a low selling base in October 2008, improvements in consumer confidence and credit are propelling the return to positive sales gains relative to last year,” said Gary Dilts, SVP of global automotive operations at J.D. Power and Associates, in the announcement. “October’s selling rate is expected to come in at 10.3 million units-nearly flat compared with 10.5 million units one year ago-which is an encouraging sign for the industry and in line with our expectations for the rest of the year.”

Read the promising statistics here.

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