Category Archives: Autos

Can Facebook REALLY Threaten Google in Search?

Only In The Most Lucrative Categories…

There’s been much speculation lately that Facebook is finally staffing up to take a shot at improving their internal search product, a product that many would agree has been woefully under utilized in the past.  Along with this comes the usual debate around social search:

  • What exactly is social search?
  • How compelling is it, both to users and advertisers?
  • Can it really compete with Google?

The answer to the last questions is ‘No’, and this would be a wonderfully short blog post should that be a complete answer…but it’s not.  Incorporating social signals in search can improve it in a way that is so exciting and compelling that Google has to not only be aware, but deeply concerned by it as well.

Social Influence in Purchase Decisions

For the uninitiated, much of the opportunity (or concern, depending on which side of the fence you sit) around social search has to do with how purchase decisions are influenced by your social connections.  Research has repeatedly shown that friends and family are big influencers in purchase decisions, and the larger the purchase the more these social connections are sought out for advice.

Given the above it’s not surprising so many companies in the larger priced categories such as travel, electronics and automotive have been aggressively experimenting with social media.  But how does this tie in with search?

It’s a Temporal Issue

Think about the last time your friend cornered you and forced you to view the photos from his recent trip to the Caribbean.  You probably enjoyed the first few photos of turquoise inlets and stunning sunsets, but your mind likely wandered around the fourth restaurant photo or the nineteenth beach shot.  The reality is this really isn’t all that relevant to you right now, but it might be very relevant to you the next time you’re planning a vacation.

The key is to aggregate and structure this content in a way that it can easily be retrieved when needed (sound like search yet?).  Companies like TripAdvisor have already built hugely successful businesses on the aggregation of anonymous content, just think how powerful this becomes when it gets plugged into your social graph.

Exhibit from Facebook's S-1 Registration filing

The above is from Facebook’s recent S-1 registration filing, illustrating the deep integration of Facebook’s social graph on TripAdvisor’s core site.  However what’s far more compelling than the main page integration is what happens when you search for a destination in the big white search box at the top of the page and can immediately see which of your friends have been to Paris, Cape Cod or South America.

It’s this social search experience that’s so compelling to consumers, and likely to cause the greatest amount of concern at Google, especially when you consider as much as 15% of Google’s total revenue is rumored to come from the travel industry.  Is it any wonder then that recently there have been rumors flying around regarding Google and Facebook expressing interest in acquiring TripAdvisor.

How is this Relevant to Automobiles?

Let me answer this by posing two questions.

  1. How many Facebook friends do you have?
  2. What cars do each of of them drive?

Question number two is the kicker, and I’ll bet the majority of people can name less than 10% of their friends’ vehicles.  And why should they? It’s really not important unless they’re searching for a new car, at which point it may become highly relevant and important.

Let’s say I’m searching for a new car and interested in finding out more about Infiniti’s G series.  If I type that query into Google I get the following results as part of their social search experience.

Google Social Search results for 'Infiniti G series'

The above social connections are pretty useless to me in my research of new cars to buy, however the following would be immensely useful.

Ideal Social Search Experience

For this to become viable, Google (or Facebook) would need to know one additional piece of data about you: what car you drive.

We think about this alot at C2G as over 1 million people have now entered this exact piece of information into our Galculator, and the volume is growing at a rapid rate.

Travel and Automotive represent two of the biggest advertising categories online.  What are your thoughts on social search?  Do you think Google has anything to worry about with Facebook’s latest moves?

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Happy Driving!

Honda Civic Crowned Top Car on Cost2Drive.com

Honda Civic the top car on Cost2Drive.comBeats Out the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord for Most Frequently Entered Vehicle

It turns out concerns over driving costs don’t go away with the purchase of a fuel-efficient vehicle.  After pouring over data from a million vehicles that have been entered on our popular trip calculator we’re ready to announce that the Honda Civic, one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles on the market, takes the crown as the most frequently entered vehicle on Cost2Drive.com.  Over 31,000 Honda Civic owners have turned to Cost2Drive to help plan car trips, narrowly edging out Toyota Camry and Honda Accord owners for the top spot.

Top Three Vehicles Entered on Cost2Drive.com

When we launched Cost2Drive we thought the site would attract owners of larger, less fuel-efficient vehicles like SUVs and pickups, so we were a little surprised to find such fuel-efficient vehicles dominating the top of the list.  It appears that concerns over driving costs remain even after the purchase of a fuel-efficient vehicle, perhaps because gas prices remain at historic highs.

In a previous post we revealed that Ford ranked as the top car brand on Cost2Drive with Ford owners entering over 125,000 vehicles in our Galculator, and yet no Ford vehicles landed in the top three positions.  However Ford is well represented with four vehicles in the top ten list including the Ford Explorer which is the top-ranked SUV, and the F150, the top pickup truck.

Top Twenty Vehicles Entered on Cost2Drive.com

We were curious to see how this list compares with the overall distribution of all vehicles on the road today in the US so we posted a question on popular Q&A site Quora seeking that information.  An Edmunds analyst was kind enough to provide us with the overall breakdown.

One noticeable discrepancy between these two lists is that SUVs and minivans rank higher on Cost2Drive whereas pickup trucks rank higher on the list of all vehicles on the road.  This could be because Cost2Drive attracts more of a leisure travel audience such as families that are planning vacations.  Evidence of this can be found in the high volume of routes to Disney theme parks entered on Cost2Drive in 2011,  where the leading vehicles are minivans.

Based on 10,000 routes to Disney parks entered on Cost2Drive.com

Average Age of Top Ten Vehicles

The average age of the million vehicles that have been entered on Cost2Drive.com is 7.3 years, meaning our audience is driving cars that are 2.7 years younger than the 10-year average age of all vehicles on the road today in the US.  As a final bit of analysis we decided to take a look at the average age of the top ten vehicles to see how it compared with all vehicles.

Average Age (years) of Top 10 Vehicles Entered on Cost2Drive.com

The average age of the top ten vehicles is 7.6 years,  slightly older than all vehicles entered on Cost2Drive.com.  The Ford Focus came in as the youngest vehicle entered with an average age of 5.1 years and the Ford Explorer was the oldest at 9.2 years.

*Important to note is that the analysis covers vehicles going back to the 1990 model year, and that results for the two youngest vehicles are skewed due to later vehicle launches (Ford introduced the Focus in the US market in 1999 and Honda launched the Odyssey in 1995).

This post is the final installment of a 3 Part Series where we revealed data on a million vehicles entered on Cost2Drive.com to coincide with the North American International Auto Show.  The two previous posts looked into the top luxury vehicles entered on Cost2Drive and the top car brands overall.

If you have any questions regarding the above information or C2G, LLC  feel free to send us a note here or email me directly at jim@costtogo.com.

Happy Driving!

Ford Tops All Car Brands on Cost2Drive.com

Top Three Car Brands Entered on Cost2Drive.com

Edges Out Toyota and Chevrolet With Over 125,000 Routes Entered By Ford Owners

As we continue to analyze data from over one million vehicles that have  been entered into our popular fuel calculator app we’re ready to announce that Ford came out as the leading manufacturer on Cost2Drive.com.  Over 125,000 routes have been entered by Ford owners edging out Toyota and Chevrolet for the top position among consumers beleaguered by record high gas prices.

Owners of vehicles from all three manufacturers entered more than 100,000 routes on Cost2Drive with Honda owners not far behind entering over 95,000 routes.  Below is a chart depicting the top ten brands.

Top Ten Vehicle Manufacturers on Cost2Drive.com

Toyota Leads in Major Markets

We took a look at how the distribution of vehicles breaks down across ten major urban markets and in this case the results came out in favor of Toyota who led in seven of the ten markets.  Ford led in two markets (Miami and, not surprisingly, Detroit) while Chevrolet came out on top in Buffalo, NY.  Toyota led in San Francisco, Denver, Houston, Boston, Washington DC, Atlanta and Portland.

Leading Vehicles Entered on Cost2Drive.com Across Ten US Markets

Newest Vehicles Being Entered By Hyundai Owners

Since the Galculator on Cost2Drive.com captures model year information we’re able to ascertain the average age of vehicles that are entered on this site.  The average age from these top ten brands was 7.4 years, however there are some significant variances between brands.  Owners of Pontiac cars, a brand GM discontinued in 2010, entered the oldest vehicles at an average age of 8.7 years while Hyundai owners entered the newest vehicles, averaging 5 years old.

The chart below illustrates how the volume of owners entering newer Hyundai vehicles on Cost2Drive.com is significantly higher than the other nine brands, indicating that Hyundai is hitting their target audience with their  messaging around high fuel efficiency.

Part 2 of a 3 Part Series: This is the second installment of 3 posts we’re publishing to coincide with the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) where we  analyze data on over 1 million vehicles that have been entered on Cost2Drive.com.  You can read our initial post on the luxury car segment here, and in our final post we’ll reveal the leading vehicles overall entered on Cost2Drive.

If you have any questions regarding the above information or C2G, LLC  feel free to send us a note here or email me directly at jim@costtogo.com.

Happy Driving!

Even Millionaires Can’t Afford to Drive Anymore

The World’s Most Expensive Cars Among the Million Vehicles Entered on Cost2Drive.com.

Its getting so bad even the rich are feeling the pinch of high gas prices.  On the eve of the North American International Auto Show (also known as the Detroit Auto Show) we thought it timely to release some data in the coming week regarding the types of vehicles users are entering on Cost2Drive.com, especially since gas prices are at historic highs for this time of year and we just surpassed one million vehicles that have been entered in our popular fuel calculator app.

As soon as we started digging through the data we noticed some startling results.  Among the tens-of-thousands of Toyota Camrys, Honda Civics and Ford Explorers that we expected to see were thousands of luxury vehicles, some even in the super-luxury category.

Exotic Luxury Cars Entered on Cost2Drive.com

Now, I won’t speculate on whether any of the 614 users that entered the Bugatti Veyron as their vehicle were real owners of this exotic sports car given the $1.8 million price tag, but the sheer volume of routes  entered with  luxury vehicles means its likely that real owners are using the site to help budget for car trips.

Moving down a tier from the super-expensive to just the expensive finds an increasing volume of routes entered with the more familiar luxury car names like  Buick,  BMW and Acura.  In fact nearly 10%of all the vehicles selected on Cost2Drive fell into the luxury or super-luxury category.

Top Luxury Vehicles Entered on Cost2Drive.com

Buick led all manufacturers in the luxury segment with over  16,000 routes entered on Cost2Drive by Buick owners.  The top vehicle type was from owners of the BMW 3-series who entered nearly 7,000 routes.  Here are the top 5 luxury vehicles that were entered on Cost2Drive.

Top 5 Luxury Vehicles Entered on Cost2Drive.com

The average age of all luxury vehicles entered on Cost2Drive was 8.4 years.  Below is the age breakdown from the top ten luxury vehicle manufacturers based on the volume of routes entered on Cost2Drive.com.

Average Age of Top Luxury Vehicles Entered on Cost2Drive.com

So what about the other 900,000 vehicles that have been entered on Cost2Drive? We’ll be revealing additional interesting data on these cars and light trucks later this week.

Part 1 of a 3 Part Series: This is the first installment of 3 posts we’ll be publishing to coincide with the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) where we’ll reveal data on over 1 million vehicles that have been entered on Cost2Drive.com.

If you have any questions regarding the above information or C2G, LLC  feel free to send us a note here or email me directly at jim@costtogo.com.

Happy Driving!

Think Gas Prices Are High This Holiday Season? Wait ‘Till You Hit the Toll Booth

Toll Hikes Conspire With Record High Gas Prices to Make This Holiday Travel Season the Most Expensive Ever

As if record high gas prices aren’t enough for travelers to deal with this holiday season drivers must also brace for additional costs related to increased toll fees across much of the nation, especially along the eastern seaboard.

If you’re planning a trip to New York City for a shopping or theater excursion this holiday be aware that back in September the toll rates on the bridges and tunnels increased by 50% so entering the city by car now costs a whopping $12 if you’re paying in cash (EZ Pass prices are $9.50 Peak, $7.50 Off-Peak).  There’s something a little scary about tolls that require you to pull a ten-spot out of your wallet for a single crossing, and the Verazzano-Narrows bridge even tops this with a $13 fee. Click on the interactive map below to see the new toll rates at each crossing.

On the first of November a number of toll hikes went into effect in Maryland as well including the toll for the Bay Bridge connecting Maryland’s Eastern Shore with its mainland which increased 60% from $2.50 to $4.  Tolls on all three Baltimore Harbor crossings (the Fort McHenry Tunnel, the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel and the Francis Scott Key Bridge)  increased 50% from $2 to $3, and the toll on the Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge increased 33% from $3 to $4.  In northern Maryland smaller toll hikes of 20% went into effect as the tolls on the the JFK Memorial Highway (I-95) and the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge were raised from $5 to $6.

Maryland has also introduced a brand new toll road, the much-anticipated (and hotly-debated) InterCounty Connector (ICC) that connects I-95 with I-370.  This new toll road has been free up until December 5th when a $6 toll went into effect ($4.50 EZ Pass) for driving the entire 18-mile stretch of the road during peak hours on weekdays, or $4.80 ($3.20 EZ Pass) for off-peak hours and  weekends and federal holidays.  Night owls can save extra money on the ICC as the toll rate drops to $2.60 ($1.90 EZ Pass) from 11 pm to 5 am every day of the week.

Things won’t get any better in 2012, as numerous tolling authorities are set to roll out increases on the first day of the new year with the Illinois Tollway leading the pack with an 87% toll hike on four toll roads (the Jane Adams Memorial Tollway, the Tri-State Tollway, the Reagan Memorial Tollway and the Veterans Memorial Tollway).  They have an excellent interactive map of all the toll facilities that you can view here.  New Jersey will also be introducing toll hikes of 53% and 50% on the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike respectively on New Years Day.  At the end of January 50% toll hikes will also go into effect for Hudson river crossings between Bear Mountain and Catskills, NY when tolls will climb to $1.50 ($1.25 EZ Pass) from the current $1 rate.

Many other states have proposals underway to introduce tolls in 2012 and beyond including Missouri where the Dept. of Transportation is considering adding tolls to I-70, the main highway that cuts across the state from east to west, as a way to fund a major rebuilding effort.  A similar proposal is underway for interstates I-80 and  I-35 in Iowa and tolling actions are planned in  Florida and Colorado as well.

So what’s causing this sudden increase in tolls? Woefully underfunded state departments of transportation that are increasingly turning to tolls as a way to rebuild infrastructure without raising taxes.  From a consumers perspective its not just the additional cost that’s at issue but the increasing complexity of the fees that make it nearly impossible to predict what it will cost to drive places.

We’re going to be writing a separate post about these new variable tolling structures, but meanwhile we’re working aggressively on finding ways to include toll information into the trip cost estimates we provide on our Cost2Drive website and Cost2Drive iPhone App as its the number one request we hear from our users.  Until then we’ve put up a site called Cost of Tolls that aggregates toll information from across the US to help drivers quickly get the latest toll information prior to leaving on a trip.

Happy Driving!

Atlas Hurled

Something Unsettling as Gas Prices Reach Historic Highs

Earlier this year a new movie version of the famous Ayn Rand novel Atlas Shrugged was released that depicted the US economy in a disastrous state by 2016 with gas prices at $34 per gallon.  This no doubt unsettled the car owners in the audience who were already being pummeled by soaring gas prices for the second time in 3 years, and as unlikely as the above  nightmarish scenario is, there’s no question that the persistence of +$3 gas prices is taking a serious toll on the constitution of consumers.

This became more evident last week with the release of a research report from the New America Foundation titled The Price-Induced Energy Trap.  The report argues that consumers are in an “energy trap” because their ability to effectively respond to rising gas prices is limited and highly dependent on income levels, with the middle and lower income groups suffering the most.  As a result, many of the desired outcomes of a policy-by-price approach (such as increased purchases of hybrids and other fuel efficient vehicles) are never realized because the neediest people cannot afford them, creating a paradox that defies traditional supply and demand elasticity curves.

Middle & Lower Income Groups Most Affected Source: New America

Putting mind-numbing economics lingo aside, the real story here is that as  temperatures have fallen across much of the nation gas prices have not, at least not to the levels we’ve come to expect with autumn setting in.  In fact, as reported by AAA and later picked up by the LA Times, gas prices are at historic highs for this time of year and 22.6% higher than the previous record.

In fact gas prices are rising much faster than incomes, so its hard not to feel a little queasy these days when glancing at the gas gauge and seeing it drop below a quarter tank.  This likely explains why earlier this year AAA reported an upsurge in the number of stranded drivers due to vehicles that had run out of gas.  Apparently many people were stretching out the intervals between refueling in the delusional hope gas prices would decline, a somewhat disturbing change in behavior that reflects the impact high gas prices have on people.

I’ll relate another rather disturbing episode I encountered this past spring on a trip from New York to DC.  It was late at night, well after midnight, and I had stopped at a rest stop in Maryland to grab some coffee to keep me awake for the remainder of my journey (thank goodness Starbucks was open).  As I left my vehicle I heard a woman’s voice call out to me, something about gas and getting home.  I warily looked over and saw a woman of middle age waving me over from the front seat of what looked to be a 20-year-old Jeep Cherokee.

As I approached her she started waiving her wallet out the window.  Did she want to show me her ID?  Then I realized she was showing me her wallet was empty, and she explained that she needed money to buy enough gas to take her the 32 miles to her home.  I handed the woman a few dollars, and then after thinking about it handed her a few more (unfortunately our Cost2drive iPhone app hadn’t launched yet or I could have given her the exact amount).

Something about the whole scene was upsetting. The woman didn’t look indigent, she could have been my mother and I doubt that she’s accustomed to begging for money.  It made me recall some of the scenes from Atlas Shrugged, and as I got back in my car to head back to DC I started to feel a little nauseous.

Cost2Drive iPhone App Featured in iTunes!

New App Featured in Special ‘On the Road’ Section  for Car Apps

The big news keeps rolling in for our new Cost2Drive iPhone app as this weekend we learned the app has been featured in a special ‘On the Road’ section of iTunes for car apps.  The Cost2Drive iPhone app, which calculates driving costs and compares it with flying, has been receiving a steady stream of great reviews and press attention since we launched it over Labor Day weekend and has quickly become a Top 20 app in the Travel category in the App Store.

We’re extremely excited by the great interest we’ve had in the Cost2Drive iPhone app both from consumers and the media and are looking forward to making it even more of a must-have app for car travelers across the globe so stay tuned for even more exciting news from C2G on this front.

Apple iTunes App StoreMeanwhile check out the new app in iTunes and let us know what you think!

Happy Driving!