A look at car manufacturer websites

A while ago I was asked by Swedish design magazine CAP&Design to write an article for their “critique” section, in which writers compare and rate websites, magazines, newspapers, or campaigns in an industry or market segment of their choosing.

I had trouble coming up with a theme for my article, but after a bit of thinking back and forth I decided to take a closer look at some car manufacturer websites. At a couple of my previous jobs I did some work on public and non-public sites for both Volvo and Saab, so I thought it would be interesting to see if they have evolved since then. I also bought a new car in July and had the less than adequate online experience offered by most car manufacturers’ Swedish websites in fresh memory.

The sites I review in the article are Volvo Personbilar Sverige, Saab Sverige, BMW Sverige, and Honda Sverige. I rated the sites for visual design, content, technical quality, and accessibility. Visual design and content were acceptable, but I don’t think it will come as a surprise to anyone that the technical quality and accessibility of these sites are miserable.

The article is in Swedish and is currently not available online, so if you want to read it you will need to pick up a copy of CAP&Design 1/2007.

Posted on January 4, 2007 in Accessibility, Quicklinks, Web Standards

Comments

  1. “BMW Serige”? :> Proof-reading ftw! Oh, and as a first comment I realize this may seem rude. That’s not the intention. :)

  2. January 4, 2007 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Oops. Thanks for catching that one :-).

  3. Oh dear, BMW is locking NetNewsWire out. Did you catch them for doing browser checks?

  4. January 4, 2007 by Mikael N

    BMW’s site was not only technically bad, its visiual design is terrible. I just lost some respect for them.

  5. January 4, 2007 by Brett Mitchell

    Glad you brought this up. I tried pricing out a Honda here in Vancouver, BC, and Flash 9 is required. I have flash 7 at work and can’t upgrade, so I was unable to look at it.

    I’ve yet to find a car manufacturer website that was easy for me to access without images, without JavaScript, or without Flash.

    If Honda thinks that because I couldn’t see their website that I’ll call them, or remember to look later, or go to the dealership, they’re mistaken — they may not have missed a sale as I’m leaning towards an A3 anyway, but they certainly missed an opportunity for one.

  6. I actually do a lot of the development work on the GM-USA properties including Pontiac, Buick, GMC and GM BuyPower and I just want to highlight the fact that websites for automobile makers are not your run of the mill simple product websites.

    They tend to be very immersive flash heavy sites with lots of avenues for different people. Some users are doing just research on vehicles they may want to buy, others are owners looking for warranty/maintenance information and some whom are looking to find a vehicle to buy locally.

    Add to that complication yearly model refreshes and ever tightening budgets and it is the perfect storm of internet technologies.

    With that said I feel that we have done a decent job at trying to support web standards, SEO and accessibility in a hectic world.

    On the Pontiac website we actually use a hybrid of Shaun Inman’s sIFR to pass large amounts of XHTML markup into Flash where its parsed with X-Path. This eases maintenance and increases SEO and accessibility.

    All users may not be able to see the immersive flash experiences, but they will have access to most of the content by using this method.

    So there are people in this industry trying to fight the good fight.

    Cheers.

  7. I’m a little surprised. I know car sites in the US aren’t so great but I was hoping they’d be a little better on your side of the Atlantic.

  8. I find it really funny that the BMW website is faking it with having the homepage being div based but then any link on that page brings you to the real site that uses frames.

    I actually expected to see a bunch of clunky table based layouts with those American manufacturers and was please to see they were not. Even if their not perfect.

  9. January 5, 2007 by Ansgar Hein

    Yes, car sites might be more complex, but nowadays you could do much more to make Flash and other multimedia-contents more accessible. As for the Pontiac website I have to say that without JavaScript the website is not accessible at all.

  10. January 5, 2007 by Jeremy

    Being into my cars and web design this looks like an interesting article. Is this magazine available in the UK?

  11. January 5, 2007 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Mark: I didn’t look for browser sniffing, but I’m not surprised they use it.

    Mikael: Yes, it would somehow be easier to forgive the problems if the visual design was top notch, but they haven’t succeeded in that department either.

    Brett:

    If Honda thinks that because I couldn’t see their website that I’ll call them, or remember to look later, or go to the dealership, they’re mistaken — they may not have missed a sale as I’m leaning towards an A3 anyway, but they certainly missed an opportunity for one.

    A few years ago Ford lost a sale because of their bad site. I was looking at buying a Ford Focus or a Peugeot 307. I liked both cars, but ford.se wouldn’t let Mac users in. That made the choice easy.

    Web:

    So there are people in this industry trying to fight the good fight.

    Yes, I know there are. It’s unfortunate that it is very hard to see any results on most automobile sites though.

    jeremy:

    Is this magazine available in the UK?

    Not as far as I know.

  12. Let me guess … the results are not really surprising, right? (Though probably, in Scandinavia things are different.)

    By the way, my (English and redesigned) blog is online. Finally.

  13. January 7, 2007 by Rob E.

    That doesn’t surprise me. Last year BMW were banned from Googles index for a week because they were using shadow pages. I think they are still doing it so they haven’t learned a thing and most car manufacturers do the same thing. They use flash pages or just optimize for IE and even lock out other browsers.

  14. January 7, 2007 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Jens: Nope, not at all surprising. Which is sad.

    Great work on your English blog. I really like the look of it!

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