Ford has redesigned its US consumer web site for Ford Division cars and trucks, The new site offers easier access to in-depth vehicle information to help buyers conduct research before purchasing a vehicle.

A new feature, the comparison module, created by Autoweb, a consumer automotive internet service, allows consumers to accurately compare Ford vehicles to rivals. Ford claims to be the first major automotive manufacturer to offer this feature.

"After extensive research, we found that consumers wanted more comparison tools while shopping online," said Trisha Habucke, Ford Division internet co-ordinator.

"We find the comparison module is an excellent mechanism to display our vehicles and their advantages in an unbiased way."

Using the comparison feature, site visitors can select a vehicle and the site will automatically list its competition. Once the rival is selected, shoppers are given detailed text descriptions and photos of both vehicles, listed side by side. The site lists standard features, safety information, options and specifications on both vehicles. Competitive pricing, financing and warranty information are also listed.

Shoppers can view interior and exterior features and chose the paint with a colour selector. Vehicles can be viewed in 360-degree picture format and a photo gallery is available for additional images.

"With our new design we incorporated new technologies that deliver more visually exciting content," said Habucke.

Shoppers can also get to any vehicle page from any page within the site. Page delivery is faster and the site features a new design with reorganised content. Navigation is more consistent with clear labels, legible type, directions for hidden functions and shortened download time.

Ford says that the vehicles people drive are a reflection of their lifestyles and offers site shoppers a vehicle/lifestyle connection called "No Boundaries-Ford Outfitters" which appeals to the adventurous lifestyles of SUV buyers. When visiting a lifestyle page like "Outfitters," shoppers find a list of destinations with outdoor activities that fit their lifestyles.

More new site features include "Watch the Show" (brand movies with brand and feature explanations of individual vehicles), Ask Jeeves, a site-wide search function, special vehicle team and concept vehicle team information and details of future sponsored events.

After the most extensive consumer research for redesign ever commissioned by a major automotive manufacturer to evaluate a web site, Ford and its advertising agency, J Walter Thompson found that the site tested strongly. Research was conducted in the spring of 2000, and 210 test participants gave the new site extremely high ratings for complete content.

Contributing companies include CoolFire Interactive (providing the vehicle incentives database), MotorCity Digital (providing the flash technology), and Trilogy (configuring the buyer connection with the vehicle).

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