By on July 22, 2021

Years ago, waiting for a haircut, dental appointment, or psychological evaluation meant thumbing through a paperback filled with local listings of automobiles you had convinced yourself you might be in the market for. While primarily an exercise for wasting one’s time, there was always a chance you’d run to a payphone or whip our your Nextel to contact the seller so you could begin the delicate dance of commerce.

But the modern experience has been streamlined, digitized and requires no cheap ink staining your thumb to get to the final destination of car ownership. It’s also being heavily consolidated, as the biggest names in the industry continue to take more of the online space devoted to vehicle browsing. Penske Automotive Group and Cox Automotive have announced they’ll be joining forces to establish another online buying platform, controlled by artificial intelligence, for secondhand cars. Cox already owns Autotrader.com, Manheim Auctions, and Kelly Blue Book. Penske owns CarShop, offers vehicle servicing, logistics management, and has national dealer/rental networks for both passenger cars and commercial trucks.

The duo has collaboratively developed what they call a “transformational, fully automated technology platform to enable the online retail sale of used vehicles.” It’s effectively just a website but allegedly one that takes the cream of the crop from their other properties to create an automated buying platform that offers the best secondhand vehicles in their respective decks.

Officially owned by Cox, the platform is being called “Esntial Commerce” which is not to be confused with “Essential Commerce” — the more sensical sounding title practically every outlet used when sharing the press release before they had to issue corrections.

The platform isn’t unique in that it’s a way to buy cars online. In fact, that’s gradually becoming the default shopping model for used vehicles while manufacturers test ways to make it work for new ones. But it’s being made out as an all-in-one solution that totally removes person-to-person exchanges. Esntial Commerce is supposed to take care of everything from vehicle comparisons to signing the paperwork online so you can wait around for your vehicle to be delivered at a destination of your choosing.

“Penske’s CarShop powered by Cox Automotive Esntial Commerce delivers personalization, F&I automation, and a seamless closing of the transaction when buying a vehicle online,” Steve Rowley, President of Cox Automotive, said in a statement. “No one has delivered an automotive eCommerce solution that can scale to support the industry’s transformation for retailers and for consumers — until now. As our solution matures, we expect it to drive both consumer satisfaction and profitability.”

“Over the last year the [Penske] and [Cox] teams have collaborated on this unparalleled technology that delivers a completely digital solution to the marketplace,” Penske Automotive Group Chair Roger Penske elaborated. “This new digital platform meets the digital-first demands of today’s customer while providing us with the opportunity to offer our customers 100 [percent] online functionality.”

While derivative of current industry trends, Esntial Commerce seems to be offering some truly novel by having an AI take you through literally the entire process of purchasing a used car. But there’s also something a little eerie about it, despite how unfun the dealer experience can be. Customers will undoubtedly be locked into paying whatever the algorithm decides once it has ran through their credit score and calculated the trade-in value. The complete absence of another living being likely means you cannot haggle or try and get overly creative with the financing options. But that’s exactly what Penske and Cox wanted, saying they went through numerous vendors before deciding the self-made, algorithmic AI approach was best.

Penske confirmed that Esntial Commerce will gradually become baked into its franchised dealerships (specifically for secondhand sales). But when and how that will be implemented has gone unanswered. We’re also not sure how that’s going to play out for its employment roster as the automated platform presumably requires fewer salaried workers. Meanwhile, Cox has plans to extend the service to other businesses later in the year. For now, you can access it via the CarShop website by selecting the “buy online” option.

[Image: Gretchen Gunda Enger/Shutterstock]

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13 Comments on “Penske & Cox Premiere AI Based Auto Sales Platform With Confusing Name...”


  • avatar
    Goatshadow

    What a true troupe of morons to go ahead with a name like that. It signals that just about every other decision made behind it was also bad. Avoid.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    You can buy a vehicle online. But unless you’re a fool or you don’t care how it drives, you can’t select a car online. That takes a test drive after extensive research to eliminate the obvious losers.

    • 0 avatar
      carcomment

      Test drives are overrated and time wasters for most. Cars are appliances-full stop-again, for most. It’s like looking atTV in a showroom and thinking that’s what it will look like at home. Um nope. If you buy a vehicle from a service like this, just do so with a reliable extended b to b warranty and lease it for no more than 3 years. The times they are a’ changin’.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        Even people that don’t care *at all* about cars should test drive a vehicle to gauge things like seat comfort and road noise.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        It could need an engine but runs/sounds/drives OK. People asume a bad engine leaks oil, knocks and or smokes. It could just be severely down on power and yes you could drive it that way for years, but it could be from a bent rod or other.

        I bought a used low-mile MR2 and it passed all tests, but before I ended the test drive, at 30 MPH I put it in 5th and stomped on it. The RPMs shot up to redline. The (firm on price) seller didn’t argue when I said it needed a clutch and we negotiated that in.

        • 0 avatar
          RHD

          Everyone will have a test drive story.
          I test-drove a Honda from a private party that looked great, and was priced a good amount above average for the market. Of course, the seller claimed that there was nothing wrong with it.
          The test drove revealed a clunk in the suspension on every bump, it pulled to the right, and afterwards the nearly spotless engine had a nice plume of smoke from oil leaking onto the exhaust manifold. The hood latch was almost inoperative, and the underdash lever broke off in my hand when I pulled on it.
          It would have looked like a great purchase online, and then become a headache for the new owner, especially if they were not mechanically inclined.
          So unless it’s brand new, test drive everything; if not, assume the worst-case-scenario in your negotiations.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    AI will be programming for maximum profits to Penske and Cox just like slot machines maximum revenue to the casino. You might hit the jackpot but the odds are against you.

  • avatar
    azfelix

    More material for Gaffigan:

    youtu.be/w6YZ-kE_hW8

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    All of these “online solutions” for selling used cars avoid what I see as a big problem — free riding on the demos of b & m dealers. Maybe most people are like the air head depicted in the Carvana commercial; but I don’t think so. They’re going to want to feel an example of the vehicle they’re thinking about buying, and — I believe — that most people appreciate that the “7-day free test drive” or whatever that’s offered by the online sellers is, in practice, a PITA if you want to return the car. In fact, the online sellers know that.

    So, what to do if you’re a buyer? Go down to your friendly b&m dealer and test drive the car you think you want. If you like it, shop for the lowest price from the online folks or wherever.

    So, the b&m folks are going to have to deal with a whole new crop of tire-kickers.

  • avatar
    texasjack

    Hold on to your wallet, Penske is lurking.

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