Penske & Cox Premiere AI Based Auto Sales Platform With Confusing Name

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

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]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • DC Bruce DC Bruce on Jul 22, 2021

    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.

    • Tankinbeans Tankinbeans on Jul 22, 2021

      So, what you're saying is that Best Buy should get into the car selling business. I kid, or do I.

  • Texasjack Texasjack on Jul 22, 2021

    Hold on to your wallet, Penske is lurking.

  • FreedMike Not much to look at, but these were sweet to drive.
  • EBFlex Ford finally making a good decision although they should shut down their EV operations and investment all together. Why lose that money too?
  • Mike Lol. This is the king of suvs. And its made by GM.Why is everyone trashing it?Top of its its class for a quarter century.
  • Frank Drove past there last week, plant has a huge poster of a bronco on the outside. I was thinking "Is that where they build the new broncos?" I know they use to make the Edge and that other mundane SUV there but I believe both have been canned.
  • CanadaCraig Toyota saw this coming. So good for them for being courageous enough to say, "Wait a minute. Let's not rush into anything."
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