Chip Perry is excited to be back in the auto business. And he sees a lot of potential for TrueCar in what he believes to be a continually evolving online auto environment.
He’s also aware of the much-talked-about challenges involving the company he will soon head.
But Perry is ready for them.
In a conversation with AuSM on Monday a few hours after it was announced he will become the new president and chief executive officer of TrueCar, Perry talked about his decision to join the Santa Monica, Calif.-based company, what he has planned and where TrueCar’s opportunities are, much more.
Initial steps as CEO
Perry, who founded AutoTrader.com and was its CEO until 2013, officially begins his tenure as TrueCar president and CEO on Dec. 15. That same day, TrueCar founder Scott Painter is stepping down as chief executive, chairman and board member.
(In September, it was announced that TrueCar president John Krafcik would be leaving to be CEO of Google's autonomous car division. Chief financial officer Mike Guthrie then took on additional duties and interm chief operating officer to run TrueCar's day-to-day.)
Perry, who has called Atlanta home for the past 18 years after starting AutoTrader.com in 1997, is moving back to Southern California to run TrueCar. He had lived in Pasadena for 15 years prior to his move to the Southeast.
In fact his role before launching what is now known as Autotrader was as a vice president of business development at the Los Angeles Times, his bio notes. Perry spearheaded the launch of what was one of the first online services from a major newspaper (TimesLink) in the early 1990s.
His most recent endeavor before joining TrueCar was as president and CEO of RentPath, the parent to ApartmentGuide.com and Rent.com.
And as president and CEO of TrueCar, Perry moves back to the front lines of the auto section of the online world.
“The automotive space has always had great appeal and allure to me, because there are so many unmet needs in car-buying and -selling process,” Perry said in Monday’s interview. “Consumers have a lot of pain points still, even after 20 years of innovation in the industry by all the different players and so much progress made by so many dealers.
“There’s still a lot of room for improvement,” he added. “And when I look at TrueCar, I see a company that has incredible untapped potential … to be a catalyst to making that car-buying and -selling process even better for both (parties).”
“I firmly believe that it’s the car dealer that sells the car to the consumer. And we at TrueCar, as a marketplace and an online buying and selling platform, we facilitate car sales. We help dealers get introduced to ready-to-buy consumers,” Perry added. “That’s a very important element of our positioning and going forward, I’m going to be putting a lot of emphasis on improving dealer relationships and improving the perceptions that dealers have of the services we provide.”
Something to which Perry holds firm is that leading third-party sites — like a TrueCar — must provide both a good experience to both the consumers and dealers it serves.
He emphasizes that TrueCar has contributed a great deal of innovation to the industry, “but at the same time, they’ve broken a lot of china — with car dealers, in particular.”
But that situation, he says, is one that can be mended and improved upon. In fact, priority No. 1 for Perry will be “to reach out and work personally with many dealers all across the country.”
Perry believes there are many ways TrueCar can “better serve” dealers, and he plans to learn that straight from the source. (More on that below)
His goal is to “earn their trust back by listening to them and building their back into our future plan,” Perry said.
“A company like this gets improved from the customer back,” Perry said. “There are a lot of great ideas in Santa Monica. But many of the best ideas for improvement sit in the minds and hearts of car dealers all across America.”
Once he officially starts in the role on Dec. 15, Perry plans to work with TrueCar’s leadership team and the dealer sales and support team to review all of the company’s dealer-facing “touchpoints.”
Until he officially begins, he’s not able to view what all of those touchpoints are, but noted that there’s a lot of “momentum” and internal work already in place with the interim leadership, he said.
Face time with dealers
Perry plans to get out and talk with dealers face-to-face, meeting them in person and giving them an “open forum.” To get a sense of how this might look, consider the example Perry shares about his AutoTrader.com days.
During that time, whenever Perry would make a presentation to dealers, he would put his cell phone number on the last slide of the deck, he said.
“I always made myself available to any car dealer in America who wanted to talk about any aspect of what we were doing for them, when I was with AutoTrader.com,” Perry said. “And I’m going to do the same thing at TrueCar. Anybody can have access to me anytime they want.
“Obviously, we have a lot of room for improvement,” he continued. “I don’t know, specifically, operationally, what the improvements are going to be yet, I just know they’re there. I just know it.”
One of the major ones, he said, will be to give dealers a sense of best practices for success within the TrueCar marketplace itself.
“Any time you have a big digital marketplace like TrueCar or Cars.com, there are always dealers who get more value than others from the marketplace — not because their cars are better, but because they’re employing marketing techniques and tools that enable them to get more results from the marketplace; they’re better marketers and salespeople,” he said.
“It’s possible through the information that the marketplace generates, to identify who are those top performers. And a lot of what we did in my past life was help the entire industry understand better what the true best practices were,” Perry continued. “And I think because the consumer’s journey in the car-buying process is evolving all the time and people are making more use of these new technology tools, it’s incumbent upon the marketplace to keep the dealers informed about what it takes to win.”
Not just when it comes to price, either, he emphasizes. The entire dealer-consumer interaction throughout the purchasing process has potential for “deeper research” to generate back for dealers.
“So, I think that there’s a big educational opportunity right in front of us. But it will require a different kind of research, a different kind of collaboration, a different kind of data-sharing (than what has) happened up until now,” he said.
And there are probably many more examples of opportunity that TrueCar may have, Perry said. What, exactly, those are won’t become fully clear until Perry officially comes aboard and huddles with the management team.
But we asked him this: From his perspective, to this point, as an outsider, where does he see potential in TrueCar?
Perry shared these stats:
- There are about 6 million people who visit TrueCar.com each month.
- There are roughly 3.5 million used vehicles bought in the U.S. each month and about 1.25 million new cars.
- New-car buyers make up the most of TrueCar’s audience.
So what does all that mean?
“With 6 million, it means there’s a large share of current new-car buyer audience is on TrueCar already. Yet, only about 1 percent of those people buy a car in a measurable way through TrueCar every month. It’s between 60,000 and 70,000 people; 1 percent, out of that 6 million,” Perry said. “So just that number alone points to the upside opportunity here to enable more dealers to benefit from the huge audience that’s already coming to TrueCar.”
Evolution in online shopping
The foundation for TrueCar — things like data collection, transaction values and the consumer experience — is there, Perry said. Now it’s time to “take it to a whole new level” in the evolution of e-commerce.
The car industry already has two decades worth of changes brought on by the Internet, but we’re still only “at the bottom of the third inning” in terms of what’s potentially on-deck, Perry said.
However, he emphasizes that will require partnership with dealers.
Granted, some of the larger dealers or dealer groups are likely to tackle e-commerce on their own.
However, there will be dealers who will need technology partners, “to help them sell cars in a modern way to modern consumers,” Perry said.
Again, working with dealers. His first priority.
And that, soon enough, will start with a conversation.