AI

How AI is changing the car-buying process for buyers and sellers alike

“On the consumer side, we’re using AI in everything we do,” a Cox Automotive executive said.
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· 4 min read

Much ink has been spilled on the promises and failures of AI’s highest-profile automotive application: self-driving cars.

But the much-hyped technology could reshape another aspect of the automotive experience: buying a car.

Executives at Cox Automotive, speaking at a Detroit event last week, expressed optimism about the ways they believe AI could make a notoriously time-consuming and difficult process easier on both buyers and sellers.

Take a look: Already, Manheim, the Cox-owned wholesale vehicle auction, is deploying AI to collect images and identify damage on vehicles.

Manheim has 23 fixed imaging tunnels installed at 13 auction sites, with plans to double the equipment by year’s end, Brad Burns, Manheim’s AVP of vehicle information, told Tech Brew. The tunnels—outfitted with dozens of LED light panels and cameras—typically are situated at check-in areas, Burns said. Vehicles drive through the tunnel and, in seconds, the equipment captures 2,500 images, including of the vehicle’s undercarriage. The result is the vehicle’s “digital twin,” added Marianne Johnson, executive vice president and chief product officer at Cox.

AI selects the 12 best images. The rest are run through a machine-learning model that can detect damage, speeding up the process of conducting an inspection and generating a vehicle condition report, Burns explained.

“Right now, for the most part, the entire process is manual,” Burns said. “As we’re starting to deploy this technology, certain aspects of it will be presented to [inspectors] just to validate…Subjectivity is a big challenge when it comes to describing the condition of the vehicle because everyone has a different set of eyes.”

Couch potato: Cox is also using AI to streamline the car-buying process.

“On the consumer side, we’re using AI in everything we do,” Jessica Stafford, Cox’s SVP of consumer solutions, said. That encompasses imaging automation similar to what Manheim is doing, using data to create a more personalized shopping experience, and using AI tools to speed financing.

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“We all know car shoppers think that this process is miserably long. And some people enjoy it, but a lot of people don’t,” Stafford said. “And so the idea of the immersive experience from your couch, the idea of using this intelligence to get a more tailored car and deal to you right away, is going to save time.”

According to Predian, an AI company that provides car dealerships with predictive analytics to assist with inventory management, the technology is helping dealerships turn vehicles more quickly. Predian’s ValueVision tool gives dealers not only historical pricing data, but forecasts for the next few months; its software also uses AI to help dealers list inventory online.

“Every day that they can get a car faster online is more profit,” Merritt Critcher, Predian’s chief product officer, said. “These are little things that help them speed it up to market and then turn these cars faster; that’s the whole end game.”

Yes, but: Such tools are only as good as the data they’re based on, Johnson noted.

“Not all models are created equal. Not all data is created equal,” she said. “Those same large language models that create ChatGPT, you can apply it on your own data. So if you have your own data lake, you’re controlling the quality of that data.”

Cox has been using machine learning for decades, Johnson said, but as computing power has increased in the last few years, the company started training AI algorithms on reams of industry data.

“That brings it to life where you can trust it, you can use it more specifically to drive value,” she said. “[In] automotive, it is happening. Every customer that is a Cox customer today gets to take advantage of artificial intelligence, whether they realize it or not.”

Keep up with the innovative tech transforming business

Tech Brew keeps business leaders up-to-date on the latest innovations, automation advances, policy shifts, and more, so they can make informed decisions about tech.