Interview with Brian Moody Executive Editor at KBB & Autotrader

November 16, 2020| Zach Klempf

In this blog post, we have transcribed the UCDP interview with Brian Moody in written format. You can listen to the original podcast here.


Zach: Hello, Zach here, and we have another timely guest on the Used Car Dealer podcast today. Brian Moody is the Executive Editor at Autotrader and KBB. Brian, thank you so much for joining the podcast today.

Brian: Yeah thank you for having me.

Zach: Let’s get started, for those listening to the Used Car Dealer podcast, what does your role as executive editor encompass and how did you get into coverage of the automotive industry?

Brian: We have an editorial team and we serve multiple functions but basically the job is to make sure that the content we’re producing is first and foremost helpful to consumers because that’s how you build an audience and that the stories that we’re doing are helpful to consumers, that they’re giving them the tools they need to make shopping easy, to find the right car for them easy and that can be anything from, what are the most popular types of content, what type of lists should we be doing and then maybe get a little bit into what type of tools can we give consumers to make it so that their journey to find the exact right car for them is not only easy but then also these days you want to consider whether they feel safe also doing that throughout the whole shopping process 

Zach: What have been some of your observations from the view of the COVID19 impact both on retail auto dealers as well as the Autotrader and KBB marketplaces?

Brian: One thing that’s interesting to note, if you think about, back to January 2020, a couple of things that we can talk about aren’t necessarily new but they were sped up considerably. We were already at a place where people were saying, ”hey could I just buy a car completely online?” or “hey could I just do most of these things without having to leave the comfort of my home?”. 

It’s just that once the COVID happened those things got sped up and probably for good reason because some people didn’t feel safe going down to a dealership. Now some people do and that’s okay too because you have to assess your own personal--what‘s your risk, are you in the group that shouldn’t be--all that kind of stuff. 

But what we want to do is give people tools and ways of doing that. One thing is for Autotrader there’s this thing called dealer home services which basically allows the consumer to sort by certain criteria. You can only see cars if you choose to click the boxes and only wanna see cars where they’re gonna give me a video walk-around or they’re gonna do a test-drive at my home and if I buy the car they’re gonna bring it to me at home. 

In that way, if you wanna see that, great, click the box and we’ll only show you those. If you’re not interested in that and you just want, “hey I just want this car, I have to have this car in red with tan interior and that’s all I care about”, well you can do that too.

But it’s about meeting people where they are and again those things were already happening, it’s just now that it’s kinda sped up. I think people like it, to be honest, I think people like the flexibility of “I can be at home”, just like some  of us have been working from home and some people are like, “Hey wait a minute, this is really cool, why weren’t we always doing this?”

Zach: How about from the consumer’s standpoint, how did they change the way that they’ve shopped through Autotrader and KBB during the pandemic?

Brian: That one big thing that’s changed is that consumers are just basically searching. They’re just using google or they’re using a search engine to just say something like, “Oh what’s the best price on a Honda Accord in my neighborhood?” or “Are there any Buick Reatta’s I can buy nearby?” that kind of thing. 

Some old car that you know is hard to find and just going at it that way and then sorting through. We know that they’re gonna go through different sites. We know they’re gonna go to many places. This idea of “oh let’s just come to this one place and that’s it” that’s really not the case anymore. They’re gonna go to many places and what’s happening, as a result, is they’re armed with lots of good information once they get to the point where they’re gonna buy

Zach: What sort of change in trends in searching makes or searching vehicle types have you seen from early 2020 until now during the pandemic?

Brian: A lot of people are looking for more SUVs and they still are looking for trucks. Maybe even more so. I couldn’t give you a specific number but trucks sales have not suffered and they may have even gone up. So I think more people are thinking about utility in the vehicles that they use and more people are looking for or at least looking into certified pre-owned

Zach: Talk to me about Autotrader and KBB in their release of the new monthly best deals list for car shoppers.

Brian: We have a list of deals and these are published deals but we kinda put them all together in one place. Basically, these are, for the most part, manufacturer incentives.

They’ll give you, let’s say 0% APR, there was a couple that I was looking at where there was a Lexus that had 0% APR for 60 months, there was a Nissan Versa that had 0% APR for 72 months. I mean that’s unbelievable and then not only that there was also a Honda Civic deal that was a 0 down lease and something like 250 per month. 

That’s good because what we always tell people if you’re leasing, put down as little money as possible ‘cause you’re never gonna get that money back. 

But for some people putting down $5000 to own a Cadillac or a Mercedes-Benz, that’s worth it to them. But you’re really getting the best kind of bang for your buck when you’re leasing when you put down as little cash as possible and then you have that low payment, that’s the whole appeal of that. 

We compile these in one place and you know you could go on Autotrader or Kelly Blue Book and see which one’s gonna work for me, maybe none but it may be that there’s many to pick from.  

Zach: How does Autotrader differentiate itself from other marketplaces? And what have you guys also done on the SEO front?

Brian: Autotrader differentiates itself from other marketplaces by just sheer volume and the quality of the listing. Autotrader just has a huge volume of cars. You find this when you start looking for weird cars, for example, at one point you could get a Toyota Camry with a manual transmission, not a new one but this is going back a few years, or an automobile that’s been out of production for a long time but I want a certain model when you go on Autotrader, you can find 5,6,7, maybe 10 of those whereas in other cases, you’re not gonna find any just because the depth and breadth of the listings are so robust. You’re most likely going to end up with more cars than you can sort through and that’s when you start using the tools for sort by price, sort by year, sort by condition, those kinds of things.

Zach: On the SEO front, what have you guys done to bring more viewership to Autotrader and KBB?

Brian: The main thing is to just look at the types of content that people are and are not consuming. And then produce more of that. One thing that we know that they’re not looking for necessarily from Autotrader or from Kelly Blue Book is a very long thinkpiece on the history of the Stutz Bearcat. That’s not a thing they’re looking for on Autotrader. 

They’re not looking for “Oh, one time I met Fangio“. That’s not a racing car or historic, that’s not the thing. What they are looking for is “hey give me some list of the cheapest pick-ups; “what are the cheapest pick-ups that I could get? What are the cheapest hybrids I could get? What are the best family cars?” 

Those types of things are the things that people have shown us by their actions that they’re interested in. Now there are other stories, I love to read a story about how the LaSalle came to be. But probably I’m not going to be buying a car when I’m reading that. So, I go somewhere else and I read that and I feel fulfilled and then I go back to Autotrader and go, “Well now I need to buy a Nissan Rogue, so forget all that, I just need to get the job done.”

Zach: Some consumers may not be ready to buy a car right now but they might have a used car sitting around and they’re seeing the news reports about used vehicle prices at an all-time high, talk to me about what KBB is doing in terms of like trade-in values and making it easier for consumers to determine what their car’s worth and maybe where they should sell it.

Brian:  One of the things you can do is you can use, and this is where there’s sort of a blending of the two, if you’re on Autotrader, you can immediately find out what’s the fair purchase price for that car so meaning, what would the Kelly Blue Book price for that car. 

And also if you wanna sell your car or you’re thinking of trading it in, you can also use those same tools to find out the value of your car, and those are upgraded so frequently that it would reflect the current. As you said, there’s a trend up in used car prices. I think as recently as just the end of the summer, there were actually some makes and models that were increasing in value as used cars even though they were only say 2, 3, 4 years old. 

That’s something that you generally don’t see unless you get--they usually start to go up much further down the road. Like a Dodge Viper you could see probably it’s gonna go up or already has gone up because it’s the kind of car that it is. You don’t usually see a 2-year-old Honda Civic go up, it’s worth more now as a used car than it was just six months ago.

Zach: Let’s talk about some of the futures, for instance, the subscription model, where instead of doing a traditional 24 month or 36-month lease, I can actually get a month-to-month subscription rental on a vehicle, what are your thoughts about this new model?

Brian: I think it could work well for some people. I think if you’re the kind of person that just wants a car, a nice car to use and I don’t want to think about it again--I’m not gonna buy a stereo, I’m not gonna buy wheels, I’m not gonna tint the windows or put paint or anything, I just wanna use this car and I wanna use it every day, and I want it to be reliable and I don’t want to think about--think of it this way. 

It’s like for the people who want to think of their car as sort of an appliance. You and I if we were meeting in person, you and I would never talk about the terms of our refrigerator and the cubic feet – “Oh my gosh did you see this LG wow look at this one”. We would never do that because refrigerators don’t necessarily lend themselves to that. So car people sometimes do that: horsepower, fuel economy, this one’s electric, this one’s a hybrid. For the people that just wanna drive a nice car and that’s much as they want to think about it, a subscription could work because oftentimes maintenance and insurance are included in the one price that you pay every month.

Zach: What about digital retail? I see that you guys are touching digital retail with the Autotrader marketplace, what are your thoughts on it, not just for franchise dealers but used car independent dealers as well?

Brian: I think it’s a way like we were talking before, that’s a way that the business is gonna go regardless. People are just used to doing more things online. And what COVID has taught them is that now they could even do more things online than what they thought or at the very least if they can’t do it all online, they can do the bulk of the work online and then just go someplace and pick it up. 

Here’s a perfect example, I’m sure you’ve gotten some takeout here and there over the past few months, right? Well, one thing that I used to hate is when I would order from a restaurant--so traditional sit-down, you know go inside a restaurant. I don’t wanna go to the bar and pick it up, why am I at the bar? I’m standing there in the bar, I don't know if I should sit or how long that’s gonna take. Do I wanna drink? Not really I just wanna go. Now, thats changed. And that changed in a way that makes me happy. They bring it out to my car or it’s ready right there in the front. I love that, and I think more people are going to be thinking that way when it comes to lots of goods and services, cars included.

Zach: What about the EV models and the rise in popularity of brands like Tesla?

Brian:  Electric cars--we have to be realistic and that they still make up a very very small percentage of the market. In places like California maybe more so; It might be up to 4 and then some. For the rest of the country, it’s still a very small percentage of the market. 

But here’s what Tesla taught us. And you can see from the time they started to become successful or started to become a real car company let’s just say, past the roadster era into now where they have a full line of cars and SUVs. What they taught us was what people wanted all along was a luxury car that had a good performance. 

Look back and see what were the first electric cars: Prius is a hybrid, the Nissan Leaf. Those weren’t performance cars and they necessarily weren’t all that comfortable. They certainly weren’t luxury cars but Tesla taught us, oh this is what people want, so now what do we have. All electric Jag, right? All electric Porsche, all electric Audi. See where this is going? 

This is what people wanted all along; we just didn’t know it. And Tesla taught us is, if you have a luxury car that’s all electric and you can make it cool in this ownership kind of way--cause it’s different, people like different stuff, they don’t want to have the same thing as the guy down the street, that’s the big thing I think we learned from Tesla is what people really want in their electric cars: some performance and also a good deal of comfort,

Zach: Give me a peek into 2021, and what you guys have coming down the pipeline at both Autotrader as well as KBB?

Brian: For both what we’re gonna do is to continue to press into the things that we’ve already been doing which are digital retailing how can we meet consumers where they are and enhance that experience even more. But then add things like maybe shopping with voice command or that kind of thing, leveraging the huge inventory that’s on Autotrader and combine that with the power of Kelly Blue Book’s trusted pricing model and then you have an ecosystem where if all things are working right you trade your car in you know the value, you go buy it from Autotrader and you just keep doing that because you’ve trusted these two things so much and they’ve given you the selection and the value that you’re looking for. 

And I think in some ways people try to look forward and say “oh the future is gonna be, it’s magic or something”. It’s not really magic, it’s just doing the same thing that you have been doing except just doing it better, more refined searches, searching by lifestyle. 

We do a thing every year where we do the best cars for dog owners and we have that line up with National Dog Day. It’s really uncanny how popular that is. You wouldn’t think something so small as that wouldn’t be so popular, But people love dogs and they love going places with their dogs. There’s no--we’re not gonna do “best cars for cat owners”, just saying. Like when you picture yourself in a Jeep or a Bronco out in the middle of nowhere right if you’re one of those kinds of people, do you picture yourself with a cat? You probably picture yourself with your dog. And so those types of lifestyle things that enhance the overall experience are the kinds of things that you can expect to see more of. 

Zach: What do you think are common misconceptions about marketplaces both from the dealer standpoint as well as the consumer standpoint?

Brian: I think well, that all cars are the same and that they all offer the same, or the pricing is all fixed. I think there are dramatic differences in price based on the region and based on the condition of the car. It’s most notable when you talk about used cars. 

And so we’re talking earlier about some of the prices of used cars being kind of on the increase, well that’s because they’re becoming more popular. That’s the great thing about how this works is that if you came up with this most amazing thing, an electric luxury car, let’s just say, you’re rewarded right? Because that’s what people want, you made a thing that people want. Great, good for you. 

And the same is true with used cars. If you have the ones that people are looking for, you’re going to do well. And I think that when used cars come to the marketplace in digital and online and all that, that’s where it can do it’s best work it’s because you can sort through more cars, more Honda Civics. You can find more of those as a consumer than you ever could have before driving around town. 

And from a dealership perspective, the advantages are, you have the opportunity, if you choose to take it, to interact with those customers on platforms such as social media, on platforms like Autotrader and you can tell them all about your car, without your salespeople ever having to spend time, other than crafting the ad, to begin with, so that they can focus on closing the deal once the person comes down there, they’re better informed and they’re more ready to buy once they get there.

Zach: Agreed, and kind of as a last question, more of a fun question, but what are your top three favorite vehicles that you’ve seen in 2020 that might be coming out next year or that you’re just excited about in general?

Brian: There’s a couple, I think that the new Ford Bronco looks like the real thing. I haven’t been able to drive it, but we did get to see one up close, sit inside, press the buttons, open the doors, that kind of thing. 

And based on the specs and the way they made it with the little Bronco logo on the back just the way that you can use it, I feel like they did a great job. Because too many times, you see this thing where they resurrect a name and they are like, “uh oh that doesn’t look anything like the thing that I remember” but I think they did a great job. That’s exciting. 

I think the Hummer EV is another thing to get excited about. And I think because now, are people looking for Electric Pickups? I don’t know. Maybe. There aren’t any to judge that by. But people love pickups and they like performance, and the thing with Hummer that they got right is they didn’t just say, “oh this is an electric pickup that we got from somewhere else and just made it electric”. 

There was a time when maybe that was enough, that’s not enough anymore. They added some, and then some, and then some, with the removable roof, with the see-through, with the crab-walk thing where it can move sideways. That kind of stuff. This is the thing that’s exciting is that these big companies like Ford and General Motors, I think they’re best equipped to handle the personal transportation and the mobility needs of what the future is because they’ve already been doing it for a hundred years and they have the manufacturing resources, they have the marketing resources, they have the R&D resources.  

They’re in a good position. All they have to do is to make the cool thing first then sell it to people. Don’t do it the other way around like we used to do: “let’s sell ‘em on it and then we’ll make an okay thing”. That leads to disappointment. 

I think what we’re seeing now with those two cars specifically, I even think things like Rivian and Lucid, those are really cool-looking too. And I think that younger buyers--so, people who are like my son, he’s a teenager, he’s not gonna care how it’s powered, that’s the last thing he’s thinking about. He’s just thinking how many USB ports, can it go off-road, what’s the range, how far can I drive, and does it look cool, different than what everybody else has. And that’s the exciting thing is that you see these cars that are meeting all of those needs, kinda hitting all those points, and then they have a good product to sell that’s when it gets to be really cool.

Zach: Yeah, I can’t wait for those 2 vehicles, definitely Hummer’s really cool, I think the Ford Bronco as well. Any vehicles you think are gonna become less popular in 2021 than maybe they have been before, it could be like vehicle types or sedans?

Brian: Sedans seem to be-- so I have a theory about sedans. Everybody says that sedans are gonna go away. You know I think that’s an exaggeration. I’ve talked to several people, automakers that have said, listen if you’re a luxury automaker, a luxury sedan needs to be part of your portfolio. It's just expected. You can’t really be a full luxury brand if you don’t have a good luxury sedan to offer. 

The other thing is, think about this: a whole generation of people that started buying SUVs rejected their parents’ cars, which were largely station wagons, right? A whole generation of those people. Well, that kind of thing happens over and over, and that cycle is gonna continue. 

I can’t help but think that everybody who grew up in an SUV family, when they start to buy their own car, they aren’t gonna want that and the reason I think that is because I work with this young woman, she’s a mom and her kids are about to be in high school and she has said on several occasions, “I can’t wait to get rid of this SUV because the “U” in SUV it’s not about me at all, the utility part that’s nothing to do with me that’s about everybody else. I want something that I want, I want something that’s cool”. 

And I think that’s gonna happen and for some reason, so many people are not seeing that, everyone’s all in on SUVs and trucks. But if you grew up in a family, say you’re I’m just gonna make this up, you’re 13 years old right now, and you’re gonna be driving in 3, 4,5 years maybe buying your own car, you are not gonna buy a car that your parents had, just like the whole generation before they didn’t want the car that their parents had. And I think that’s coming so I don’t think sedans are quite out of the hunt just yet.

Zach: Well said, Brian, and I really appreciate you coming to the Used Car Dealer podcast today, your insight has been excellent, thank you so much for joining us.

Brian: Yeah, thank you for having me.

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