Sometimes a lot of people have a good idea all at once. That seems to be the case with car-related Internet startups right now, with vLane, launching a couple months after Driverside and RepairPal, two companies focused on giving consumers more information about cars.
The challenge in this industry stems from the traditional car information apparatus, run by companies like Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book. Cars are a big investment for most people, but details about them are scattered between those big portals and value books, and the people who work directly with cars, like mechanics and dealers.
What makes vLane a little different from its two peers, which focus on car ownership, is that it’s concerned with the first step of researching it and buying one. The company has a navigation interface that allows a user to pick out vehicles by specifications like chassis size, gas mileage, price and year. That interface is smooth and pleasant to use, but what vLane is really relying on is a social review model that helps buyers decide.
Once you settle on some potential vehicles to buy, you can compare them within vLane. VLane also includes reviews sourced from around the web for immediate viewing. And if you want to ask people you know for their opinion, one of the site’s most important tools is its ability to send requests to your network on MySpace or Facebook requesting opinions.
That gives you an easy way to see how your acquaintances rate different vehicles, and why. The tool should work best for people with large networks, where it’s easier for little bits of important information — like details of one model’s bad gasket or flaky steering — to surface.
VLane CEO Herman Paek says he’ll monetize the site with advertising and some lead generation, for example directing a user interested in a Camry to a Toyota dealership’s website. That’s more or less the same business model every other information startup in the car industry is using, because of the high cost of cars — this probably wouldn’t work as well with, say, a website comparing different digital cameras.