So, you thought Amazon buying up the services of one Jeremy Clarkson (not forgetting Richard Hammond and James May) was merely to entice more people to sign up for Amazon Prime video-on-demand services? Well, it was.
Partly anyway, but with the world's best-known motoring trio's new show, The Grand Tour, due to air in October, Amazon is moving closer and closer to actually becoming a vehicle retailer in its own right.
Amazon Vehicles has just been added to the retail giant’s US website, and while you cannot yet purchase a car directly from Amazon itself, you can peruse models, prices, specifications, colours and options to your heart’s content. You can also save vehicles you’ve “built” to an online garage, presumably for later reference.
"Our goal is to support customers during one of the most important, research-intensive purchases in their lives by helping them make informed decisions every step of the way," said Adam Goetsch, director of Automotive at Amazon.com in a statement.
“Amazon Vehicles is a great resource for customers who are interested in car information or looking for a broad selection of parts and accessories – all enhanced by the ability to tap into the knowledge, opinions, and experiences of other car owners within the Amazon customer community.”
Bumps in the road
So, is Amazon about to become a vehicle retailer? Possibly, but there are a few humps in the road if the company decides to go down that route.
In the United States, there are several states which do not allow direct sales between a car company and its customers (it depends on how those states interpret anti-trust regulations), rules that have previously stalled Tesla setting up its direct-sales system. Whether Amazon could convince regulators that it's a suitable intermediary is another thing entirely.
If such a system were to be set up on this side of the Atlantic, the waters would become even murkier. Existing dealers would presumably be resistant to the service and it's possible that we could see government-led investigations into pricing practices, as happened when both Opel and Fiat tried to sell cars in Ireland at a pre-agreed "open book" price.
For now, you can enjoy speccing up notional Teslas and Cadillacs, but don’t think for a moment that Amazon is doing this, or employing Clarkson, simply for fun.