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Can TrueCar Shift Gears After Last Week's 12% Slide?

By Rick Munarriz – Mar 28, 2016 at 9:05AM

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The fast-growing provider of leads for the automotive industry sees its stock take a hit, but it's tweaking the way it does business.

Source: TrueCar.

Things haven't been going TrueCar's (TRUE -1.79%) way these days. The lead generator for auto dealers saw its shareholders suffer a 12% hit last week on no material news, but it's hoping to turn sentiment around by tweaking the way that it does business. 

TrueCar announced on Sunday night that it has informed its dealership partners that it's doing away with some of its more controversial practices. TrueCar's Dealer Pledge has many components, aimed at tackling dealership concerns without alienating the platform's value to consumers in scoring great auto deals. 

For consumers, TrueCar is promising more precise pricing information for specific in-stock vehicles. Shoppers will also be presented with enhanced local dealership information so this doesn't boil down to merely price. It's also eliminating a page where it would show unnamed dealers with estimated pricing for a generic new vehicle. 

For dealers, TrueCar's new platform finds it tweaking its data policies, billing model, and billing practices. Chip Perry -- the former CEO at AutoTrader who was tapped as TrueCar's new helmsman three months ago -- visited local dealerships to unearth the pressure points that have been dogging his new company's reputation in the eyes of car sellers. 

Yes, consumers will be getting more precise information without the noise of rival dealerships, but they will also have to submit contact information as leads for TrueCar certified dealers. TrueCar is also cleaning up its advertising and website claims, painting the dealership in a more favorable light. It's also committing to be more careful with the finance, insurance, and trade-in products it offers, promising not to offer third-party direct finance products.

These are all pretty big moves, but TrueCar had to do something. TrueCar stock was one of last year's worst performers, shedding 58% of its value. It's off to another bad start in 2016 with the stock plunging 44% year-to-date. 

The downfall at TrueCar began last summer when it lost AutoNation (AN 2.24%) as a participating dealer in July. Losing AutoNation was a big blow, and it remains to be seen if the changes announced last night by TrueCar will win AutoNation back or woo new dealerships that just couldn't buy into the old model that often seemed like a race to the bottom in terms of pricing. 

Perry's appointment in December -- after founding CEO Scott Painter revealed that he would be stepping down last summer -- was initially applauded by the market, but the stock has gone on to close lower every month this young year. Dealers should applaud the moves, but the real test will be if consumers play along with this model that is more seller-friendly than it was in the past. TrueCar's always been walking the fine line between serving the potential car buyer and dealership. The next few quarters will decide if the extreme makeover is the right call, but it's hard to see the stock performing any worse than it has since shedding 77% of its value since the start of last year. The old model wasn't working for Wall Street. Perry is doing the right thing in shaking things up here.

Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends TrueCar. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Stocks Mentioned

TrueCar Stock Quote
$2.75 (-1.79%) $0.05
AutoNation Stock Quote
$120.00 (2.24%) $2.63

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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