NEW DELHI: Consumers in India are increasingly turning to the internet as part of the automotive purchase process, according to new research.

Google, the online giant, and Nielsen, the insights provider, polled 2,791 people visiting 234 dealerships in urban areas like Bangalore, Mumbai and Pune, with the panel biased towards affluent males.

Overall, the opinions of friends and family were found to be the most trusted source of information, on 47%, but the web was close behind on 42%. Print media scored just 9% here, with TV on 2%.

Some 50% of contributors reported that research conducted on the web prior to purchase had helped shape their decision, and 54% of this group changed their initial choice due to the details they uncovered.

The analysis also found that the typical buyer spent between nine and 12 weeks browsing information online before acquiring a car, with 90% of this audience using search engines as a starting point.

Hyundai's Eon model attracted the largest amount of queries, ahead of Mahindra & Mahindra's XUV 500. The Honda Brio took third, with Tata Motor's Manza in fourth and Maruti's Kizashi in fifth.

More broadly, the number of enquiries entered on Google by the 120m internet users in India climbed by 70% in 2011, meaning it was the fastest-growing sector on this metric.

Sports utility vehicles logged an 83% uptick on an annual basis, bettering premium cars on 82%. Hatchbacks, the largest category by sales, recorded the smallest improvement, up 53%.

Elsewhere, mobile phones saw a rapid increase in activity as relevant searches through this channel leapt by 125%, with smartphone figures rising by 242%.

A 56% majority of people researching cars online also watched videos while on the path to purchase and 48% saw YouTube as a useful information resource. This score rose to 72% for manufacturer websites.

"This offline study substantiates the growing number of auto-related searches we've seen on Google search in India," said Rajan Anandan, managing director of Google India.

However, Anandan warned that most automakers "have not yet tapped the full potential the digital medium", meaning they are missing out on an important opportunity to engage consumers.

Data sourced from Livemint, Economic Times, Pitch, Best Media Info; additional content by Warc staff