LONDON: Ford, Volkswagen and Audi are the auto brands attracting the highest levels of interest among UK web users, a new study shows.

Experian Hitwise, the research firm, has released its latest Automotive Brand Index, which tracks the online search activity linked to the various competing players in this sector.

It estimated that Ford took a 10.7% share of all branded searches entered through sites like Google in the UK over the period from April to June 2011.

The automaker thus retained the leading it also held in the opening quarter of 2011 and the second quarter of 2010.

Ford also logged 64,453 new car registrations in the same timeframe, according to data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), meaning it led the industry on each of these measures.

Volkswagen similarly remained in second position, recording 10.6% of all search enquiries across Q2 this year, when it sold 47,653 vehicles.

Audi, a unit of VW, held on to third, with almost 9% of the search market, while offline demand stood at 29,100 units.

BMW, another luxury automaker, yielded 8.7% of entries made via platforms such as Google and Bing, but posted greater sales than Audi, on 30,316 registrations.

"The difference between first and fourth in the Index is now just over two percent of branded searches, and Ford is very close to being overtaken by Volkswagen," said Robin Goad, director of research at Experian Hitwise.

"Understanding how to maximise the online potential of brands is incredibly powerful and, as the SMMT data shows, can have a real impact on sales and new registrations."

Vauxhall witnessed a large gap between these two figures, generating 6.2% of requests for information on the web, but moving 60,758 cars, second only to Ford on the latter metric.

By contrast, Land Rover secured just 4.4% of the search entries and 6,696 actual purchases.

Mercedes-Benz, a high-end marque, was also on 4.4%, and rose slightly up the rankings on both a quarterly and annual basis.

Mini, manufactured by BMW, gained similar traction after delivering 3.9% of all enquiries made on the net, climbing into the top ten as a result, having taken twelfth position in Q1 2011 and thirteenth in Q2 2010.

Among the other marques experiencing improvements during the second quarter of this year were Honda, Peugeot, Fiat and Mazda, Experian Hitwise revealed.

Jaguar, owned by the Indian conglomerate Tata Group, also saw quarterly and annual lifts, and completed the top 20 as a consequence.

The firm's XF and XJ models proved of particular interest to web users, according to the study.

"Both Mini and Jaguar have had a strong quarter," said Goad.

"It is integrated online and offline marketing campaigns that are driving increased search behaviour for these top brands and models."

Data sourced from Experian Hitwise; additional content by Warc staff