Update: so we guessed correctly – there is a print plan for ZigWheels. BCCL today launched a supplement with the Economic Times, called ET ZigWheels.

ZigWheels, an auto portal from the Times of India Group (BCCL) has gone live, in beta. The site features, on the content side, Motorsport News, Reviews, Launches, and a gallery. They’re offering users Wallpaper and screensaver downloads.

On the business side, they’re allowing users to search for used and new cars, take tips from experts, a market-price checker, an EMI calculator, insurance and loan.

Standard Auto Portal Revenue Streams
The auto portal business is traditionally a lead generation model, and on-site advertising hasn’t been a significant contributor.
Lead Generation
— On Used Car Listings
— Test drives for New Cars
— Car Insurance
— Car Loans
Advertising
— On website
— On Magazine/publication (if any)

(note: if there are others, please leave a comment)

A Fortnightly Newspaper? Where Does Top Gear Fit In?
Do a search at the the Registrar of Newspapers for India, and you’ll notice that the Times Group has registered (screencap) fortnightly newspapers with the following names – ET Zigwheels, Times Zigwheels, Times Zigwheels.com, Times Zigwheels.in, Zigwheels, Zigwheels.com and Zigwheels.in.

While this could be similar to just blocking domains to prevent squatters, there are instances of auto portals with publications. For example, Carwale.com has a used car price guide that is distributed among auto dealers.

At the same time, the Times of India group does have a joint venture with BBC Worldwide – WorldWide Media (WWM) – which pubhishes Top Gear, based on the iconic TV show hosted by Jeremy Clarkson.

Where do they go from here?
Offline appears to be the way to go – an on-ground presence is necessary to build relationships with dealers, who provide used car listings, and pay for lead generation. Content is fast becoming a commodity in this market, and perspective and tips will help establish relationships with users; Tips and tricks, advice from experts and usability will be differentiators. Of course, nothing works as well as word-of-mouth from a happy customer.

Note that Autocar India and Overdrive are car and bike publications with portals, and they haven’t really leveraged their brand (and TV shows) online. Should we expect a ZigWheels TV show on Times Now?

It will be interesting to see how car companies, who are advertising on some of these portals (listed below), react to negative user reviews online.

List of Auto Portals
AutoCar (Magazine, TV Show on UTVi)
AutoIndia (Angel Investment)
Automart India
Bharatautomobiles
Carazoo
carsalesindia
cartradeindia
Carwale (30 percent equity with Seed Fund)
DriveInside
Gaadi
indiaautomobile (Consim/Bharatmatrimony Group)
Indimoto
Insibeam
Overdrive India (Infomedia India Magazine, TV Show on CNBC-TV18)

Disclosure: I own an inconsequential number of shares of Network18. Also, I am related to Vivek Pahwa, who has launched Gaadi.com