Autoweb Test Drives Online Service Scheduling

Claiming to be the first company to offer a real-time Internet vehicle service center, Autoweb.com (Nasdaq: AWEB) has launched a pilot program that will allow users to schedule service appointments with their local repair shops.

The service allows users to choose from auto service centers, retail service centers or independent shops. The Santa Clara, California-based company said customers will be able to research vehicle maintenance on the site and obtain repair data as well.

After scrolling through the site, users can set an appointment time with their preferred shop. Autoweb will send out an e-mail confirmation the same day and a reminder 24 hours before the scheduled appointment.

“This precedent-setting solution is the first complete online vehicle maintenance service available to consumers,” said Autoweb CEO Dean DeBiase. “Finally there is a centralized place to learn more about vehicle maintenance, make educated choices and eliminate the hassle of scheduling maintenance or repairs.”

The company said it took the step to roll out the program after 65 percent of 11,000 Autoweb.com respondents said they would prefer to set their vehicle repair appointments online. The pilot program is based in Atlanta, but Autoweb.com said it would introduce the service in additional metropolitan areas in the U.S. later this year.

Standing Out in a Crowd

By establishing the repair service, Autoweb is clearly trying to separate itself from the pack. The online automobile retail market is growing quickly and attracting new players. Forrester Research, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, estimates that online sales of new cars will spike from 15,000 this year to 500,000 by 2003.

Autoweb announced earlier this month that it will begin selling new cars directly on its site. The company made the move after CarsDirect.com — owned by Dell computer founder Michael Dell — and AutoNation both started offering new cars on their sites earlier this summer. These developments signal a major shift in the online industry, which previously only offered cars through a referral network to dealers across the nation.

The company is clearly betting that all the moves will pay off over time. So too, are investors. Autoweb.com went public in March and raised $70 million (US$). It recently announced second quarter revenues of $7 million — up 150 percent over 1998. Losses, however, increased to $3 million, up from $2.4 in 1998.

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