Car Dealers Take Aim at E-Commerce

In an effort to help local car dealers keep pace with the increasing number of online auto sellers, the National Automobile Dealers Association on Monday launched DriversSeat.com, an Internet portal that links consumers directly to dealer Web sites.

The site, built by The Cobalt Group, enables visitors to locate auto dealerships in their area and scan data on more than half a million new and used vehicles. The service is free to both visitors and car dealers, but dealers must have their own Web sites to take advantage of the NADA portal’s services.

In addition to direct links to local dealerships, the site provides invoice costs and manufacturer’s suggested retail prices, purchasing tips, model comparisons, and vehicle specifications. Safety tips and “lemon” checks are also available.

Incentive to Get Web Wise

DriversSeat.com is the NADA’s latest salvo in an ongoing battle to help local dealers compete with a growing number of online car outlets, such as Autobytel.com, CarPoint.com and Cars.com.

Recent additions to the field, including eBay Motors, AutoTrader and iMotors, are ample evidence of the promise many online vendors see in selling cars over the Internet.

According to research firm J.D. Power & Associates, Americans are increasingly going to the Net to find information on both new and used cars. Although the focus is often on new cars, the firm found that 26 percent of used car buyers utilized the Internet to help make a decision in 1999, up from 14 percent in 1998.

Used car buyers typically check the Internet to find out information about prices.

Brochure Sites

NADA hopes its new DriversSeat.com site will give more dealers reason to get online — and more consumers reason to check out their local dealers instead of online car sellers.

The association estimated in February that more than 80 percent of car dealers in the United States have Web sites, but their sites focus primarily on providing information about their dealerships, rather than actually selling cars. Only 42 percent of current dealer sites allow customers to schedule a sales or service appointment.

Internet participation by auto dealers also varies by region, the NADA says, with 83 percent of dealers in the Northeast online, 80 percent in the West, 77 percent in the South, and 67 percent in the Midwest.

NADA represents more than 19,500 franchised new car and truck dealers with nearly 40,000 separate franchises. In addition to DriversSeat.com, NADA is working with Cobalt on two NADA-endorsed Cobalt Web development and hosting solutions to make it easier and more affordable for auto dealers to establish Web sites.

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