Chrysler Taps IBM for E-Commerce Upgrade

The Chrysler Group said Thursday that it has selected IBM (NYSE: IBM) to oversee an upgrade of its Web properties, with an eye toward improving its e-commerce initiatives.

Chrysler, a Michigan-based division of automaker giant DaimlerChrysler (NYSE: DCX), said that IBM will work with software and service provider Cobalt (Nasdaq: CBLT) and Web consulting firm Organic (Nasdaq: OGNC) to integrate and streamline its online efforts. Daimler owns an equity stake in Cobalt.

The goal, Chrysler said, is to unify its Internet presence and create a single, recognizable brand, as well as improve the ability of customers to purchase cars online.

The effort looks like an attempt to address the some of the issues raised by a recent Forrester Research report. In that report, the research firm criticized automakers for using chaotic marketing tactics on the Web.

The Forrester study also said that online auto shoppers who go directly to manufacturers are met with “vast, confusing and unpersuasive sites.” It also urged carmakers to unify online and offline marketing efforts, as television and the Web begin to overlap more often.

No Seams

To help present a single online image for the automaker, IBM will work on upgrading Chrysler’s corporate Web site as well as the sites for the carmaker’s Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep brands.

“With a common look and shared infrastructure, customers will have a seamless experience,” Chrysler Group director of e-commerce Bill Hall said. “The new partnership is expected to help reduce costs and speed the development of Internet-based initiatives.”

Quiet Company

In contrast to its automaker rivals, DaimlerChrysler, now the third-largest seller of cars in the United States, has taken a relatively tame approach to developing an e-commerce presence.

While DaimlerChrysler announced a year ago that it was forming an Internet division with US$100 million to spend, and has since joined competitors Ford and General Motors in forming the business-to-business (B2B) venture Covisint, the company has otherwise maintained a low profile on the Web.

By comparison, GM has been aggressively developing a Web presence. The automaker recently unveiled a new e-commerce venture, known as AutoCentric, that will enable its dealers to sell all makes of cars, not just its own. GM has also launched a test of its dealer-based e-commerce project. In addition, GM has a marketing alliance with eBay and an Internet service partnership with America Online.

More Room

A recent wave of consolidation sweeping the online auto sales industry may be making room for automakers to deal directly with customers on the Internet.

In February, CarsDirect.com bought Greenlight, an Amazon.com partner and online car site. Meanwhile, Autoweb and Autobytel are putting the finishing touches on a merger of their own.

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