GM To Test New Online Shopping System

General Motors(NYSE: GM) announced Wednesday that it has inked a deal with Autobytel.com to test an online shopping system that will show consumers which cars are available for purchase in their area.

GM said the trial run, which is slated to begin May 1st and run for 90 days,will provide the company and its dealers with a blueprint for creating an online locate-to-order system. The cars shown to consumers will bear dealer-set Web prices.

As part of the model evaluation, the Autobytel Web site will be modified toallow consumers from certain geographic regions who are looking forparticular GM cars to select a dealer for the completion of the transaction.

The program will involve a specific GM vehicle division and will beconducted with dealers in a yet-to-be-named metropolitan area, the companies said.

Multichannel Lanes

According to GM, the Autobytel initiative underscores the importance of becoming amultichannel player on the Internet.

“Research tells us that there is opportunity in the marketplace formanufacturer Web sites, dealer Web sites and a presence in independent, allmakes-and-models spaces,” said GM group vice president William J. Lovejoy.

Lovejoy said the test results will help GM and its dealers refine their understanding of the e-tail business.

Electronic Cars

The launch of GM’s new model program comes at a time when automakers are trying to capturean early share of a market that is expected tooffer a significant financial opportunity, despite a slow start.

“Working with Autobytel.com on this test helps us gain insight into theindependent e-commerce space, where customers have a three-to-one preference forall makes-and-model sites,” said GM group vice president Mark T. Hogan. “We needto be everywhere our customers are.”

Test-Drive Support

Autobytel said that in addition to hosting the test on itsWeb site, it will provide training and Internet-basedrelationship management applications to GM’s dealers.

“We believe that this is an innovation that can change all existing onlineautomotive commerce business models, with online buying services,manufacturers and dealers working together to improve on the benefits of thereferral model,” said Autobytel president and chief executive officer Mark Lorimer.

Irvine, California-based Autobytel also said the test will not affect any of the options it offers on cars made by automakers other than GM.

Online Ramp

The deal with independent seller Autobytel is GM’s latest bid to gain an edge in the competitive online automotive marketplace.

Earlier this month, the giant automaker said it would form apartnership with its network of dealers to build a Webshopping site called AutoCentric that will offer GM cars as well as other brands.

The company has also announced a marketing alliance with eBay Motors anda sweeping deal with America Online that included discount Webaccess for GM workers.

Rev Your Engines

According to a study from Jupiter Research, direct and Web-influenced newvehicle sales will grow to US$128 billion annually by 2004.

In addition, Forrester Research recently said that within three years, the percentage ofnew car buys made online will climb to 6 percent, up from the current market share of less than 1 percent.

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