GM revs up online vehicle sales program

General Motors Corp., in a bid to test a new online vehicle sales model, today unveiled the details of an ambitious pilot test it plans to launch in the nation's capital in two months.

Using the Web site of struggling online car broker Inc., GM plans to offer online sales of its Chevrolet vehicle line through 22 dealers in the Washington area. The 90-day pilot, slated to begin May 1, is an effort by GM to capitalize on the popularity of the online car brokers that it once viewed as a competitive threat.

GM already allows consumers to search its inventories for GM models online through The automaker wants to expand its online offering to include competitive shopping scenarios that include "all makes and models" of vehicles, officials said.

"If we can run the pilot in a market, like Washington D.C. with a broad product line like Chevy, then we'll have a pretty good indicator of our ability to do this in other markets and with other brands," said GM spokesman Pat Morrisey.

Detroit-based GM inked the deal to run the 90-day pilot off Irvine, Calif.-based last month. But the world's largest automaker didn't disclose the locale or vehicle line that would be involved (see story).

During the test, car shoppers who log on to Autobytel's Web site will be able to view all the makes and models available through the site, but shoppers looking for vehicles in the Washington area will be able to purchase a vehicle from 22 participating Chevy dealers. They will also be offered a "no-haggle" price that will be determined by the participating dealers and posted on the Autobytel site, cutting out the usual haggling over the cost of cars, officials said.

"GM realizes that they need to be where the consumers are doing searches for information," said Rob Leathern, an analyst at Jupiter Research in New York.

Integrating GM's and its dealers' inventories has been a complex task from a technology and business standpoint, Leathern said. "They've been working a number of pilots and testing out the notion of an e-price in a discrete market," he said. "But they've been moving slowly. It's a big challenge from an integration perspective, and dealers are very independent and don't want to necessarily be told how to do their jobs."

GM has considered either buying an existing Web site or building one of its own to allow customers to shop for multiple makes and models of cars online. The automaker also proposed a joint venture with its dealers, called AutoCentric JV LLC, last summer to curb the threat of online vehicle brokers.

That venture, in which GM would hold a 50% equity stake, would allow customers to search for all makes and models of vehicle online. But the Web site has yet to launch.

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