Ford, Dealers Launch Online Pricing, Purchasing Venture

Hope to tackle haggling problem

Following the lead of rival General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. last week unveiled a copycat dot-com venture with its dealers to offer vehicle pricing and purchasing online.

Ford, the world's No. 2 automaker, and its dealers hope to curtail the growing popularity of online vehicle brokers, such as Autobytel.com Inc., which often offer more competitive pricing than dealers. Analysts said the dot-com pushes by GM and Ford reflect the growing importance of the Web as a purchasing option for car shoppers.

"In the past, the major issue has been the battleground between dealers and the automakers about Internet sales," said Chris Houseman, an analyst at The Automotive Consulting Group Inc. in Ann Arbor, Mich. But dealers and automakers are burying the hatchet, he said, in order to retain good relations with consumers, who are increasingly turning to Internet middlemen like Autobytel to avoid haggling with dealers.

Through a new Web site called FordDirect.com, the automaker and its dealers aim to tackle the pricing problem by offering car shoppers an "e-price" on vehicles. The e-price is aimed at eliminating haggling and will vary based on vehicle pricing in regional markets. Ford officials estimate that the e-price will fall somewhere between the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) and the invoice price.

Before the launch of FordDirect.com, the carmaker had offered MSRP quotes over its Web sites but hadn't offered customers online purchasing capabilities.

Officials at Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford said the company's Ford Division Dealer Council, which represents 4,200 of the automaker's 5,500 dealers, originally broached the dot-com plan late last year. Lincoln-Mercury, Volvo and Jaguar dealers aren't part of the new dot-com initiative.

Trilogy Software Inc. in Austin, Texas, will provide the technology infrastructure for the new site.

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