GM Set to Roll Out Online Auto Sales Initiative

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General Motors announced plans this week to roll out a national online vehicle-selling initiative it has been testing in California, Washington, Oregon and Idaho since last fall.

Dubbed GM Buy Power, the service at allows consumers to research auto purchases and access dealership inventories online and over the telephone. National launch is set for the first quarter of 1999, GM said.

Under the program, Web-site visitors and callers to 1-800-GMbuypower can apply for pre-approved credit, set test-drive appointments, comparison shop among competitive brands and locate specific GM vehicles at nearby dealerships 24 hours a day.

Consumers who choose to buy are contacted by a designated dealer with the dealership's best price on the vehicle.

The Internet is not expected ever to become a place where consumers close auto transactions, but the potential to drive offline sales looks promising as the next wave of consumers prepares to log onto the Net for the first time. Thirty-four percent of computer-owning households that aren't yet online indicated a strong interest in researching vehicle purchases on the Internet, according to a recent survey by online market research firm The Yankee Group, Boston.

"Getting information on cars and facilitating transactions is one of the markets best matched to the Web, predominantly because the traditional shopping experience has been extremely negative," said Melissa Bane, senior analyst with The Yankee Group. "If you're talking about replacing a middle man, the car salesman is a pretty popular one to replace."

According to GM, its Web site received more than 670,000 unique visits during the 10-month test. Visitors spent an average of 11 minutes on the site and more than 60 percent of the dealers in the test region used the service, GM said. The company said consumers made more than 300,000 online searches for GM BuyPower dealers, but did not disclose the number of resulting car sales.

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