LONDON - US Internet giant Autobytel.com is set to hasten the transformation of car retailing in Europe by establishing an Amsterdam-based pan-continental subsidiary.
The new venture will coordinate Autobytel's web activities in European markets with an initial funding of just under euro 30 million. Autobytel plans to license, invest in and offer joint services to national operating company partners throughout Europe.
New websites will be set up to cover each major European language. The UK has already led the way with a service launched in April 1999.
Kevin Turnbull, chief executive of Autobytel UK, said more than 1.4 million consumers have visited the website since its launch, with 15,000 purchase requests leading to an estimated 2,000 sales.
The Autobytel service offers consumers the chance to research, compare and contrast models free of charge and place a purchase request for a car online. Once the purchase request is placed, it is forwarded to the nearest Autobytel accredited dealer who will contact the customer with a 'no-hassle, no-haggle, best value' price within 24 hours.
On mainland Europe the first new-language website will cover the Netherlands and is due to operate from June this year, according to Mark Lorimer, president and chief executive of parent company Autobytel.com. Germany and France will be online within six to nine months, and southern European markets such as Italy and Spain - where growth in Internet usage has been slower than the north - will follow early next year, Lorimer said.
Opposition from automotive manufacturers was not seen as a hurdle, according to Kevin Turnbull.
'Manufacturers have moved from being skeptical at first to becoming at worst neutral, and now they are increasingly supportive. The perspective, I think, is that the manufacturer increasingly understands that online commerce is consumer-driven. If you have 1000 online purchase requests for your cars, how do you say `no'?'
UK-based Inchcape plc, which owns 100 percent of Autobytel in Britain, will invest euro 10 million for a 7.3 percent equity interest in the mainland venture. Other investors include Dutch-based Pon Holdings BV - which will put in euro 2 million - and GE Equity.
In the USA, parent company Autobytel.com services has been identified by JD Power as accounting for 45 percent of all new vehicles sold through online services. This share is expected to rise to 70-80 percent within three years, Lorimer said.
'Europe is the perfect place for Autobytel right now - better than the US. Europeans have begun a revolution of rising expectations which is already changing the way business is done.
'E-commerce will accelerate those changes which, perhaps, will be the most profound in the car business,' said Lorimer.