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Autobytel to Form Pan-European Operation

Autobytel.com Thursday completed $27 million in funding to roll out its automobile sales site throughout Europe.

The company will launch Autobytel.Europe with additional financing from Inchcape plc, Pon Holdings B.V. and GE Equity. Autobytel.Europe will operate out of Amsterdam and intends to invest and form joint ventures to create local Autobytel (ABTL) sites. The regional versions are expected to complement a European umbrella site.

"We have the international operations experience to make a single brand work throughout Europe," said Mark Lorimer, Autobytel.com's president and and chairman of Autobytel.Europe. "The success of Autobytel.co.uk (UK), Autobytel.se (Sweden), Autobytel.ca (Canada), and Autobytel.jp (Japan), as well as what we've learned readying Autobytel.ne (Netherlands), Autobytel.no (Norway), Autobytel-fi.com (Finland) and Autobytel.dk (Denmark) for launch, give us great experience marrying our technology and, more importantly, our core Autobytel consumer propositions, to the local auto distribution systems."

Lorimer said the company has studied the automotive distribution systems in Europe for two years in preparation for the new strategy. He added that he felt Europe was an even more promising market than the U.S. at the time of Autobytel's original launch. Autobytel launched in the U.S. in 1995 and has since taken a 45 percent share of the American online car sales market.

Inchcape put it $10 million and will receive a 7.3 percent stake; Pon Holdings kicked in $2 million for a 1.5 percent holding. Autobytel contributed $5 million and will control a majority 83.9 percent interest.

"We are a global business, and you cannot lead globally unless you lead in Europe," said Robert S. Grimes, executive vice president of International Development for Autobytel.com. "Europe is the world's biggest industrialized market, and the changes being brought about by increasing economic integration create huge opportunities for Autobytel.com."