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Online automotive dealers and merged in a big way Wednesday when CarsDirect purchased its competitor for an undisclosed sum.

The purchase, which brings the total number of priority dealers to nearly 3,000, provides a path for the two operators to achieve their mutual business goals, according to Joel Manby, CEO of

" and have a shared a vision of transforming the car buying process into a pain-free and enjoyable experience, designed around clear consumer preferences," he said. "Both our business philosophies and practices were developed to help achieve this goal.

"The consolidation now enables a critical next step -- the creation of a clear market leader with the world-class services, resources, marketing power and the superior dealer network needed to truly delight the growing number of online car buyers," he said.

Although there is someone new in the driver's seat, retains its relationship with, which purchased a 5 percent stake in the company about a year ago. will continue to assist the entity by introducing it to its 29- million-plus experienced online shoppers.

"We're excited to continue our affiliation with this rapidly evolving online industry," said Bill Price, senior vice president of "The strength of the combined network and the simplicity and convenience of the service will ensure an even better shopping experience for our customers."

The relationship with adds to's existing partnerships with, Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book.

The market potential for online car buying remains enormous, according to Wendy Barbour, spokesperson for "The firm estimates that some 10 million consumers will initiate an automobile transaction online by 2004, with new vehicles representing more than half that number -- an overall revenue opportunity approaching $200 billion, she said.

"On the financing side, Killen & Associates forecasts that 40 percent of auto loans will be booked online by 2005," she added.

Greenlight was started in 1999 by a team of e-commerce and automotive experts. Among the founders was Brian Kendrick, president and CEO of Asbury Automotive, who will join the's board of directors when the merger is complete.

"Today's transaction is a logical next step and validates that the Internet continues to evolve as an important sales channel in automotive retail," Kendrick said. "We're excited by the prospects that the CarsDirect/Greenlight combination will bring to Asbury's dealerships."