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GM Hones Its e-Retailing Skills

General Motors , making an effort to refine its online sales strategies and keeps its dealers happy, signed an agreement with Irvine, CA-based Autobytel.com for a 90-day test of new online business model.

The test program will combine the independent all makes, all models capability of Autobytel.com with a localized inventory search function and a dealer-set online e-price.

GM said the model involves modifications of the Autobytel.com Web site for consumers from a particular geographic area who are seeking specific GM vehicles.

The experiment, expected to begin May 1, will involve a specific GM vehicle division and will be conducted with dealers in a yet-to-be named metropolitan area.

The test on the Autobytel.com site will help GM and its dealers learn how to create an effective online locate-to-order system that displays available inventory in a local market area and enables consumers to purchase selected vehicles at a dealer-set online e-price.

"It is important to be involved in multiple channels on the Internet," said William J. Lovejoy, GM group vice president, North America Vehicle Sales, Service and Marketing. "Research also tells us that there is opportunity in the marketplace for manufacturer Web sites, dealer Web sites and a presence in independent, all-makes-and-models spaces. The results of this test will help us and our dealers refine our e-retailing business (knowledge)."

"We believe that this is an innovation that can change all existing online automotive commerce business models -- with online buying services, manufacturers and dealers working together -- improving on the benefits of the referral model and providing the template for the future," said Mark Lorimer, President and CEO of Autobytel.com.

Autobytel.com also will provide GM dealers with dealer training, Internet-based customer relationship management applications and other technologies for the 90-day test. Financial arrangements were not disclosed.

"Working with Autobytel.com on this test helps us gain insight into the independent e-commerce space where customers have a 3-to-1 preference for all makes and model sites," said Mark T. Hogan, GM group vice president and president, e-GM. "We need to be everywhere our customers are."