CarsDirect Signs Some AAA Clubs

Online car buying service scored a coup of sorts Wednesday, announcing its selection as the official online car buying service for four of the leading American Automobile Association clubs in the United States.

The news was something of a bright spot in what otherwise is a down market, automotively speaking. You know the auto business in general isn’t doing well when you see the major automakers offering zero percent interest deals.

General Motors, Ford and the Chrysler side of DaimlerChrysler all announced cheap loan deals for new vehicles last month as a way to boost business following the events of Sept. 11. Some foreign automakers, including Toyota, have since added similar deals.

Los Angeles-based CarsDirect, a privately held company that acquired last February, has a bit of a leg up since it is the preferred partner of It claims to have 3,000 dealers in its network.

Today’s AAA deals are with auto clubs serving the metropolitan New York area; Northern California, Nevada and Utah; Michigan; and central and western Washington state.

The clubs’ combined 9.5 million members can now conduct research and order vehicles from in connection with a visit to the AAA site at

After logging on, members of the four AAA clubs simply enter their zip code and are then forwarded to their club’s Web site. By clicking on the new car buying option on the club’s Web site, shoppers have access to’s research center tools and can search for a vehicle by manufacturer, price range and type. Once a vehicle and factory options have been selected, displays its no-haggle, upfront price for that car, with sample monthly loan and lease payments based on typical financing terms.

Meanwhile, the low interest rate promotions may be helping sales overall. George Pipas, industry sales analyst for Ford, was recently quoted as saying that sales of cars and light trucks were running at their strongest pace so far this year, and could easily hit an 18 million rate in October if no further economic shocks hit the country.

Most of the online auto sales and research operations are privately held, so reliable financial data about their operations is hard to come by. One exception is Irvine, Calif.-based Autobytel Inc., which closed Tuesday at 82 cents a share and, like a lot of dot coms, has never made any money. For the first six months of this year, the company lost $40.7 million.

Still it remains optimistic and recently said that its various Web sites reached more than 3.5 million unique visitors in August, according to Jupiter Media Metrix, more visitors than any other car-buying and ownership site on the Web.

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