E-commerce for cars and related goodies - such as F&I services - is off and jumping. Not to be outdone as an Internet F&I marketer, Wells Fargo & Co. forged a deal which gives the San Francisco-based national bank a $25 million stake in a major Website developer and its new vehicle sales Web site.
Added to the mix is a new association of dealers through whom the site's offerings will be sold.
Taking a step beyond the pioneering Bank One link with CarsDirect.com, Wells Fargo teamed up with Denver-based Navidec, Inc, and its new DriveOff Web site for a purchase price of $10 million in stock and $15 million in a note convertible to stock.
On the receiving end of vehicle transactions arranged through DriveOff.com is the new Internet Auto Dealers Marketing Assn., also headquartered in Denver and headed by Rodney J. Couts, 40, former executive director of the National Vehicle Leasing Assn.
Charter members include six of the leading volume dealers in the U.S.
CarsDirect.com started in business last January as the Web site for Bank One, which began a pilot for vehicle and F&I sales in the New York-New Jersey market.
CarsDirect.com's vice-president of dealer and industry relations is Mark Miller, 42, who previously was chief operating officer and vice-president of his father Fred's eight-store dealership group centered in Van Nuys, CA.
Already operational in 50 states, CarsDirect.com had signed 1,100 dealers by Aug. 1 and "will concentrate on the top 50 markets as the first and foremost Internet sales developer, at dealerships, homes or offices," Mark Miller says.
Both CarsDirect and DriveOff take the vehicle sales on the Internet a step beyond the "lead generator" techniques of other Internet referral services.
That Bank One and Wells Fargo should latch on to the new sites attests to their conviction that the e- commerce process for arranging new and used-vehicle sales from shopping through delivery stages is full of promise and profits potential.
For its part, CarsDirect is relocating from temporary digs in Sherman Oaks, CA, to a permanent location down the busy Interstate 405 in Culver City, CA.
The site has 130 employees, of whom 45 to 50 are in the "sales" area, funneling shoppers through vehicle selection to the growing portfolio of exclusive-territory dealers geared to use Bank One payments, financing or leasing and other F&I products.
"I have spent 20 years in my dad's dealerships," says Mr. Miller, "and know the market as well as anyone in southern California. The opportunity for CarsDirect in particular and e-commerce in general is too good to pass up."
Participating dealers for both CarsDirect.com and DriveOff pay both sites fees based on sales volume, but there are no joining fees as charged by "lead generator" Web sites.
Another on-line vehicle buying service, Priceline.com, agreed to give AutoNation Inc. dealers priority rights on consumers' bids made on a "name your own price" basis.
The agreement is being rolled out in Florida's Tampa Bay & St. Petersburg markets, where AutoNation is piloting its own new Internet sales Web site.
Priceline, based in Stamford, CT, hired veteran auto analyst Maryann Keller to be president of its auto unit and direct expansion activities outside its introductory New York City market.
Noting that AutoNation at first built its 275-dealership meganetwork on a one-price/no-haggle basis, J.D. Power & Associates consultant director Chris DeNovo says that "Priceline is opposite that approach, and now AutoNation dealers will be bidding against each other for shoppers who want their own price."
Under the AutoNation/Priceline contract, consumers unable to find an AutoNation dealer willing to meet their bid will be referred to other dealers.
AutoNationDirect.com will continue to receive leads produced by other online vehicle-buying services, such as Microsoft's CarPoint.
The Priceline concept allows vehicle shoppers to determine both the price, an approximate monthly payment, model and color and the county in which they prefer to obtain delivery.
Priceline collects fees from dealers for whom deliveries are arranged, plus a $25 fee from buyers. A $200 "renege" fee is charged to shoppers' credit cards if shoppers balk after a deal is set up.
F&I services are furnished on sold orders through banks or credit companies, all on-line.
In another transaction involving an on-line player, dealer lead generator Autobytel.com Inc. purchased W.G. Nichols, the West Chester, PA-based publisher of the popular Chilton auto-repair manuals, for about $18 million in cash and stock.
Autobytel, based in Irvine, CA, reported a second-quarter net loss of $6 million, on revenues of $9.2 million, a possible impetus for its diversification move.
Lead generator sites, like Autobytel and CarPoint, are facing stiff competition from sales arrangers like Priceline, Bank One's CarsDirect, DaimlerChrysler's Giggo and DriveOff.