Third-party lead providers are expecting a big year in 2004.
At the least it certainly will be busy for some of them. Many of the companies enter 2004 with significantly increased funding. They plan to use that money to develop stronger products and step up marketing.
Dealix Corp., once considered by many to be a smaller player, was the object of acquisition talks during the last couple of years. It looked ripe for takeover. But 2003 proved to be a strong year in which the company formed key partnerships and solidified its reputation by faring strong in several surveys of lead generator-type companies. Dealix could be a force to reckon with in 2004.
In August, it signed a deal with AutoTrader.com in which its Lead Trading Platform will power AutoTrader.com's new-car buying service. The deal allows OEMs to connect with visitors to the AutoTrader.com web site.
The company also inked partnerships with automotive manufacturers Saturn and Volkswagen to provide leads to their dealers. The momentum from 2003 likely will continue for Dealix, as it plans several big announcements in the next few months.
Autobytel Inc., meanwhile has some bragging of its own to do. With a stock price that was hovering around the $1 mark 18 months ago and in danger of being delisted, the company rebounded. Its stock has climbed to $11 per share.
The company also signed several deals with auto makers late in 2003. Its Automotive Information Center (AIC) is powering the cross-comparison shopping features on both Ford Motor Co.'s Ford and Lincoln Mercury Div. web sites.
Mitsubishi dealers are using Autobytel's lead management tool, Web Control. Autobytel obtained that when the firm acquired Applied Virtual Vision last year.
Autobytel CEO Jeff Scwhartz is on the lookout for further acquisition targets as the company seeks to become a full-service marketing company for dealers. That means it needs to either develop or purchase a desking tool. It's the only piece of the puzzle that is missing, Schwartz tells Ward's.
He'd also like to acquire another lead provider or two, to limit competition, allowing the company to increase the price it charges for leads.
The company does have some money to play with, so look for it to stay active this year.
Cars.com, although quiet for most of 2003, started rustling at the end. In late 2003, it formed a partnership with Kelly Blue Book. Cars.com becomes the sole provider of used-car listings on Kelley Blue Book's (kbb.com) Blue Book Classifieds and Buy Used channels.
As part of the multi-year agreement, Kelley Blue Book will become the exclusive provider of used-vehicle value information on Cars.com and its co-branded affiliate sites.
Cars.com has also introduced a newly web site design that's more consumer friendly than before.
There may be some other big deals in the works. General Manager Mitch Golub says he wants to get Cars.com in front of as many consumers as possible.
AutoTrader.com may have some significant partnership announcements as early as the first quarter. A major site redesign is planned for later in the year.