If you are buying a novel, you do not need to compare several copies of the same work, unlike car buying, whether it be new or used. According to internet-based car sales company Autobytel, 59% of people questioned in its second UK online buying report cited not being able to drive a car offered on the internet as a deterrent, although only 19% labelled the lack of face-to-face contact with a dealer as a disincentive.
The RAC Report on Motoring 2000 found that only 6% of car buyers use the internet in the car buying process. Despite this, Autobytel expects that 440,000 people will use the internet to help them make car purchases - either new or used - within five years. Transferring the growing presence of internet services into real business will take time. However, there is no doubt that success is around the corner for some if they can bring the fleet industry on board.
Vehicle disposal is a key target for many on-line companies. For example, Manheim Auctions in America sold more than £371 million worth of vehicles through its on-line operation last year, about 5% of its business, up from under £60 million two years ago. In the UK, Manheim's website this year launched Powersearch, which allows buyers to search for vehicles at its 18 locations without leafing through catalogues.
Manheim's policy is to use the internet as a complement to disposal through auction, rather than look to replace its traditional auction site business. British Car Auctions is also pushing forward with e-business schemes with a redesigned website, launched last month, offering two new services aimed at personalising e-business.
Automotive industry websites can be accessed via Fleet NewsNet's Buyers' Guide.