D.C. pilot is lab for GM dealer relations

The Internet pilot General Motors launched May 1 in Washington, D.C., with online referral service Autobytel Inc. is more than just an experiment in technology. And the test represents more than a joint venture with .

In this pilot where GM is fashioning a new model for online sales, the company is working hand-in-hand with the 22 Chevrolet dealers. Even GM executives admit this close partnership is a departure from the way GM has done things in the past.

"This is not a situation where we run a test, package the results and tell the dealers what happened," said Mike Devereux, director of business development for e-GM. "There are three dealers who work with us every week on executing this thing. It is a joint effort in execution, not just decision-making."

The pilot was designed to boost sales using a locate-to-order system that allows customers to order cars directly from dealer inventory posted online. In the program's first three months, dealers closed one in four prospects, a high close rate for a Web site. But sales still represented just 1.6 percent of Chevrolet's Washington business.

The test, originally meant to be 90 days, has been extended twice to allow GM to study the results with its dealers and to give dealers time to help the company decide where to take the experimental Internet sales model. The collaborative decision is expected in mid October.

The Washington pilot is more evidence of the strides GM is making to work with dealers instead of trying to compete with them for retail business.

In other retail news:

  • AutoNation Inc., the nation's largest auto retailer, will introduce the "Courtesy" local brand to 11 Orlando-area new-car dealerships and eight stand-alone collision centers in a marketing campaign scheduled to begin Dec. 26. A similar brand concept, introd uced in other markets, is intended to promote a regional brand strategy and unity among AutoNation dealers in given markets.

    Staff Reporter Donna Harris can be reached at or 540-668-7295.

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