DETROIT - General Motors will launch two pilot Internet programs this fall that will test whether the automaker is on the right track with electronic commerce.
One pilot will allow customers to buy vehicles online. The other will let them send custom orders straight to an assembly plant.
Key to the two programs is e-GM, GM's year-old e-commerce division.
The pilot programs will test e-GM's ability to make the Internet an integral part of the way GM builds, markets and sells vehicles. e-GM also must convince dealers GM does not plan to use the Internet to sell directly to customers and bypass dealers altogether.
'We think e-GM is important to get everyone out of their comfort zone in this company and change the culture,' said e-GM President Mark Hogan.
Hogan said e-GM's 'e-dealer' pilot will link GM's main consumer Web site, GM BuyPower, to GM dealers in a to-be-identified metropolitan market. It will allow consumers to buy vehicles from a GM dealer completely online.
Currently, a customer can use BuyPower to search a dealer's inventory, but he has to go to the dealership to buy a vehicle.
'We think we'll have to run a number of (e-dealer) pilots to make sure we've got it right,' Hogan said.
The other pilot, being led by GM's purchasing group, will link e-GM's BuyPower to one or more of GM's vehicle assembly plants. It will allow consumers to place a custom vehicle order directly to the plant.
Hogan would not say what vehicles would be sold through the order-to-delivery pilot, only that they will be 'bread-and-butter' vehicles. GM will release more information on the order-to-delivery project in September, he said.
e-GM has been paving the way for both pilots by attracting more visitors to the BuyPower site. BuyPower has more than 1 million visitors per month.
e-GM continues to push that number up through new alliances and Web promotions and events. This year e-GM cut deals that link BuyPower directly to Internet providers America Online Inc. and NetZero Inc., and consumer information sites run by Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds.com Inc.
Last week Hogan announced two deals linking BuyPower to two niche market sites: ClubMom.com, which targets mothers; and Col_legeClub.com for college students.
e-GM also has sponsored Web events that link to BuyPower, such as live Web coverage of Detroit's North American International Auto Show in January, which drew 2.8 million visitors; and France's 24 Hours of Le Mans car race in June. On Aug. 19, e-GM will host a live Web broadcast of Detroit's annual Woodward Dream Cruise, a popular classic car event.
'The bottom line is, we want to drive more vehicle sales for GM,' Hogan said.
Based on a statistical sampling of people who bought GM vehicles between March 1999 and March 2000, e-GM estimates 12 percent to 21 percent of GM buyers were influenced by BuyPower. During the same period, e-GM estimates BuyPower is responsible for about 20,000 conquest sales, about 0.4 percent of GM's annual sales.
In June and July, GM held its largest online incentive program called GM Ticket to Ride. Hogan said GM sold about 32,000 vehicles by giving away $500 and $750 savings certificates - worth more than $16 million - for select new vehicles through the Ticket to Ride Web site, which is linked to BuyPower.
'This is the largest Internet-based sales promotion of any kind for any company,' Hogan said. 'We're pretty pleased with the results. We think we can make some adjustments and make it even more effective.'