The party is definitely over for the dot-coms.
Some are starting to squirm under pressure from the news media and investors. Firms that fail to pass legal muster with tough state regulators or remain in the red are attracting little interest.
Only a few very small players are seeing black ink and their volume is not enough to get much media attention. InvoiceDealers.com of Palo Alto, Calif., for example, says it has been profitable since last June. But with annual revenues of just $1 million, its volume is just a fraction of larger counterparts such as Microsoft Inc.-owned CarPoint, of Redmond, Wash., and Autobytel.com, of Irvine, Calif.
Buying services such as Autobytel.com are under fire because they are still in the red. Autobytel.com CEO Mark Lorimer spent most of his press conference Saturday rebutting a report by NADA predicting the death of third-party buying services.
"NADA is a fantastic trade organization with a long and very glorious history of protecting its members, but it is saying that dealers should run their own Web sites without any third-party assistance," Lorimer said. "This amounts to a bizarre disservice to dealers."
Autobytel.com's press conference — which used to draw crowds — was sparsely attended this year. But a panel discussion led by consulting firm Gomez Inc. on the dot-com shakeout Sunday had no trouble attracting a room full of reporters.
The discussion included representatives from online broker CarsDirect.com and Greenlight.com, which CarsDirect.com acquired last week, FordDirect.com, CarPoint.com, and AutoNation Inc.
All five panelists defended third-party buying services, saying that consumers want vehicle information from independent sources, not just dealers and manufacturers.
Three companies in particular are feeling the heat from the media — FordDirect.com, CarsDirect.com and Greenlight.com. CarsDirect.com refused to answer questions on when it might be profitable and FordDirect.com refused to comment on legal issues that could sink its Web site.