Dealers at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in Las Vegas this week are witnessing the dot-com version of 'Survivor.'
Adding to the drama was last week's news that third-party buying service CarsDirect.com of Culver City, Calif., is acquiring rival Greenlight.com of Livermore, Calif., in an undisclosed cash-and-stock deal.
Once the acquisition is completed this month or next, many of Greenlight.com's 75 employees - including CEO Joel Manby - will be out of jobs.
CarsDirect.com expects site traffic to increase 20 percent to 25 percent from 1.8 million users a month, CEO Bob Brisco said. Among the assets are Greenlight.com's links to Amazon.com and AutoTrader.com, two heavily visited sites.
The deal forced Greenlight.com to pull plans to staff a booth at this year's NADA convention. Though CarsDirect.com did not step in to take Greenlight.com's place, Brisco promised 'we'll be in deep discussions' with dealers in Las Vegas.
Still, Greenlight.com's absence is one more sign of the uncertain future facing many automotive Web sites.
Other signs are apparent at the convention: Twenty-five dot-coms are exhibiting vs. 29 at last year's convention in Orlando. Of the 25, nine are new. Until it backed out, Greenlight. com would have been the only new car-buying service exhibiting this year. Also, two companies that were there last year have different names.
Some of the returning companies have much lower profiles. Cars.com, a Chicago-based buying service, last year used promotional blimps at dealerships around Orlando to advertise itself. Not this year.
But one company - Stoneage.com of Troy, Mich. - flaunted its survivor status by throwing a 'Survive & Thrive' party. Billed as a way to celebrate five years in business and several months of profitability, Stoneage.com's party included two stars from the original 'Survivor' TV show.
Said Stoneage.com COO Bud LaCombe, 'We're not concerned about going out of business.'