Autobytel Europe, the European branch of the American online car seller, is resuming its activities after a new injection of capital.
'We have found new financial partners, and they will allow us to develop new initiatives in various European markets,' said Managing Director Dries van der Vossen.
Autobytel Europe does not offer direct online sales but acts as an intermediary between dealers and customers. The company was set up in the Netherlands in 2000 and is currently active in only two other countries: the UK and Sweden. Autobytel's three European portals have yet to turn a profit, and it was forced to suspend operations in the region in June 2001.
'Our new financial partners are our parent company in the USA and Pon Holdings of the Netherlands,' said van der Vossen.
Pon Holdings handles national distribution for Volkswagen, Audi, Seat, Skoda and Porsche. It is also the exclusive Dutch distributor for MAN commercial vehicles and Continental tires.
Germany has priority
Van der Vossen would not say how much equity Pon Holdings holds in Autobytel Europe. But sources say Pon Holdings owns 51 percent and Autobytel Corp. in the USA holds 49 percent.
The German market has priority for Autobytel Europe, said van der Vossen.
'We are talking with some interested partners from the automotive world [about launching activities in Germany],' he said. 'But we have not concluded any talks yet. And we will probably sell the Autobytel license in combination with two of our business modules, inter-dealer remarketing and used car sales.'
In Sweden, 90 percent of all Autobytel-generated transactions are for used cars. In the Netherlands, it is an even split between new cars and used cars.
Van der Vossen is optimistic about Autobytel's future in Europe.
'After the early Internet hype, many smaller or under-financed portals dropped out,' he said. 'But we do see a steady growth, if not as spectacular as we expected when we began.'
Block exemption breakthrough
Autobytel's Netherlands portal had almost 1 million visitors last year. Out of that total, 10,000 people made direct contact with dealers, which resulted in 4,500 sales.
'For 2002, we expect to double the number of visitors, but quadruple the number of sales,' said van der Vossen.
'The real breakthrough for us may come after new European car distribution rules become effective in October. For this reason, I expect our Netherlands portal to at least break even in 2004.
'In the meantime. we are working to improve our level of service, including the reaction time from our dealer partners.'
Last year, it took Dutch Autobytel dealers an average of 90 hours to get in contact with potential new or used car buyers.
'We have reduced that to 29 hours and our goal is 24 hours,' said van der Vossen.
He added: 'Since the end of last year, Autobytel's US operations have been at break-even and a first profit is forecast for the third quarter.'