Autobytel To Launch Australian E-Commerce Venture

Online auto vendor Autobytel (Nasdaq: ABTL) announced today that it is forming a new venture to sell cars in Australia with a variety of well-known auto industry partners.

The Irvine, California-based company said it will take a 30 percent stake in Autobytel Australia, which is expected to launch by mid-year. Partners include St. George Bank; the Trading Post, one of Australia’s largest used car marketplaces; Astre Automotive, a large vehicle importer and distributor; and the Royal Automotive Club of Australia, which provides roadside assistance and other auto-related services for 1.3 million members.

Autobytel’s Australian launch is part of a global push by the Internet auto retailer. The company formed a European subsidiary last month and announced plans for launches in Finland, Denmark, Norway, Holland and Belgium later this year. It currently has operations in the UK, Canada, Sweden and Japan.

Model Evolving from Quotes to Direct Sales

In addition to expanding its markets around the globe, Autobytel is also expanding its service offerings. The company pioneered the dealer referral network that has become the staple of online auto retailing.

Autobytel says it now has over 3,000 dealers in its network and claims that 50,000 vehicles are sold through that network every month. Autobytel customers are given online price quotes from nearby dealerships. Sales are closed at the dealerships.

Online Inventory

However, faced with increasing competition from the likes of CarsDirect.com and others, Autobytel has seen that online consumers are looking for more than just a referral to a brick-and-mortar dealer.

The company rolled out Autobytel Direct last month, with a pre-priced online inventory of thousands of new cars. The service includes trade-in options, financing and insurance and home delivery.

Autobytel says its new service differs from others that claim to make direct sales because they have an online inventory that others do not have. Their competitors scramble to find a car from a dealer and get a good price, while they offer pre-priced models, the company claims.

Despite the numbers of vehicle referrals it makes, Autobytel lost $4.9 million (US$) last quarter on sales of $12.4 million and $19.4 million for the year on sales of $40 million.

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