With eBay partnership, GM lurches into the Internet age

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    A file photo of North County Jeep dealership in Escondido, Calif. Chrysler and General Motors Corp have faced pressure to cut struggling dealerships to bring their large sales networks in line with those run by more successful automakers.
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Not in the mood to haul yourself to the local car dealership, and haggle over option packages and paint schemes? Have we got a deal for you. (Hurry, hurry, hurry! One time only! Well, sort of.) Starting tomorrow, residents of California will be able to click through specially-branded pages such as gm.ebay.com and chevy.ebay.com – and purchase a new whip without ever climbing out of the Barcalounger. The deal runs from August 11 through September 8, and includes a wide range of California Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Pontiac vehicles.

And thus did the ailing, flailing automobile industry lurch into the Internet age.

According to Mark LaNeve, GM vice president of US sales, the company's new partnership with eBay, the online auction house, is designed to appeal to a new generation of consumers. "Together with eBay Motors, GM and our dealers are reinventing the car-buying experience for our California customers," LaNeve said in a statement. "As the dealer showroom expands from the parking lot to the laptop, this makes it easier for a customer to browse available new-car inventory, make an offer, buy it now, or send a message asking for more information from a dealer – all at the customer's convenience."

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The new initiative reportedly includes 225 GM dealers in California, and a range of 2008, 2009, and 2010 cars and trucks – some 20,000 vehicles in all. Users will be able to purchase vehicles through the "Buy It Now" option – where shoppers agree to pay the advertised price – and eBay's "Best Offer" option, where buyers cite the amount they are willing to pay and then negotiate with the dealer for the vehicle, the GM statement says.

"Through this program, we are helping GM dealers to extend their physical showroom while at the same time delivering to our buyers the great deals and broad selection they expect from eBay," says Rob Chesney, vice president of eBay Motors. The partnership comes at a crucial time for GM, which has struggled to stay afloat in a turbulent economy. If the company can attract consumers through eBay, it could take provide a workable replacement for traditional dealerships, which have closed in droves in recent months.

As Monitor reporter Ron Scherer wrote in July, eBay has been listing cars for sale for a decade on its website. eBay Motors includes upwards of 30,000 franchise and independent dealers, including many GM dealers. Last year, in fact, eBay announced it had sold more than 3 million vehicles on its site. "Will Americans be willing to buy a new car without kicking the tires?" Scherer asked. "They certainly seem enthusiastic about buying used cars on the Internet."

As is often the case, the blog The Consumerist has the most pithy – and entertaining – take on the new plan. "GM just realized that the downstairs hall closet is a [mess]," Meg Marco wrote today. "Mom went down there and saw all these, like, Pontiacs and stuff in there and now everyone is in trouble for letting it get this bad. The solution? An eBay store!"

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