From a laptop computer in southern Oregon, Bob Yoshida is exploring the new dimension of selling cars worldwide on the Internet.
Local access to the Internet, a worldwide computer network, came to southern Oregon only at the end of December. In April, Yoshida persuaded the company he works for, Lithia Auto Centers, to put a home page for AutoExpress on the World Wide Web to see if it would attract Internet ''surfers.''
But despite access to millions of people on the Internet, business has not been as bright as the red Dodge Viper sports car in one of Lithia's dealerships. Still, there's enough action to keep Yoshida interested.
He sold a minivan to a US serviceman coming home from duty in Germany and had inquiries from a broker in Switzerland about the Viper. Every day he gets more e-mail.
''I get probably three or four inquiries a day,'' Yoshida says. ''Granted, some of these people are junior high school kids who want to know about the Viper.... Or it might be a guy in the heat of negotiations and he wants to check his price.''
Will AutoExpress become a major part of Lithia's overall business?
''I don't think so,'' says Yoshida, who says there has to be some personal contact between the customer and salesperson for a deal to be made.
People coming to him seem to love computers and hate high-pressure sales tactics.
Brian Crow, a regional sales representative for an educational software company who is considering buying a Mazda MX-3 from Yoshida, says, ''It was a convenient mode of finding the best price available. Right now I can order flowers and order underwear over the Internet. Why not a car?''
A much bigger venture than AutoExpress is DealerNet, the Virtual Showroom, set up under Dealer Internet Services Corp. (DISC) by Nissan-Volvo dealer Martin Rood of Lynnwood, Wash. DealerNet has signed up 33 dealers in the US offering 400 different car models, business development manager Peter Wilson says.
Where Yoshida is trying to pull in customers from around the world by offering a low price, DealerNet seeks to link a car buyer with a dealer nearby for what ultimately becomes a face-to-face deal.
On-line selling gives the buyer more power, Mr. Wilson says.