Buy a New GM Car Online?

General Motors has just announced that it is teaming up with eBay in an experiment to sell vehicles online. The “promotion” enables consumers to “click and buy” new cars, crossovers and trucks online, from participating Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Pontiac dealers, at what GM characterizes as “outstanding values.” Since it is a promotion and an experiment, the new car-shopping Web site will be available to consumers only through September 8.

For those weary of white-belted car salesmen, the new effort may be Nirvana. No worry here about what salesman you may get: Consumers will be able to browse the inventory of hundreds of California dealers, ask questions, negotiate prices and arrange financing and payment to purchase new 2008, 2009 or some early 2010 cars, crossovers or trucks -- all online. Since more than 225 GM dealers in California are participating, shoppers can expect to see a wide selection of up to 20,000 new GM vehicles of competitive prices at any given time. What consumers won’t be able to do is buy vehicles directly from General Motors, due to state franchise laws that protect auto dealers.

If you’re an eBay shopper, you’ll be at home in the new section of the site. Vehicles will be offered through eBay Motors' traditional formats, such as Buy It Now (where shoppers agree to pay the advertised price) and eBay's innovative Best Offer (where buyers indicate the price they are willing to pay and can negotiate online with the dealer for the vehicle). So you can still negotiate to buy your next vehicle; you just don’t have to do it in the dank, airless, fluorescently lit backroom you had to endure in the dealership. And with one click of the mouse, you are “out of there.”

The new site incorporates features that will allow consumers to compare pricing across models or participating dealerships, get tips and advice with a Buyer Checklist and determine the value of their trade-in or whether their current vehicle may also qualify for government-funded Cash for Clunkers incentives, which will expire about the same time the program does.

"Together with eBay Motors, GM and our dealers are reinventing the car-buying experience for our California customers," says Mark LaNeve, newly appointed GM vice president of U.S. sales. "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."

As the new program implies, the Internet is becoming the new dealer showroom and playing an increasingly important role in auto selection and purchase. A recent J.D. Power & Associates study notes that more than 75 percent of new-vehicle buyers in 2008 used the Web during their shopping and research process. If it works in the Golden State, you can expect GM and eBay to roll it out nationwide in the months to come.