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Where to surf through cyberspace for the car of your dreams

By Marc Stengel

SEPTEMBER 7, 1999:  As the Internet universe continues to expand, you could say that the daily proliferation of auto-related Web sites has become a veritable Milky Way for the cyber-browser. From among the seemingly infinite number of www-constellations out there devoted to automotive matters, the following portfolio showcases a half-dozen sites that exploit the new and growing power of the Web to transform fantasy into reality.

Now, for example, it's not only possible to shop nationally for the car of your dreams; you can also secure direct financing for your purchase before you shop. But keep your eyes on the road. This is the big time, and if you can count on any one thing, it's that the race is only just beginning as contenders like AutoNation, Microsoft, Wells Fargo, and CBS start jockeying for a winning position.

So log on for a ride into the future--which just happens to be available at a Web browser near you--today.

GiggoCar http://www.giggocar.com

Here's a tip: Stash this Web site in your personal time capsule and put today's date on it. That way, you'll know exactly when you first witnessed the future of auto retailing over the Internet. It's unlikely you've ever encountered anything like GiggoCar, which is a direct-to-customer purveyor of auto financing. The company is backed by DaimlerChrysler, but it's entirely independent of the D/C dealer network. In other words, GiggoCar will rate your credit online, approve you for a competitive-rate loan (plus an allowance for options), then provide you with a works-like-cash voucher that's good at any dealer for any new car. Because you're cutting out the dealer's F&I guy (i.e., the finance & insurance dept.), you're theoretically getting a better deal--or so GiggoCar claims. It's always a matter of borrower-beware with the arrival of revolutionary new services like GiggoCar, so proceed slowly and with caution. But if the growing irritation of car dealers about losing another sneaky way to pad their profits is any measure, GiggoCar must be on to something...big!

CarsDirect http://www.carsdirect.com

As much as it pays to urge caution regarding any Web site that's capable of taking your money, I think you'll find that the CarsDirect site will absolutely bowl you over. It's one of the newest players in the Internet auto retail game, and a large investment by techno-tycoon Michael Dell gives CarsDirect plenty of horsepower. Like many other similar sites, you can search for your car, finance it, and arrange to pick it up. Here, though, you get a super-friendly interface that compares lease vs. purchase options; you can shop for and lock in specific prices; and you can even make sure that you never have to talk with a dealer at any time during your quest for the perfect car deal. CarsDirect is determined to become the Amazon.com of the auto trade, but mark these words: Someday, Amazon.com may well be regarded as the CarsDirect of the book-selling world.

DriveOff http://www.driveoff.com/html/automotive network.html

The brand-new DriveOff site takes a slightly different approach to Internet auto sales by "networking" several existing sites into a comprehensive shopping resource for car buyers. DriveOff, with a fresh funds infusion from the Wells Fargo & Co. banking interest, combines the power of CBS.CarWizard, LeaseSource, and Colorado Wheels. More "associates" are sure to join the network, which promises visitors that they can "log on, DriveOff" with the perfect car and financing deal. Honestly, the site isn't yet as elegant and browser-friendly as CarsDirect; but there are nice features, such as an auto review library, real-time price and payment info, and information about the residual prices and factors that influence lease deals. Here, too, you can compare leasing versus buying for the same auto of your dreams.

priceline.com http://auto.priceline.com/autos/spec/ChooseModel.asp

Although it is currently up and running only in the New York City and Tampa Bay areas, this is the "dot-com" deal that's got the auto world buzzing. Priceline.com has been around, of course. It's the site that's famous for letting you name your price for airline tickets and hotel reservations, which priceline.com then seeks to match. The AutoNation new- and used-car superstore chain is also famous, particularly for its giant national inventory and its dedication to no-haggle deal-making. But now mega-haggler and neva-haggler are wed, and their honeymoon promise is that car shoppers can now simply name the price they're willing to pay for a car, and this service will try to find it. Interestingly, AutoNation continues to support its own site, AutoNationDirect.com, and it also sustains its relationship with Microsoft's CarPoint. But if the priceline/AutoNation scheme takes root, you can bet there'll be seismic shifts rippling throughout our automotive nation.

IntelliChoice http://www.intellichoice.com

IntelliChoice, associated with the Internet vehicle broker Auto-by-Tel, is another interesting "shopper utility" for the car buyer. At its simplest level, IntelliChoice provides a fast, easy way to make simultaneous comparisons of sticker prices for up to four vehicles at a time. More comprehensive price reports for both new and used cars, which detail dealer costs and trade-in valuations, respectively, are available for a fee. The best aspect of IntelliChoice is its fast and easy access to general information. More annoying is the site's tendency to hold back certain helpful bits of information that you'd really like to know. "We'll tell ya," this site likes to tease, "but it's gonna cost."

Centraxx http://www.centraxx.com

OK--you've bought the car of your dreams, and you've parked it out in front of your crib for all the world to see. "Lucky you," is the single thought that you know is passing through all your neighbors' minds. And then, say, at 2 a.m., your shiny, new beauty disappears--stolen the very first day. Not to worry if you've installed the Centraxx Vehicle Tracking & Recovery System. Centraxx guarantees recovery of your car within six hours of its disappearance, or you'll receive a full refund of your $129.95 purchase price. The Centraxx Web site details the simple installation and small monthly service fee of $4.95 that are required to activate service. It also promises to let you know when the service will be available in this area.

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