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7.7.10 could spell the end of the car dealership as we know it. Ford is to become the first vehicle manufacturer to sell its cars over the internet.

Experts say the move by Britain's biggest car seller will trigger a stampede of similar initiatives from rival companies.

Ford's own research has revealed that, in an age when consumers are happy to buy clothes, holidays and washing machines online, nearly four in ten buyers now want to buy their next car on the internet.

Even if it means not taking a test drive.

2008 Ford Shelby Mustang GT500 KR

Fifty dealers wholly-owned by Ford will begin selling new and used cars – as well as commercial vehicles – over the internet tomorrow.

Every Ford model – including the Ka, Focus, Mondeo and Galaxy people-carrier – will be available and consumers will be able to purchase their new car by email. Alternatively, buyers can contact a new call-centre to make the order.

The motorist's new car will be delivered by to one of 12 regional delivery centres, where customers will inspect the goods, sign a final document and drive away.

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"Consumers are now ready to fully use the internet in the car industry," said Steve Hood, managing director of

"In the past, many customers have used the internet for gathering information and then visited dealerships for advice and test drives.

"Whilst many customers still continue to do this, we are now witnessing a significant proportion of internet customers that both know the car they want and are prepared to buy it direct if the internet retailer is credible.

"It shows that consumers are now ready to fully use the internet in the car industry."

The car giant says that 550 independent Ford dealers will carry on selling the firm's cars as usual, to cater for the six in 10 consumers still demanding a traditional 'hands-on' road test.

The list prices offered to online buyers will be the same as those available in showrooms. Just as buyers using the traditional route often haggle for a lower price, internet customers will be able to do the same online.

"This is an important turning point; other manufacturers will have to find similarly innovative ways to compete," said Dr Peter Wells, of the Centre for Automotive Industry Research, Cardiff.

"Operationally it makes sense to hold stock centrally and get it out to the consumer but this does risk losing some contact with the customer. There is still a future for the dealer, even if they are finding it tough at the moment."

Ford decided to launch its internet sales operation after its own research revealed that motorists wanted to save time by not visiting dealerships.

More than one in 10 of those questioned said they found visiting a dealer 'stressful', while more than two in 10 were intimidated by feeling obliged to haggle.

Ford found that most motorists seeking to buy online were looking to spend between £10,000 – £20,000 and wanted a 'hassle free' process.

Of those interviewed 59 per cent already bought books, music and DVDs online, 55 per cent bought insurance online and 52 per cent used the internet to buy holidays.

Not all manufacturers are prepared to move to online retailing, however.

A spokesman for premium brand Audi, said: "We would not do it because people like to sit in the cars and touch them. And the dealer is there to help with the decision-making process.

"There is also too much variation in what we offer to do it online."

Last year Ford sold 372,000 new cars and vans in the UK, taking the largest share – 16.7% – of the total market.




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