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Ford and Mercedes in online bid for buyers

Ford has upset its dealers by not informing them of a plan to launch an online car sales website at next month's Birmingham motor show.

The site will enable customers to cut around 10% off list prices by buying direct from the carmaker rather than placing an order through the dealer network.

The move is certain to further anger Ford dealers, who are already highly critical of the company's pricing policy. They say the current cashback offer is not attracting customers to the showroom.

Dealers met Ford of Britain chairman Ian McAllister in Edinburgh earlier this month to discuss the issue of dealer profitability. The launch of the website was not on the agenda and retailers have not yet been told of the plans.

At launch, the new service will allow customers to order stock vehicles and cars which are currently in build. It will be extended to include unbuilt cars, which can be individually specified, some time next year.

Unlike the similar service from Vauxhall, the Ford website will not refer the customer on to the nearest dealership. The order will be placed directly with Ford and the dealer role will be reduced to delivery and aftersales.

All models in the Ford range, except cars which are currently built to order, will be available at discounted prices. Vauxhall created a specific dotcom range, which was not available through the dealer network, for its online operations.

Ford has been testing an online sales service in Finland for the past year. At the time of its launch, Mr McAllister said he expected to see a similar service in the UK in “12 to 18 months”. A Ford spokesman said the company was “continuing to review its e-commerce options”.

DaimlerChrysler is also close to launching online car sales in the UK following the unveiling of an internet operation in Germany. Customers can choose the colour and specification of the Mercedes they want before placing an order.

The order is referred to a local dealer within 24 hours and the company said it can deliver within one week.

A Mercedes Benz spokeswoman said the UK would be able to offer a similar service for stock vehicles “later this year”.

Plans to introduce the full “specify and order” service were also being considered.

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