Kevin Gaskell, CarsDirect.com chief executive Europe and former BMW GB boss, revealed the business would offer test cars at 14 UK locations, though not at launch which will be before October's Birmingham motor show.
Virgin Cars, operating online and from a call centre since May, will introduce a test drive programme from July 24. It will be in partnership with Europcar, Volkswagen's rental subsidiary, which has a UK fleet of 18,000 cars covering the 22 brands offered by Virgin.
The test drive initiatives pose a fresh threat to dealers who have to pay overheads on high-profile premises. Virgin will charge from £39 for a mid-week day's test and from £78 for a weekend drive. The cost will be reimbursed if the car is bought.
Ian Lancaster, Virgin Cars chief executive, said: “This is the final piece in our service. People can browse through the brands online, arrange a part-exchange and finance, and then a test drive.”
Outlining CarsDirect's plans, Mr Gaskell said partnerships with other companies would be announced in the autumn. The company would invest “a lot more” than Virgin's initial £4m in its European venture and cars would be provided by “both dealers and manufacturers”.
He said: “Some carmakers own parts of their retail networks, and recognise the value of new routes to market. “We will hold valuable information on retail buyers' preferences to help them supply cars within 10 days of an order.
“Manufacturers will supply from their own websites and the internet is providing an industry 'greenfield site' for car sales. “If people want a test drive when we launch, they can go to a franchised dealer. That is not unfair because manufacturers pay for demonstrators. “If manufacturers do not like that, let them supply me directly - I am talking to a number about that.”.