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Restart for Autobytel as prices go on screen

Autobytel UK is terminating the contracts of all dealers in its network as a prelude to big changes. Exclusive territories are expected to be scrapped because of pressure from carmakers.

Prices are to be posted on the website as the Inchcape subsidiary reshapes to meet the challenge from newcomers such as Virgin Cars and Jamjar.com, the Direct Line/Dixon Motors operation.

Dealers were called to three meetings where Autobytel executives outlined the shake-up. One who contacted Automotive Management said: “New car prices will be on the internet, so the transaction will not be controlled by the dealers. We also expect to lose our exclusive territories.

“I believe we will make less money and that Inchcape dealers will be given priority. There was a lot of cynicism among dealers at the meeting and we expect Autobytel to go direct.

“We have invested a substantial sum of money into this and we are looking for some form of compensation. ABT needs dealers but only to supply the car. We feel we are being treated shabbily.”

Kevin Turnbull, Autobytel UK chief executive, said the company had sold 6,000 new and used cars, and 15 months after launch it was time to evaluate methods.

“The meetings were to explain changes to the used car programme as a response to what dealers want,” he said. “The contract termination is a formality because we are changing from a flat fee to a performance-related system. Most of the dealers at the meetings welcomed the changes.

“We are looking closely at changes to the new car operation which should be in time for the Birmingham motor show. Consumers want prices on the website - Virgin and Jamjar are doing that - and we think this will help us to deliver better. All cars will be sourced in the UK.”

Asked whether Autobytel planned to sell direct to retail buyers, Mr Turnbull said: “Everyone must sell through dealers at the moment. Who knows what will happen tomorrow? The industry is going through a challenging time. We are hard nosed business people.”

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