“I spent many years building glass palaces for car manufacturers,” says the head of Clive Sutton Premier Marques in St John’s Wood, north-west London.
“Many carmakers have to push car sales, and consumers are becoming frustrated by the complexity of researching via the internet.
Autobay lets consumers ‘build’ the car they want on our website. The details are sent by email or text message to our linked dealers, and it is up to them to offer that model and specification at their best price.”
Forty franchised retailers representing six brands – including at least one in the ChryslerJeep network – have signed up with Autobay, but none has yet sold a car.
Sutton says the system took more than a year to develop and will take time to become effective, but some dealers wanted to be involved prior to the launch.
Autobay makes no charge until a buyer pays a £200 deposit to secure a car, and the dealer selling it agrees to deduct that much on the final invoice. The buyer chooses what they regard as the best offer, though not necessarily the cheapest. The car is delivered to the buyer at the dealer’s expense.
“In effect it’s free for the buyer, and the dealer pays only £200 for a committed sale,” says Sutton. “Through selling optional extras, the dealer can recover the £200 as well.”
Sutton says he will not invest heavily in a marketing programme to make Autobay known to retail buyers, as Autobytel (now owned by the Inchcape Group) did. Autobay will rely mainly on a network of links to the website.
“I think this is the right moment to introduce Autobay,” says Sutton. “The chief executive of a large dealer group is interested and wants to see how it works out. By March, I hope to have 500 dealers, and then Autobay can work effectively.”
Autobay has a notional value of £500,000 through a £50,000 investment for a 10% share by Brian Muirhead.
Muirhead was deputy managing director and chief financial officer of the Whichford dealer group in the late Nineties. He was chief financial officer at Trader Media Group from 2001-2004, and held a corresponding position until recently at MFI Retail.