AOL Launches Revved-Up Auto Channel

America Online (NYSE: AOL) said Monday it has launched a revamped automobile channel that now includes local targeted resources, as well as content from online auto sites such as Autofusion, Consumer Reports and Edmunds.com.

As part of the content distribution deal, Consumer Reports — the well-known63-year old magazine that is published by the nonprofit testing organizationConsumers Union — will supply AOL with its top automotive selections, featurearticles, warranty comparisons, advice on safety features and information oncar electronics.

AOL members will also be able to purchase Consumer Reports’ premium studies on safety ratings and product specifications and guides to buying and selling cars.

Edmunds.com will provide AOL users with information on currentaverage transaction prices for vehicles in a particular market, as well aspersonalized car loan finance rates based on specific geographic areas. Edmunds.com will also supply product reviews on all automakes and models.

AOL’s agreement with e-commerce product and services providerAutofusion will allow prospective buyers to build, research and comparespecifications on individual car makes and models.

Financial details of the agreements were not specified. The new channel, which AOLsaid builds on previous versions, will be available on its flagshipservice and its other interactive brands, including Netscape and CompuServe.

Local Flavor

In addition to including the new automotive-related content and data, AOLsaid it has set up a local resources center on most pages in the channelwith direct links to local dealers, a local deal locator and exclusive localdeals for AOL members.

The newly redesigned channel will also supply rich media showcases,including three-dimensional views and streaming video on various autos. Moreover, the section incorporates community features, such as message boards, chat and newsletters.

Checkered Flag

“Our members can turn to the autos channel to get accurate information onthe true cost of cars, learn about the options they want, and read reviewsof new and used cars, all before they go to any dealership,” said AOLpresident Jonathan Sacks.

In conjunction with the launch, AOL also announced it is holding a “Hit thePits” sweepstakes, in which the winner will be awarded an all-expenses paidtrip to the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup race in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Look Here

With a spate of recent reports indicating that consumers do not view theInternet as a viable purchasing tool for such big-ticket items asautomobiles, AOL’s emphasis on research and information may be the best wayto reach potential customers.

A study released earlier this month by e-business consulting firm Accenturefound that 56 percent of consumerswanted to use the Web as a research tool before deciding on a purchase.

Despite the relatively slow growth in the number of auto sales made online,a recent Jupiter Media Metrix and R.L. Polk & Co report concluded that the Web continues to be oneof the fastest growing mediums for gathering car shopping information.

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