GM launches online car-shopping site in Japan

Despite slow progress selling vehicles online in the U.S., General Motors Corp. has launched a joint venture with three Japanese automakers to sell cars over the Web in Japan.

The world's largest automaker spearheaded the joint venture, called Japan AutoWeb Services Inc., with partners Isuzu Motors Ltd., Suzuki Motor Corp. and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., the maker of Subaru vehicles. Detroit-based GM holds a 60 percent stake in the venture.

GM also owns 20 percent of Fuji and Suzuki and 49 percent of Tokyo-based Isuzu, which doesn't have an equity stake in AutoWeb.

The Web site will let Japanese consumers search for the vehicles that GM sells in Japan, such as Cadillac and Saab cars, as well as vehicles from Subaru, Isuzu and Suzuki. The site will sport at least 65 models in 179 variations, offer prices and refer consumers to local deals, officials said.

Other Japanese automakers, such as Mazda Motor Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp., also run online car-shopping sites. Ford Motor Co. has a controlling stake in Mazda.

GM officials said online car-shopping is growing slowly but steadily in Japan. Online endeavors in the U.S., however, appear to have hit a speed bump.

Online car broker Autobytel.com Inc. drove home a bargain in its acquisition of rival Autoweb.com Inc. in a stock-swap deal valued at US$15.6 million last April. Autobytel's stock closed at $1.25 last Monday, down from $4.59 a year earlier.

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