Texas Stalls GM’s Web Site

State Officials Halt Plan to Sell Cars Directly Over the Internet
BOSTON–A Texas state agency has put up a roadblock against General Motors’ plan to sell cars through a new Web site developed by Mullen.
The Wenham, Mass., shop has been working on the site (www.gmdriversite.com) since March and was ready to launch the Internet auto store for Houston-area car buyers earlier this month. GM planned to test-market the online service in Texas before rolling it out nationwide, said Rich Person, Mullen’s executive vice president for direct and interactive marketing.
The Texas Department of Transportation, however, has altered those plans, denying permission for GM to launch the Web site. The department claims the online offering violates a law enacted last month that prohibits auto manufacturers from owning dealerships or acting as dealers. Other states have similar laws.
“It’s been a little bit of a glitch,” Person said. “But this program is going to move ahead. It is by no means dead.”
At press time last week, a message on the site read: “GM DriverSite will be open for business soon. Please visit us again!”
GM is considering ways to lawfully operate the site, such as giving Texas dealerships a stake in the program, Person said. The company also can appeal the decision. GM executives did not return calls seeking comment.
Texas was chosen as a test venue because it is far from Detroit and out of the media spotlight, Person said.
Customers who visit DriverSite would have been able to look over the inventory at a newly constructed auto center in Houston, put down a deposit and head to the locale to take a test- drive and complete the transaction. The purchase would be a low-key, “Saturn-like experience,” Person said.
DriverSite is one of seven or eight projects Mullen is working on for GM. In addition to setting up DriverSite, the agency plans to promote the online program with TV, radio and print ads. Person would not disclose spending for the assignment.
Mullen has been a GM roster shop for more than two years, working mainly on the automaker’s certified used vehicle and credit card programs.
Those assignments are supported by a team of 18 account representatives in Mullen’s Detroit office. The DriverSite project is handled in that office by Sara Gozmanian, head of interactive strategic planning. She reports directly to Person, who works at Mullen’s Wenham headquarters.