FORD DIRECT.com is the name of a new online sales site set up by Ford and its US dealers. And within 12-months, a similar operation could be active in the UK. It will sell the manufacturer's cars, allow customers to browse models, select styles and options, negotiate a price, obtain financing, and schedule the purchase and delivery.

Customers will buy the vehicle through a dealer, which they choose on the site, and they will see both the e-price and the invoice price.

Eventually, FordDirect.com hopes to offer online maintenance scheduling, customer service and used car trade-in capability. Driving force behind the site is the Ford Dealer Council with over 4,000 members. It initiated the idea and 95% of the dealers were in favour of selling over the site.

Jerry Reynolds, chairman of the Ford dealer organisation described the move as 'an unprecedented partnership between an automotive dealer body and a manufacturer'.

The joint venture will have an independent management team and investing dealers are to hold 80% of the voting rights in the joint venture. FordDirect.com will launch next month in California. and will roll-out across the US by the end of 2001.

In Europe, a Ford site is being tried in Finland and Ian McAllister, chairman of Ford of Britain, has suggested it could here in the UK within the next 12-months.