Fiat‘s UK unit is launching an internet-based sales initiative today (28 June) aimed at increasing sales in the UK by 15%.

The car maker is using the UK as a test market for the campaign, which Fiat says is a world-first for the car industry.

A sophisticated internet platform will allow customers to look at Fiat cars, choose what specification and colour they like, book a test drive and sort out how they would like to pay. There is even a live chat room to communicate directly with customer relations staff.

Luca De Meo, chief executive officer of Fiat in Italy, said: “The internet site is very advanced but it is very simple to navigate. We are re-inventing the automotive buying experience on-line.”

The UK was chosen to launch the project – called LAB – as it is one of the company’s top European markets and has a high level of internet usage.

Fiat, on the brink of going under just three years ago, is now under new management and one of the best performing car companies in Europe.

“We recognised we had to change,” said De Meo. “We really have to think about how people do things these days. If you think about it, car dealers have not changed all that much in 40 years and the showroom experience hasn’t either. People now use the internet daily and LAB gives us access to more customers.”

Fiat is also communicating with its dealers more quickly through another initiative called Fiat Force.

This is a mobile phone, internet and credit card system, getting company news, information and service issues direct to dealers at their PC or on their phone.

Dealers are encouraged to react and respond by being given rewards on their Fiat Force credit cards.

De Meo said other web-based projects are in the pipeline. “You have to recognise that the world changes and we have to try and sell our cars in different ways.”