Smart move into internet car sales

A FLEDGLING internet venture which aims to become the leading car-buying and motoring portal in Scotland is already eyeing expansion after signing up more than 30 dealerships., launched by Scots businessman Bill Smart and based on a successful US model, allows motorists looking for a new, used or leased car to search dealers and manufacturers for the best deals. It also contains reviews, road tests and a car configurator feature making it easy for consumers to "build" their dream motor.

Smart, whose venture is backed by media company SMG and American car guru Sean Tahzib, said a roll-out to the rest of the UK was a possibility, although no timetable has been laid out.

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"It certainly has the potential to do that," Smart said. "As long as the route to market is there, it's possible to scale up. The infrastructure necessary is already in place."

An assault on the UK market would pitch Smartycars against established nationwide rivals such as Auto Trader.

A little over a fortnight since it was officially launched, Smartycars has managed to sign up 34 motor dealers, including two larger dealership groups, and a number of major suppliers offering everything from tyres to satellite navigation systems.

Smart, who has previously used his marketing expertise to advise blue-chip clients such as Rentokil, admitted that it was a challenge winning some dealers round to the benefits of the internet, but said most now realised it was a sales channel "they can't fight".

He said: "We can work with a dealer who asks us to give us anyone who wants to buy a particular marque within his area and we will deliver the leads for him at a cost per lead. Even at that point, though, he's not compelled to buy them."

The business is the second Scottish internet venture to receive the backing of SMG in less than a year. Last summer, financial services guru Jim Spowart launched the price comparison website, which is majority-owned by the Glasgow-based media group.

Smart said his motoring portal would complement existing sales and advertising channels.

"We don't see the Smartycars proposition replacing anything," he argued. "One of our strategies is not to discourage people from advertising in areas such as TV or newspapers. These days, you need a multi-channel approach."

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Business partner Tahzib, who played an instrumental role in the growth of US market leader, added: "People are changing how they acquire information and buy a car."

The online classified motoring market in Scotland is estimated to be worth about 50 million.

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