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Ford and Microsoft join in online sales effort

Microsoft's auto-buying guide CarPoint and Ford Motor Company are aligning in a joint venture to provide custom car-buying services online.

Microsoft's auto-buying guide CarPoint and Ford Motor Company today announced a joint venture to provide car-buying services online.

The software giant and automaker, a pairing that was reported Friday by CNET, will allow consumers to shop online for a car from any Ford dealership in the country, company executives said today at a press conference in San Francisco. The new site will link car buyers with Ford manufacturing and let consumers receive immediate feedback on a car's availability. Consumers can also schedule delivery and service at their local dealership from the site.

"CarPoint is going to change the way cars are bought and sold with technology that brings together manufacturers and dealers to deliver the services and cars consumers want," Microsoft president Steve Ballmer said.

Ballmer emphasized that the new service will not cut dealers out of the car-buying process. "This service will provide a set of tools for the consumer to gather information. The pricing and delivery is still done by the dealer," Ballmer said.

The announcement comes as increasing numbers of car buyers are turning to the Web to shop for cars and initiate the buying process. J.D. Powers, for instance, estimates that some 40 percent of new car buyers are shopping for cars online.

As a result, Ford has started to focus in on the Web. Last month, it told dealers they needed to be online. On Wednesday, the company announced it is reorganizing its e-commerce endeavors into a single unit. As part of that announcement, the company said Microsoft will build the systems architecture for all of Ford's Web sites.

The new venture is centered on MSN's CarPoint site, with Microsoft holding a majority stake in the site. Ford and other auto manufacturers, as yet to come on board, will participate in the initiative. Ford's investment in the venture was not disclosed.

The joint venture seeks to provide opportunities to manufacturers and dealers in the automotive industry by offering consumers an open online marketplace where they can find the exact car they want. Lindsay Sparks, general manager of CarPoint for the past three years, will serve as chief executive of the new CarPoint entity.