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Kleiner Perkins joins car dealer network for Web venture

Top-flight venture capital group Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers says it has joined with one of the nation's largest automobile dealer networks to launch Greenlight.com, an online car retailer.

Top-flight venture capital group Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers announced today that it has joined with one of the nation's largest automobile dealer networks to launch Greenlight.com, an online car retailer.

As previously reported by CNET News.com, Greenlight plans to expand into the nation's top 50 markets by April 1, said Tom Gibson, chairman of Greenlight co-founder Asbury Automotive Group. Greenlight already is selling cars in Greensboro, N.C.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Orlando, Fla.; Fort Pierce, Fla.; and Atlanta.

Both Kleiner Perkins and Asbury Automotive Group have invested in Greenlight. Conshohocken, Penn.-based Asbury owns or is invested in some 100 dealerships across the nation, which will be the backbone of Greenlight's service. However, the company plans to work with dealers outside of Asbury's dealer network, Gibson said.

Greenlight joins an increasingly competitive market dominated by companies such as Autoweb and Autobytel. Recent entrees to the market include CarsDirect.com, which sells cars directly to consumers, and CarPrices.com, which promises to provide consumers with multiple bids from different dealers.

Some 40 percent of new car buyers are using the Internet to shop for cars, according to J.D. Power & Associates. Meanwhile, Forrester Research estimates that actual online sales of automobiles will jump from about $400 million this year to $16.6 billion in 2004. The latter figure represents some 4 percent of the total car market.