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Software firm to soup up GM site

The big automaker says RedCelsius will take the wheel of its GM BuyPower Web site and relaunch it this summer with more features and flexibility.

    General Motors said Tuesday that e-commerce software company RedCelsius will take the wheel of the automaker's consumer Web site, GM BuyPower, and relaunch it this summer with more features and flexibility.

    The goal of the upgrade is to speed the time it takes GM's dealers to contact potential customers via telephone or e-mail. Another goal is to synthesize the e-commerce operations of all GM divisions and dealers--which include 6,500 Pontiac, Chevrolet, Cadillac and other showrooms throughout the United States--into a single site with common software.

    With the upgrade, GM will be able to locate vehicles and accept orders for specific vehicle configurations for all customers around the world. Eventually, GM BuyPower services will also be available via wireless phones or Internet-enabled handheld computers.

    The upgrade will incorporate a "bandwidth calculator," so consumers who surf the site with a cable modem or DSL access will receive interactive, information-rich graphics, but those who use dial-up access will receive simplified graphics more quickly. It will also feature an "owner center" customized to individuals who use GM for vehicle loans, mortgages, insurance or OnStar mobile connectivity.

    GM BuyPower is already one of the world's largest automobile-buying sites on the Internet, with roughly 1.2 million visitors per month and more than 1,000 sales leads per day. Internet research company Gomez recently rated GM BuyPower the No. 1 Internet car site.

    But Steve Hannah, director of product development for GM's e-commerce division, e-GM, said he is not satisfied with the current configuration--particularly the time it takes dealers to connect with consumers who shop online.

    "We have an adequate lead-management system today, but perhaps we are not as aggressive in pursuing those leads as we could be," Hannah said. "People who raise their hands--now we'll have more info about them and we'll contact them more specifically about the products they want. We're trying to take it a next step up."

    As part of the deal, GM may purchase up to 10 percent of outstanding warrants of Alpharetta, Ga.-based RedCelsius. GM partner EDS, the big professional services company, will become the official system integrator and will help expand GM BuyPower internationally.

    RedCelsius will power the site through its BusinessFirePower Architecture, based on Sun Microsystems' J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) technology. The GM BuyPower deal is one of the largest-scale J2EE implementations so far.

    GM expects to launch the J2EE project in the United States in mid-July and in Europe in September. By 2002, it will be in at least 40 of the 200 nations where GM sells vehicles. The deal will extend to GM affiliates Isuzu, Fiat, Fuji and Suzuki.

    Executives from Detroit-based GM said they insisted on a supplier that used open-standards software, in part so that GM can use the technology in more than 40 countries where GM BuyPower is available and across multiple languages and currencies. That is part of the reason RedCelsius uses the J2EE software instead of Microsoft's much ballyhooed .Net initiative, said James J. Watson, RedCelsius chief executive.

    "Microsoft is not going to be an open platform per se, and it's much less mature than J2EE," Watson said Tuesday.