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AOL overhauls car-buying tools

America Online hopes a deal with auto-research provider Edmunds.com and a redesign of its AOL Autos channel will help drive its car-buying business.

America Online is teaming up with Edmunds.com to provide new online tools for vehicle research and car shopping, to coincide with the launch of its redesigned AOL Autos channel.

AOL said Monday that the marketing and technology alliance with Edmunds.com, an online car information business based in Santa Monica, Calif., will help people research different makes and models of new cars. They will be able to read reviews, compare options and dealer incentives and get customized price quotes from local dealers.

"There is very little audience overlap between AOL and Edmunds.com, so this really is a win-win for both companies, as well," Seth Berkowitz, an Edmunds vice president, said in a statement.

The Edmunds.com tools are available now through AOL's proprietary service and through its CompuServe service, as well as on the subscription-free Netscape Web site. It will be extended to the members-only area of AOL's Web site in the fall, according to AOL.

The alliance comes amid a redesign of the AOL Autos channel that's aimed at making its information easier to access and use.

Researching car purchases and sales is one of the most popular activities in online trade. Nearly 68 percent of consumers who used Web sites other than those of car companies to do research said those sites were important for helping them make decisions about a vehicle purchase, according to Forrester Research findings quoted in an AOL statement. The percentage was higher than that of people who said they relied on friends or on car company Web sites.

In addition, third-party leads on new-car buyers provided dealers with nearly 40 percent of their online sales in 2002.

AOL also announced Monday that it has signed another deal with Kelley Blue Book to assist car buyers in finding standard new and used car prices. The company said its subscribers already have access to a directory of more than 2 million used vehicles, set up by AutoTrader.com.

CNET Networks, publisher of News.com, has a stake in Edmunds.com.