General Motors’ chief executive Rick Wagoner, speaking in Paris yesterday prior to the opening of the International Motor Show, revealed that the world’s biggest carmaker intends to extend its online car sales site to France and The Netherlands.

Already successful in Britain and Germany, the site allows potential customers to review auto prices, compare specifications, and track down their nearest dealer. The facility will continue to roll-out to a total of sixteen western European countries by the year end.

Wagoner’s speech acknowledged that profitability in Europe remains disappointing. GM's German unit, Adam Opel, is in the red, while margins at Vauxhall in the UK are unexciting. In Sweden, Saab, is on the cusp of break-even following over ten years of losses.

Industry onlookers believe that GM’s adoption of a European online sales strategy implies its acceptance that the European Commission will not renew the block exemption – an officially licensed cartel allowing auto manufacturers to sell their wares via captive dealerships – on its expiry in 2002.

Wagoner also announced that GM would launch its OnStar telematics system in Europe. This provides in-car systems such as email, navigation and web-linked emergency services.

News source: Financial Times