Emap, which publishes three leading car magazines, Car, Classic Cars and Performance Car, is marketing the venture, which was developed with industry consultants Quadrangle. For the first time British-based internet surfers can customise their cars on screen, changing colours, interiors and wheel trims.
The Car World website run by Emap is already proving almost as popular as the magazines themselves. About 100,000 people are thought to visit the site each month, compared with Car Magazine's sales of around 120,000.
Jay Nagley from Quadrangle said at least six manufacturers were likely to use the site this year as an alternative tool to help boost sales. A leading European car maker has also signed a deal to use the website as part of its launch plans for a new model in the summer.
"The difference with the interactive showroom is that people can see cars in lots of different configurations, whereas dealers can't hope to have all those permutations in the showroom," said Mr Nagley.
The interactive showroom also enables potential buyers to input preferences such as the price or performance of the car, listing and comparing models from rival manufacturers. The software can then connect users to the car makers' own websites for dealers' addresses or order test-drives.
Mr Nagley believes that in the short-term internet showrooms will help dealers to cut costs, reducing the time they spend marketing cars to customers. At the moment EU rules prevent customers from ordering cars through the internet, giving dealers exclusive retailing rights.
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